Platemark series two: History of Prints
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[Transcript has been edited for clarity and flow]
Ann Shafer: Hi, welcome to Platemark series two, which is covering the history of Western printmaking. I'm Ann Shafer, your host, and I'm joined by my friend and colleague, Tru Ludwig, who is a teacher extraordinaire and a printmaker himself.
Tru Ludwig: Oh, shucks.
AS: So, this is episode two. Last time we talked about the class that we taught together at the Maryland Institute College of Art. 15 years in conjunction with my position at the Baltimore Museum of Art using the print collection there. And this time we're going to start talking about the basics of the history of prints. We're not going to get too far into specific people but talk about society and how it developed. And why it’s awesome and why we love it.
TL: And one thing to keep in mind is that, that this isn't the history of prints, it's a history of prints. The way I taught it was to a group of young artists at the Maryland Institute College of Art. So it is definitely geared towards makers. I'm not going to try to keep track of every jot and tittle, like those who might be at the Ivys or something like that. I try to keep my art history very real, down to earth. Probably far more colloquial than some, but it worked for our student artists, and they turned into pretty great students.
AS: Well, yeah, when you're not choosing art history as your mode and you’d rather be in your studio, creating. it's challenging to engage them. So you're walking up pretty fine line between straight-up history and colloquial speech, and bringing it down to a level that's not high in the clouds.
TL: This is most certainly true. And it cracks me up because most art students are like, “I'm not good with names” and that's okay, swell. And “I'm not good with dates.” Okay. I would always tell them that it was a way of making… art history needs to be useful to you, because most of them would blanche, if I said, well, at Maryland Institute, you're going to have to take five art history classes before you graduate. “Art history.” Yes, it is the language and history of what you do. And of course, they were full converts by the time we concluded.
AS: Of course, they were. All right. So before we get into it, we want to make clear as usual, our positionality as artists, friends, people, and speakers to the public. I identify as a cis-het white woman, and I use the pronouns she/her. We are recording this in Baltimore, Maryland. In fact, we're sitting in the same room, recording it. Same mic. Which is unusual. But we're sitting in the Purple Crayon Press in Charles Village, Baltimore, and it is the land of the Piscataway Conoy people.
TL: And I identify as a gay, white trans man and I use he/him pronouns. And I'm happy as I can be sitting here looking right at Ann as we talk.
AS: Sometimes being in the same space helps.
TL: Yes, indeed.
AS: All right. So remember everybody that we're talking about Western printmaking. We don't pretend to be able to tell you the history of Eastern printmaking. It's a whole other thing. It's its own thing. And, it goes back way farther than Western printmaking. So, we're going to jump in probably in Germany, I guess when we jump.
TL: Ish. About 1400, but indeed our friends on the far side of the planet figured out paper several centuries before we did, they were printing with blocks and printing language centuries before we were.
AS: Movable type.
TL: Moveable type. Yet the Diamond Sutra was from 800. So, we didn't get to it. I think we were too busy being at war with each other. You know, the period of the migrations, the Vikings, the Huns, and the Goths, and the Visigoths. It took a stable society, I think, to get their poop in a group, to be able to say “maybe we should pay attention to this too.”
AS: Organized religion and all that.
TL: Well, there is that.
AS: You'll find that there is a through-line of religion through the early part of the history of prints.
TL: And it is inescapable and it shouldn't be something that needs to be escaped because it was something that did keep the thin skin around civilization. It gave a structure that was tremendously useful and the Church was also a phenomenally important patron. And so, you can start blaming the 18th century and the air quotes, Enlightenment, on the lowering necessity of the Church as an organizing factor. And even the questioning of the need for a God. When we're starting out, it's really going to be an issue of the importance of the Church and how the print could be used as a mode of expression to help teach. Using images to teach people who couldn't read. Giving people a pocket protector of a Saint Christopher, let us say, a small print in their pocket to protect them from whatever disease might befall them on the road, since they had no idea what caused it. It was a very functional art form, really.
AS: Doesn't it align with the sort of breaking down of the serfdom society, where you have just the upper echelons who practice religion, and that there was an evening of access to religion?
TL: Absolutely. One of the things for me as an Iowa kid is that, I'm just such an egalitarian kind of person and I always buck authority and I always buck class structures. That's one of the things that made me fall in love with printmaking because it really was, and in some cases still is, the people's art. And it really can address people at every level of society. There is, even when we start in 1400, 1450 or so, the idea that certain kinds of prints were collected or rather owned by different calibers or classes of people. The upper echelon would probably want engravings and the lower classes would probably get woodcuts because…
AS: An uncolored one…
TL: Yes, because they were far more accessible and affordable.
