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: Exhibition of Early Italian Engravings


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
"It is one of the greatest achievements in the engraving of the XV century, in power of design and in the nervous grip of its drawing." This is what Mr. Hind, of the British Museum, writes of Pollaiuolo's Battle of the Nudes, illustrated on page 53 of The Bulletin, now being shown with other early Italian engravings on exhibition in the Print Gallery until November 11, 1922.This exhibition, of more than usual interest on account of both its quality and scope, has been made possible through the generous interest of Mr. Paul J. Sachs of the Fogg Museum, Cambridge. Thirty-nine are from his own private collection of early Italian Engravings, which is one of the most comprehensive in America, and seven from the collection of the Fogg Museum. In range they cover the work of the XV-century Florentine masters, whose names are lost to us but whose early training as goldsmiths is unmistakable, through Pollaiuolo to Andrea Mantegna and his immediate followers.The rarity of the works of the early Italian masters and their great importance, not only in the history of engraving but in the history of art in general, makes this exhibition especially noteworthy. They give us invaluable records of the life and thought of their time, and what a great time it was! In them, one feels the spirit of the Renaissance, that great impulse which growing out of the writings of Dante and Petrarch, swept all before it so that within a hundred years, the thought and art of all Europe was revolutionized.The great genius of the Italian engravers of this period and the one who exercised a powerful influence upon artists, not only of his own time and country, but upon those of Germany and the Netherlands as well, was Andrea Mantegna, despite the fact that of all the many plates that were once attributed to him, only seven can now be regarded as unquestionably the work of his hand. These are: The Virgin and Child, the two Bacchanals, the two Battles of the Tritons and Sea-Gods, the Entombment, and the Risen Christ, between St. Andrew and St. Longinus. Of these seven, three are in Mr. Sach's collection and are included in this exhibition.Mantegna's influence can be felt in most of the engravings of his time. Zoan Andrea and G. A. da Brescia, his immediate followers, and others of the school engraved largely from his designs, following his open linear style of technique at first, and later adopting a finer system of cross-hatching when the influence of Dürer began to be felt in Italy. Although the designs of most of the engravers of the time of Mantegna were after drawings by the master or other painters, they are not classed with the reproductive engravings of a later date, on account of their own beauty of the design and because the original drawings, paintings, or sculptures from which they were made are no longer in existence.Giulio Campagnola is perhaps the one exception of an engraver who developed a technical style of his own. In his powerful St. John the Baptist, the shading is done almost wholly by delicate flick work in which the flicks are produced with the point of the graver and are sometimes so delicate that they resemble dots.Most of the early Anonymous Florentine prints can be divided according to their technique into two groups: those in the Fine Manner or in the Broad Manner. The Fine Manner is essentially a goldsmith's medium where the shadows are given by means of fine short cross-hatchings. The Broad Manner, of which Mantegna's work is an excellent illustration, is more the technique of a painter or draughtsman, with open clear cut parallel lines, sometimes with a slant return line at an acute angle below the parallel lines, giving the effect of a pen and ink drawing.There are also in this exhibition two examples of the famous Tarocchi cards, representing Clio and Temperance, from a set of fifty engravings of single allegorical figures in two sets, known respectively as the E and the S series, from the use of the letters E or S in the first ten plates. The E series, considered the earlier of the two, is engraved with much greater precision and finish than the S series. These cards were considered at one time as playing cards, but are now much more correctly explained as a kind of illustrated manual of science, or an instructive game for young people. The subjects represented comprise the sorts and conditions of men, Apollo and the Muses, the arts and sciences, the genii and the virtues, and planets and the spheres.An interesting and historically important plate is the little niello which is an impression from an engraved ornamental plate before the furrows were filled permanently with enamel.The public of Minneapolis owes Mr. Sachs and the Fogg Museum a great debt of gratitude for the opportunity they have afforded it of seeing this great collection. Never before has such a group of engravings been exhibited in the Northwest.Referenced Work of Art
  1. Battle of the Nudes Antonio Pollaiuolo
    Lent by Paul J. Sachs
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Source: "Exhibition of Early Italian Engravings," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 11, no. 7 (October, 1922): 52-54.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009