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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Francesco Bartolozzi

A steady hand for a study of hands--Francesco Bartolozzi.
Francesco Bartolozzi was not a great painter. At best, he was a run-of-the-mill Florentine portrait artist born in 1727. However, Bartolozzi was a very good engraver. In researching him I came to realize that he might be the perfect vehicle for delving into the complex art of printmaking. The greatest difference in the art of a printmaker as opposed to that of a painter is that printmaker need not be creative or original in what he or she creates. The painting artist must be...or should be, at any rate. The expert painter attempts to open up doors to new and different ways of seeing things. A good analogy might be that the printmaker simply widens these doors, opening the up more fully, perhaps, so that a greater number of people can see and enjoy what the painter has painted. Historically, with a few notable exceptions, such as Rembrandt, Leonardo, and Durer, the printmaker simply copied the work of other artists, usually in black and white for sale at prices middle-class art patrons could afford. Also, in some cases, various painters became adept and creating prints of their own work for broader distribution. If they didn't, often someone else would.(Copyright laws weren't what they are today.)
As seen here, Bartolozzi left the portrait painting to
others but was an exquisite etcher.
Don't for a moment think that a printmaker such as Bartolozzi was any less of a skilled artists than a painter, sculptor, or architect. As I've mentioned a time or two over the past few days, this is another art form which melds art and science into a single entity, in this case being slightly more science than art (but only slightly). Printmaking dates back to the 15th-century when it was first used to reproduce book illustrations. It was expensive and cumbersome, not to mention crude, playing only a supportive role in the growing book-printing industry at the time. As demand grew however, technical achievements in this area resulted in the development of four major printmaking processes: relief printing, intaglio printing, lithography, and serigraphy.
While working in England, Bartolozzi had his portrait painted by no
less than Sir Joshua Reynolds, himself. Bartolozzi's engraving
 demonstrates a remarkable verisimilitude to the painting.
Relief printing: A wooden block or metal plate is carved so that the nonprinting background areas are cut away below the surface, leaving the image areas of the print in relief. After ink is applied to the raised surface with a roller, paper is pressed against the block and the image is printed. (My school students used blocks topped with Linoleum, which is easier and safer to cut.) Relief printing predates printing as we know it today by some three-thousand years. The Egyptians used wooden stamps, the Babylonians brick seals, and while the Romans made their seals from clay. The first use of carved reliefs to print images onto paper probably originated in China, where hand cut wood blocks were used for printing as far back as the T'ang dynasty during the early 7th-century. Woodcuts and typographic printing are now the most common form of relief printing.
Claude Mellan's Portrait of Michel de Marolles. illustrates classic engraving techniques produced by hatching and cross-hatching.
Intaglio printing: The image areas are depressed below the surface of the plate. Lines are incised into a metal plate (zinc or copper) with the use of sharp tools or acids. The plate is covered with ink, then wiped clean leaving ink in the recessed lines. A press forces slightly-dampened paper into these ink-filled lines and the image is transferred. The intaglio process is much more complex than simple relief printing. The Italian word, Intaglio (pronounced, in-tal-ee-oh), means to engrave or cut into. Intaglio techniques include engraving, etching, dry-point, mezzotint, and aquatint. These techniques differ only in the manner in which they incise lines into the plate. Engraving, dry-point, and mezzotint all use sharp tools, while etching and aquatint use acid solutions.
Before the development of color lithography in the second half of the
19th-century,  color was usually added to engravings by hand.
Lithography: Images are drawn in greasy crayon on a flat slab of a specially smoothed limestone, or a metal plate. The stone is treated chemically so that ink, when rolled onto the stone, adheres only where the drawing was done. A high pressure press is used to complete the printing process.