AS: That's so fascinating to me that the engravings are the engravings, but the woodcuts have this range from finely hand colored to sort of not-so-great hand colored, to not colored at all so that there were there even more layers.
TL: Absolutely. And even within the history of prints, we've got the invention of techniques and how sometimes it's driven by need, sometimes by peculiar discoveries. But it's a fascinating social history is what it really is. And that's the beauty of the history of prints. It really does cut across political lines. It cuts across societal lines and class structures. And so each of the kinds of prints can serve different purposes. You could have something that would be a memento, or it could be a postcard from your trip, when you took the Grand Tour in the 18th century. Or it could be in the 19th century, when lithography was invented. My dear Honoré Daumier came up with caricatures and biting social commentary. Then there's screenprinting, which really took off in the 20th century, which just basically defies paint. It can be multi colors that could be an affordable way to have artwork, if you will.
AS: If you've listened to series one, you will have heard me say something about really being drawn to art history as the social, cultural history of the world and people in it. It's kind of funny, because printmaking is even more…
TL: It’s all of it.
TL: You get everything. It's not just Mr. Richie Rich could get a portrait painter. He could sit for a portrait painter and have this as a memento for his family. But the idea that the print serves all of these different kinds of possible functions. And the other part of it is that a print is going to be in your space and it reaches more than one person and it tends to be something that's handheld. So there's a much more intimate encounter with this thing, even if it was pasted to the wall or pasted in an album or on a post to announce something that was coming up in a city, it is still a far more accessible form of visual encounter. It, in many ways, defies the ability or inability to read. Visual communications, graphic communication. It is indeed graphic because if you make a dull image, why is anybody going to look at it? With print you can have all of that. And it is indeed in your space. The people's art. That's important to me.
Prints could be used for social reform. That's where Martin Luther could be seen as one of the people that really started that with the Reformation and translating the Bible into German, the people's language. Because they didn't want to listen to it in Latin. Or he had said, let's have it be for the people. And having images for this New Testament. Prints are, as I said, affordable. They could be quite potentially within the economic means of a more average person. And of course, the print is an educational tool. There still Lutheran schools out there because it was Luther that said, “Hey, everybody should be able to read and go into your closets and pray. You should be able to have access to the word of God through the Bible” and in prints, but also in the images that accompanied the Bible. It's a fascinating kind of a tool. And I appreciate that. The fact that it could be everywhere. It's not just a painting on a wall in one place that you go visit. Like when you go to the Prado and you go see Las Meninas or The Garden of Earthly Delights? They totally rock.
AS: I mean, it's an awesome painting, but there's something, I don't know if something happened with it.
Doesn't matter… It was underwhelming in person.
TL: I don't know about that. I was whelmed. Definitely whelmed. Then again sculptures, occupy our space too, and you could do a 360 around them. But the fact that prints could come out of their hiding spot, if they're in a book, or that you can revisit it again and again, like listening to a recording of something that you love. That it's there for you. That to me is amazing. And if you think about how was art history taught? Well, Winckelmann, the father of Western art history, he never went to Greece. He never went to Rome. He studied prints of the stuff from there. When I'm teaching this class, I have a slide of two portraits of Winckelmann. He's got prints sitting right beside him because that's how he learned it. They're portable museums.
AS: They are the paper museum.
TL: Yes. And that is a delightful thing to me.
AS: It's incredible, really, that society and things happening in society push print and print media, but it's also true that it goes the other way. They're completely entwined with each other.
TL: Absolutely. It’s sort of like a Caduceus. They just kind of weave in and out, back and forth. And sometimes I think print can push things forward and sometimes the need for a new way to communicate can push print forward. All of those things—and I may have said it in the first episode—when you're looking at an image… I ask my students to sit with an image and look at it for a long period of time, and not passively. Be an active looker, because if you're looking at a fireplace, those flames are dancing, they're changing all the time, and there's always the opportunity for new discoveries. So, with that, it's the people's art. And then we have to try and figure stuff out about people and the virtually impossible task of how to imagine this image in its place and in its time.
The idea of this icon that is made by someone while that someone is an artist. Well, what are the restrictions or the motivations for that artist? And there's a huge difference because an artist in the Middle Ages who was doing a prescribed image, such as an icon or the Virgin Mary holding the infant baby Jesus, this is a recipe that still holds even today. I have one upstairs, by the way, that is the same exact version as something was painted a thousand years ago. But, in each of the two cases with the print, the change of an artist from an artisan to our conception of an artist, that it's art, because I say it's art, or I can paint what I need to paint or create what I need, is also a way of thinking about what is the audience that that work that this individual is making, who are the patrons, who's going to buy this, or who is going to refuse to buy it?
What is the audience? Who are those people that the artist is trying to reach? And what is it that the artist is looking at? Where is that person getting their ideas? How are they extending those or obliterating them or mocking them? Because some of the best prints from Lutheran times are the cartoons about the Reformation or the Counter Reformation. They're actually quite scurrilous and shocking. To the point where there's even some of nuns and you lift the little garment on the nun. Oh yeah. They're interactive. And there's naughtiness underneath…
AS: Oh. A flap of paper that you lift.
AS: Oh, hell.
TL: Or Luther as a wolf in sheep's clothing and you lift up his robes and there are his little wolf legs sticking down. This idea of what is the print in its own context and at least being somewhat sensitive to how that image was intended and also realize that people are very clever. There've been centerfolds in books since the 15th century, generally they were maps as opposed to Playboy bunnies. Isn't that magazine dead now?
AS: Oh, that's a good question.
TL: So, one of the lines from Linda Hults’ amazing book that we mentioned before… She'd said that printmaking is the only form of fine art that can be both an artistic and a commercial mode of expression. Commercial mode of expression. Well, that idea of, if you're going to make one, you're going to be making more because prints depend on multiples. You've got a matrix, whether it's carved or etched or drawn onto a litho stone. But the idea is to pull more than one. Maybe it's because I always root for the underdog because printmaking is always considered the ugly stepchild of fine art paintings. Because it's linked to popular audiences. Because it can be functional. Because it could be used for advertising or political cartoons or reproductions of other artists’ work. Or even illustrations, which of course opens up a whole other can of worms…
AS: That’s a whole other chapter.
TL: Because there's still a gulf between fine artists and illustrators. If you were to go to Maryland Institute College of Art, we'd see plenty of discussion on that. Or maybe now it's the elephant in the room that we're not discussing.
AS: Oh, maybe. That is the difference between having an assignment to illustrate something, draw something versus...
TL: For a client.
AS: Right. Versus your own self-generated brainchild.
TL: So I guess you could say that Cranach might've been an illustrator.
AS: Lucas Cranach?
TL: Because he did like 50 portraits of Luther, for sure, in paint, and then certainly had done a number of images of him in print to spread his idea. If you think of Luther in the same way as Frederick Douglass, who was the most photographed person of the 19th century. I find that fascinating. It's the same thing with Luther being visibly available, prints make that possible.
AS: I think that the thing that's hard for art-viewer people like us today is that when we view prints in general, unless you really are a collector and are lucky, that we see them behind glass on a wall of a museum. And so the utility of it is a thing that you can't really experience.
TL: Unless maybe you're in a library that's got some wonderful first editions.
AS: But you still won't stick it in your coat pocket and take a walk over the Alps.
TL: Indeed. The Alps. We'll get to know the importance of the Alps. Actually, I was watching a Rick Steves special this past weekend and realizing that barrier between Northern Europe and Southern Europe. You look at what it took to climb those Alps. That's going to be a situation as to why ideas traveled perhaps a little bit more slowly in the 15th century than they might've later on, because you're still doing that on foot or in a horse drawn something or other. It's just the facts of that…
AS: It’s not like there’s a 7-11 on every corner as you go.
TL: Absolutely. Right. Oh, and then the other idea, as you had said, Ann, about illustrations as being something that you were doing for a client. Well, okay. But then I always come up with a self-defense that the Sistine ceiling is an illustration. So Pope Julius said, I want this.
AS: Any commissioned painting would be.
TL: Oh, absolutely. So we could get real snotty about it. And some people do. There's also those who would say, well, it's too associated with craft.
AS: Oh, dirty word.
TL: Listen, when I was starting out, there was a particular professor who was like, “well, your work is just so illustrative.” Okay. It is. That's fine with me. But the other thing about printmaking is that it requires craft… craftsmanship. Okay, craftspersonship, whatever. But it requires a certain amount of technical skill and knowledge. Printmaking is definitely not something you take up on a whim like, Hey, I think I'm going to become an engraver. Doesn't happen. Because it's the most unforgiving kind of a mode of carving an image into a copper plate, or what have you…
AS: Right. The spontaneity of creation is tempered.