Serigraphy: Image areas are drawn on a tightly stretched fabric mesh, (usually silk or nylon) so that the non-image areas are non-porous. A squeegee pulled across the screen forces ink through the image areas and onto the printing paper directly below. Serigraphy is also known as silkscreen or screen printing. This art form is all about stencil-making. Although such techniques had been known for centuries, it was only during the early 20th-century, as fine silks and photographic stenciling chemicals became readily available, that the process came into use as an art reproduction medium.
Hendrick Goltzius' The Massacre of the Innocent (detail).
Inasmuch as lithography and serigraphy were printmaking methods which largely came after Bartolozzi's lifetime (he died in 1815), we shall skip over their technical details. Bartolozzi was primarily an engraver, taking after his father who was a goldsmith. However he showed such depth of talent as an artist he was soon assigned as an apprentice to two Florentine painters, Ignazio Hugford and Giovanni Domenico Ferretti. Realizing, perhaps, that he was not cut out to be a painter, after three years, Bartolozzi moved on to Venice where he studied engraving. There he was heavily influenced by Joseph Wagner, Marco Ricci, and Zuccarelli.
Mark Summers' engraving of
Abraham Lincoln
With engraving, crisp lines are the basis for the image as they are incised into a metal plate (usually copper or zinc) using a burin. Heav-ier and wider lines are produced by pushing the burin deeper into the metal. Tonalities are achieved by many closely spaced fine dots (stip-pling) as seen below in Bartolozzi's Daughters of Lot. Lighter tones are traditionally engraved using parallel lines close together or by making the lines such that they intersect at var-ious angles (cross-hatching), as seen in Mark Summer's engraving of Abra-ham Lincoln (left).
Daughters of Lot, Francesco Bartolozzi and Giovanni Cipriani
If engraving seems more art than science, the exact opposite is true when it comes to etching. Etching requires something of a chemistry lab, and the chemicals are not exactly artist-friendly. A metal plate is first covered with a layer of wax or acid-resistant ground (usually asphaltum (tar). When dry, the artist scratches in a design with a stylus or needle, revealing the bare metal below. The plate is then placed in a bath of diluted (1:5 ratio) nitric acid, which etches the exposed metal, leaving the impression permanently on the plate. Etched lines are usually sharply defined, having uniform thickness. After the etching, the asphaltum is removed with a solvent, the plate is polished, often with talc, and is then ready for inking. Dry-point is similar to etching, but the hard point of a needle is scratched directly onto the metal plate to produce soft, thick lines. No acids are used.
Etchings of two peasants by Wilhelm Leibl.
Mezzotint (above) is a dry-point process in which a metal plate is textured with many fine dots so as to hold a great deal of ink, thus printing a solid black field. The texture is produced with a rocker (basically a large curved blade with many fine teeth). After the blade is rocked back and forth, the stippled texture is scraped away where lighter tones are needed. Areas that are vigorously scraped hold less ink and therefore printed lighter. Unlike other intaglio techniques, the image is developed from dark to light. Aquatint, on the other hand, is an etching technique that creates areas of tone through the use of powdered rosin that is sprinkled on the metal plate, which is then heated to affix it to the plate before the acid bath. The result is a finely textured tonal area whose darkness is determined by how long the plate is bitten by the acid, much like a halftone in modern day microdot painting.
A Durer engraving. Notice the intricacies of the lines for which the
artist became famous. Durer's engravings were original, not copies.
Although the underlying principles of intaglio were known to goldsmiths in the Middle Ages, it was with the widespread production and introduction of paper in the 15th-century that intaglio printing emerged as a specific art medium. Albrecht Durer in Germany was a master engraver and pioneered the use of variable thickness lines that elegantly swell and taper. A classic example of his work is shown above. Bartolozzi was especially popular for combining the stipple technique with the use of color as seen in his Bacchante (below) dating from 1786. As one might guess, the inking, proofing, and printing process was extremely tedious and time-consuming.

Bacchante, 1786, Francesco Bartolozzi, a rare
stipple engraving printed in colors, 2nd state.
The Wall Street Journal features portraits of their
journalists done with stippling and engraving.


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