TL: I always say it's really delayed gratification. Because you have an idea in your head. Then you come up with a drawing, somehow put it onto a plate—and it has to be in reverse—and you either carve it or etch it in reverse because once it goes to the press, it comes up right reading. Well, that means in this incredible time-consuming process that there's a huge delay between impulse and the final result. So the craft of that is imperative and impeccable, if it's well done.
AS: Do you think that's contributed to it's being questioned as the craft piece?
TL: See, that's the problem for me because craftsmanship, I expect that of my students.
AS: It’s the default, right? It should be.
TL: Right. It should be. Indeed, for mastering your craft. And we can have a whole conversation about the idea of mastering something, but… Well, okay. Craft. What about it? Well, it's oh, that's a craft. It's not an art. Well, okay. So I had a coworker at Maryland Institute whose job it was to teach, I don't know, students how to use Moodle or some other stupid computer thing with a yappy name. Moodle? Really? This is a college. Can we call it something else?
AS: It’s catchy. You remember it.
TL: It offends me. But at any rate, this pleasant fellow walked up to me and I'm staring at the copier. He goes, “Tru, what's a difference between art and craft?” I stood there and stuff's going through a copier, and I looked at him and said, “arrogance.” A maker is a maker is a maker. I mean, if you're making potholders, that's one thing. But some of the most brilliant things that are ever made could be denigrated as craft. And so I think we have to get rid of some of that kind of chauvinism, too.
AS: Well, there’s the utilitarian piece of craft. If you can put a dividing line between something that's used and something that’s purely aesthetic...
TL: They used to call them applied arts. And then it became decorative arts. Well, now wait a minute in Ann's world, the museum world, “that's just so decorative.” Again, perjorative. So, terminology can be a problem. But the idea of the impulse and then the final product. Well, let's say we go back to the Renaissance when the whole print shop concept was starting out. It astonished me at first to find out there was a division of labor. The person called the Reiser, the artist, would have had the idea. And let's say that they did a drawing on paper and that drawing would have been transferred to a woodblock or glued to it. And then another person would come along, and they would carve it. That's what they do. So that person was called the Formschneider, the form cutter, literally. And they're the people that would carve away the extraneous wood and leave just the lines of the drawing there, raised so that they could be inked for printing. And then he'd hand that off to another person who would ink up that block and put it on the press. That person is called the Drucker. He’s the guy who pulls it through the press.
AS: Are there any women?
TL: Could be, you know, there's some new stuff out there, but it's not like you're going to see it in…
AS: Probably daughters.
TL: Oh, of course. I'm sure it's like, here you can druck and you can…
AS: You can set the paper on the press.
TL: Seriously. But honestly, we just don't know enough yet. And like many of those woodcuts, maybe it was just so common and got so used that everybody's forgotten it. But there, there was an article about women's hands making prints that came out not too long ago that I probably should ferret out. At any rate. So, let's say that your Reiser has come up with the image and your Formschneider's cut it. And your Drucker has pulled it. Now you've got this piece of paper with an image on it. Ooh, isn't that cool. Now, Mr. Client, Mrs. Client, you've got a print. Do you like this? Yes. I love it. Well do you want it like this or…
AS: Do you want a hand colored?
TL: Correct. Well, that's going to cost you a little bit more and we're going to have to paint that sheet. And that's the Briefmaler, the person that paints on the sheet of paper. So, they could do it. They could either do it through a stencil, which would mean things don't always match up. Or they could do each sheet separately. And, for instance, the Baltimore Museum of Art has two versions of Dürer’s Ecce Homo. Here's Christ Presented to the People. And in black and white, of course, it's stunning and lovely and wonderful, but for the Fox TV folks that needed it in color, or maybe the people that could afford it, it was hand colored. They took the time to color in some bricks green and some blocks not green. The cloak got to be blue. And then there was some gilded little tidbits here and there. But the worst part was all a little driblets of blood. So, it was really vivid…
TL: Totally. And of course, I'm sure the client adored having their magnificently colored sheet, but as a purist who carves, the idea of, of covering up some of those lines that you've carved in. The opacity of what you're brushing on could mar… I would bet you cash money that Dürer was like, don't you get that near my image. Because he was the master of making things gray. There's an on switch and an off switch when you do relief printing, particularly there's the white of the paper and the black of the ink on it. And Dürer was such a complete artist and could seem to make gray exist in a world that was only a black line or a white line. It's just the way he designed and drew his images. I can't imagine that he would have just… It would be like putting ketchup on a really, really good steak. It's just not done, but hey, you can't necessarily tell an audience what’s proper.
AS: That's true. I completely forgot until you said opacity, but there was white paint on the turban of one of the characters and you could hardly see the lines underneath. And it totally changed the composition.
TL: Of course, it totally raised the price because it’s in color and it took more time. So even that idea of the division of labor was something that was a standard part of the workshops of woodcutters or even the printers of engravings, and then subsequently etchings and the other forms of printmaking as they came along in the centuries. And it wasn't a person like myself, who does it from idea to finish print. I just always thought it was that way.
AS: Right. But in those early woodcuts, there's the artist who had the… So who's the artist quote unquote? So the person in my mind, the person with the idea, the conception of the imagery, counts as the artist, but they're rarely signed until Dürer or maybe Meckenem.
TL: Starting to put those, those initials… like Schongauer would have put his M.S. on there or Master E.S. His first name wasn't Master and his last name wasn't E.S. It was that his initials would be in there because as artists got more and more capable, they wanted their materials to be recognizable. So, Dürer has his marvelous D lurking under this A. That's his logo, his monogram. And eventually there are artists like Marcantonio Raimondi who was copying Dürer’s prints down in Venice, who was literally copying Dürer’s logo. And Dürer goes before the Venetian Senate and says, “Hey, make him stop.” And so the Venetian Senate, because this is the first issue of intellectual property, says, “okay, Marcantonio, don't put Dürer’s initials on it anymore.”
AS: And that's it.
TL: And he just kept making them and selling them because, hey, it works. So, there all the marvelously muddied parts of the river of life in the history of prints.
AS: I love that that historians have not been able to figure out who Master E.S. was or Master of the Playing Cards or whoever, the House Book, whatever.
TL: Ok, master, master. Ann, go through the master thing. You just go ahead on and tell the folks about what you have to think about that.
AS: Recognizing that words carry baggage… I work part-time as a realtor and the realtor world has stopped using master bedroom as a defining term. They're using words like primary bedroom or owner's bedroom. And so they're trying to not use the term master because it can be aligned with the idea of a master on a plantation, mastering over slaves. So in the case of art, and printmaking in particular, the master printers sometimes will… Ben will refer to them as collaborative printmakers, but the term master really is referring to mastering a thing and not mastering over people.
TL: Indeed, indeed. Right. So Ann and I, while I'm working…
AS: We went round and round about it.
TL: We did. I'm working on a project right now and how do you want to be listed? Master printer, and Ann said some people using collaborative printmaker. I am not collaborating. I'm teaching these people how to do it. They're using my skills because I got a master of fine arts and I have a master's degree in art history. And so mastery. We assume that Master E.S. was a guy, that he'd mastered… Are we going to say mistress? Yes. Oh, good Lord. That would be so naughty.
AS: Well, see how much baggage terms carry?
TL: So actor/actress. Right now, everybody's as actor.
AS: I appreciate that.
TL: Well, I do too. So the issue of mastering a craft, well, I am a master printer, apparently.
AS: You are.
TL: So, I'm fine with that because I wasn't collaborating with these folks on what it was they wanted. They needed something. They didn't know how to do it. I showed them how to do it. And I did it with and for them. So that is a different thing than collaboratively doing it. It's a mess. At any rate, I wanted us to throw that out there. Let's pick on another thing. There are purists who would say that the only printmakers would be—with my Iowa French accent--peintre-graveurs. The painter-engravers. There are a lot of artists across time that were great painters, but who also made prints. Even Cezanne, even though I think he's a little bit snoozy, was—I mean, I know he's wickedly important—but even he made prints. Matisse, painter.
AS: He made many prints.
TL: Great stuff. Ruben's, on the other hand, is a 17th century brilliant painter, had his paintings turned into prints. Well, the peintre-graveur, the painter engraver, is the artist who produces original prints. Things that come out of their own mind versus the reproductive printmakers. So reproductive printmakers are those that are going to reproduce paintings, let's say. Like a Rubens painting so that it exists as something that could be bought in multiples. Rubens would be painting altarpieces that could be 11 to 15 feet high. Those aren't going to quite fit in on your living room wall.
So we've got somebody like Vorsterman, Lucas Vorsterman, who was this amazing engraver and could translate the kind of brush work and color on hair or the satin of a gown or the trees, into a black-and-white set of marks, dashes, curves, what have you. And it was brilliant and turning some massive thing in brilliant color into a sheet that was maybe 11 by 15 inches. That's an amazing skill, but they're duplicating the works of others. So after the artists. Even the ones that are duplicating sculptures. Like the discovery of the Laocoön… It's so exciting. Well, they didn't invent the Laocoön. They didn't carve the marble, but they made the print of it.
Those are reproductive printmakers versus the autographic printmakers, the painter-engravers, like Goya, who was both painter and engraver, but he made three insanely important series that are the heart and soul of one of our big sessions at the Baltimore Museum. We call them autographic printmakers because you can see their mark, you can see their handwriting, their drawing, literally on the plate. It's as spontaneous as a sketch on paper.
AS: The reproductive printmakers perfected a system of reproducing various textures—like flesh or satin--with a pattern, a specific pattern that could be a replicated by other printmakers who were also trying to do the same kind of thing. So there's this whole vocabulary of mark-making that's very regimented within these reproductive prints. It's just fascinating.
TL: The whole concept of the dot and lozenge. This idea of creating a set of diamonds that would, that would create a light and shadow. And if you put a dot in the middle of each of those diamonds, that creates a different kind of light and shadow that you could see from five feet way and think, Ooh, that's really convincing. But up close, ooh, that’s a reproductive engraving.
AS: And if you alter the width of the diamonds, you can affect the volumetric-ness…
TL: Like the cross contour, like a topographical map, the quality of a thigh, or a breast.
AS: That's one of my favorite things to do is to zero in very, very closely on the reproductive prints, because it's astonishing, the line work.
TL: Sometimes they're just the most beautiful, two by two-inch abstractions.
AS: Like that mustache on that one.
TL: Just the idea of a print, a handheld object on a piece of paper, to me, that's exciting. And Ann lived in a world where everything's under mats and it's in a museum, but once upon a time you would have this image of St. Dorothy or Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, or Saint Sebastian, who was the patron saint of people with the plague. These were things that could protect you. And they would get used. And some of these early prints can be the size of almost the smallest, a credit card
AS: Like a passport.
TL: And literally that saint was in your pocket to protect you. It's kind of like in your passport now you might have that list of shots. (COVID shots, get your vaccinations today.) But you would have that to protect you, and sometimes we can talk about prints being bound in volumes because they're phenomenally important. It's the way that an artist could make their name. For instance, that whole biography of artists that van Dyke made. Anthony van Dyke. That's the one you're thinking about. That gorgeous Anthony van Dyck portrait. He's looking at us with his wonderful wild hair and he's got this magnificent mustache, almost kind of a handlebar. And he's got this little squibbit of a beard, which by the way, is called a van Dyke, and it's all hand etched and it's from his hand. It's autographic. But then van Dyke, whose ego must have been as big as that press over there, handed it off to an engraver and said, now put me on a pedestal and he did! So it's this gorgeously engraved pedestal. And it's got all the florid writing and it says, van Dyke is this and that. And that's the frontispiece for an entire volume of all of his images of artists across time. And that was at a time where the artist's role in society is actually starting to elevate, as opposed to being just some anonymous craftsperson. It's really being able to stand up saying, this is what I am, and this is what I do, and these are the people that we should be respecting.
AS: Well, they're named in these portraits. I mean, that's the switch, right? Once they have their own name… interestingly on those prints, it does say, by this person or published by this person, after a picture by this person, so everybody is now identified.
TL: In the address, that's what it's called, the address. So you'll have the delineavit. Okay. So Anthony van Dyke delineavit, he's the guy that drew it. And then so-and-so sculpsit--he's the guy that sculpted it, literally carved it into the plate, and then there'll be, it was published here, and it becomes the pedigree of this image. So by 1640, you've got all of this going on and 240 years before you were a nobody that was just sort of carving into a piece of wood.
AS: You weren’t anybody and forgotten to time.
TL: Being able to raise your own status in society, I think that's an amazing thing that prints could do too, because if you think about it, Dürer was doing it. Dürer died in 1527, after he'd kind of hit it big, let's say by 1498 to of the end of his life, he would have his images with his moniker and think about it, if he's traveling up to the Netherlands from his home base in Nuremberg, Germany, and he trades prints with a guy named Lucas van Leyden and his prints stay up there. That's his website. They're out there. For instance, the Antonio Pollaiuolo, Battle of Ten Nude Men, it's a remarkable engraving, it’s the only one Pollaiuolo ever made. He’s done this Battle of Ten Nude Men hacking and slashing at each other with hatchets and swords. And they're arrayed across the background, it’s a sorghum field, curiously with a placket that says Antonius Pollaiuolo made this because he's showing off. But the idea was also that it was a perfect teaching aid. And sometimes you'll find that they are folded in quarters and that an artist might have bought this print. And it was a guide to how to render the human figure. Because below the Alps, the Italians knew how to do this. The folks above the Alps…
AS: It was too cold to be nude.
TL: So they were all wearing drapery until…
AS: That’s why they're so much better at portraying drapery.
TL: Drapery, and snow. But the idea that they are again, portable museums or guidebooks, that one print can teach many different kinds of skills. So, in one respect, printmaking could also teach you things about architecture, painting, sculpture, all of those things.
AS: Botanical, medical.
TL: Herbals, all of them. Oh my God, Vesalius on the fabric of human body, 1543. First time he does all of these dissections—it's published in Basel, Switzerland, by the way, because dissection was still forbidden by the Church, and of course Andreas Vesalius had taken and Latinized his name so that it sounds very doctorly—but the very first real serious anatomical volume was published in 1543. Same time that Copernicus is saying this idea of advancing science through print. That's one time seeing prints and books, man, that'll be a life changer.
AS: And maps?
TL: Oh my God. Maps, absolutely.
AS: Topographical views of towns.
TL: It's just amazing to think about. Let’s say in the Nuremberg Chronicle, which was the very first real history of the world that was published. Let's say what's the most important book that we should publish. Well, let's do the Bible. Thank you, Mr. Gutenberg. So that's like 1455. The next big tome of world history is Liber Chronicarum. Also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, because it was published in Nuremberg, curiously by the press that was run by Albrecht Dürer’s godfather Anton Koberger, it always helps to be taught a little bit in your relative’s workshop.
AS: I think that’s how it works.
AS: That's how all those early women printmakers made anything was because their Dad’s had a workshop.
TL: Because they were there. Take this, fix this, fix this, cook this, do that, and change the baby.
AS: And where’s lunch?
TL: And my beer, thank you very much. Because it’s safer than water. That sounds pretty good to me. I think it starts with God the father blessing, and it literally is the history of the world. It starts with the Creation: “In the beginning there was… he creates it and he separates light from dark and he creates Adam and then he creates Eve and it goes on and then are all these chapters on the Kings and Queens of the biblical era. And then they all become Kings and Queens of the medieval era until the present day, 1493. And the last seven pages are left blank. Because you could fill in your own family history there. And because, of course, the world was going to end in 1500, just like Y2K. However, the thing that's interesting is that there are all of these different views of cities, right? Well, there are cities that people had visited, like Venice, and then there are other cities like Damascus that they hadn't been to yet. So they'd have a picture of a city, which was incredibly 15th century, and they would use the same picture of a city for one of those cities that you hadn't visited before, because hey, it's a city. So, but in many ways, these maps of places that you've been, they can teach you tons?
AS: You can get that volume hand colored too. The copy of the National Gallery in Washington is hand colored.
TL: And there's was a copy at the Peabody Library where you could sit and turn the pages yourself, and it wasn't hand colored. And the other cool thing… Was on the title page. There are these little sketches in the lower part where you could put your family's initials and the date you bought it. And, of course, these books were published bespoke. You would buy a stack of pages. And you take your stack of pages and you'd take it and say, I want it bound in pig skin between these boards and it could be done that way. Or you say, no, I just want it done in leather or paper boards, whatever…
AS: And it's thick.
TL: It's about three inches thick.
AS: It's a big book. Generous in size.
TL: In a way it's also cool because it's published in Fraktur, which looks like the Germanic way of printing a book. Gutenberg had made that decision, because to print the Bible they used the Fraktur, which just looks like hand lettering. He used the hand-lettering-style type because they wanted this book to look as much like a handwritten Bible, even though it had been printed with moveable type, so that it still seemed real, valued.
AS: Like an illuminated manuscript.
TL: And some of those, even in the first Bible, they would have the initial letter would be there. The capital letter that begins an entire verse would be larger to be illuminated. And there's several reasons for that, because it was a way in, an entrance point onto the page, also was a way to shed more light onto the text because usually in a capital letter, there would be some characters that are doing whatever is being done in that following verse.
AS: It would elevate the value.
TL: Absolutely. So the books are an incredibly important way… Well, the incunabula—books before 1501, because incunabula is a Latin word for cradle, as in the cradle of printing and printing was the best. And they really were the best. They were printed on the best rag paper with the best handmade ink. And it was the best design. I mean, they really are spectacular. But by the 19th century, books were so widespread, they were using paper that had been made from wood pulp. And that's why, if you were lucky enough to pick up a 19th century book, it's going to fall apart in your hands because the acid of the woodpile is it's…
AS: They are really terrifying.
TL: Yes, and even though there will be brilliant illustrations in there by Doré or whomever… But that also tells you again about consumption by a larger number of people—bring the cost down. So, all of those things are aspects of the history of prints that…
AS: Everything is intertwined.
TL: Mighty tasty. So you get politics and you get religion and you get social satire and you get caricature and you get propaganda and you get all of that in a way that art history itself doesn't give it to you, if it's architecture, painting. sculpture. Prints are like boots on the ground kinds of art history. And I really appreciate that a great deal. I just think it's a much more accurate window into what might've been happening. And admittedly, we don't know what size and shape the window was. We don't know how clean or dirty it is.
AS: We don't know what we're missing.
TL: We have to scrub off our own chauvinism or our own ideas. And the other thing that you can get that was wonderful with prints, that many times they were in series like a Life of the Virgin or the Passion of Christ or a calendar or playing cards, or even tracing the idea of the alphabet. Beause there was no U, it was just a V, and there was no J, there was an I. And then you got W (doo-bluh-vay) in German. It's a double V. It's not a double U. This idea of a work of art that is produced in multiple impressions, many times over, and they're pulled from an inked surface, and they can be distributed far and wide, or it could be made very expensively. But it really is something that you can have in your hands and look at it and enjoy it and pull it out and savor it and learn lessons from time to time. It could be a biblical passage. It could be a lesson in mercy, like Rembrandt's Hundred Gilder print.
AS: It could lessons from Aesop’s Fables or Erasmus…
TL: Then you don't even need to have all of the book learning or have to read Latin. That you could pick apart and take the time to pick apart the lesson because it's all in there. I think we're so conditioned to just consume images and not really realize how many magnificent little tidbits are in there. For instance, Hogarth, William Hogarth in the 18th century. Okay. Actually in retrospect, Hogarth is an artist that I kind of respect a lot because he was a good painter. He would come up with these series, like Marriage à la Mode. You should marry for love, not for money, but he was also a brilliant engraver. So he came up with The Harlot's Progress, which is a cycle of 6 prints that show little Moll Hackabout coming to London from the countryside. And she's met by a procuress who's going to… It's like being met at the Port Authority or getting off the bus and being turned into a life of sex trafficking.
In these six scenes, you see the downfall of Moll and how she's now making her money sleeping with rich men who were climbing out windows. And she eventually dies of venereal disease and her child who was born with a crippled leg. It's just… It really shows all of these terrible things, and it was a lesson, and it was a small opera. Hogarth followed that series up with The Rake's Progress, which showed what happened to this young man who'd misbehaved and was whoring and had been drinking. He ends up in an insane asylum in Bedlam.
And once Hogarth had come up with these images—and he had engraved his own images and they're selling well—he gets pissed because somebody starts copying them. He thinks “I'm not doing this again until y'all pass some kind of a copyright law.” And it was William Hogarth, the artist printmaker, who did push forward on the copyright law that became law in England. And that's why he finally published his Marriage à la Mode, because then it couldn't be copied because it was cum privilege, it was copyrighted. It was printmaking that made that necessary. I think that's fascinating. It’s the 18th century, how to tell the story. Series are wonderful things.
AS: It just expands your possibilities.
TL: Or Audubon's Birds of North America, that's actually a cycle. It's not just, oh, cool, it's a turkey. It's actually part of 400 some images. So we got all of that.
AS: Printmaking, it rocks.
TL: And it wasn't until Whistler was like, “we’ve got to make sure that people really understand. We're going to limit these editions and we're going to come up with a system of editioning things. And we're going to say that there's 50 in this edition. And when this edition, when I finished having 50 images printed of this, I'm going to cancel the plate.” And it's really hard to see this sometimes, but he… There's a wonderful example of… I would show a class where he's scored, right through.
TL: Scored right through the plate. And that means that no more images can be printed from it.
AS: That's a question that I get from people who are just learning about prints and printmaking: the limited edition. People ask: “Do we know how many Hogarth made or Rembrandt made?” And the truth is, we don't. But at a certain point—thank you, Whistler—it becomes a thing.
TL: Then because of the whole etching revival and they'd all went, “you know, that guy Rembrandt (a couple hundred years earlier), he really had it going on.” And they're figuring this out. But it's the rise of the middle class. It's a rise of gallerists and art makers. All of this kind of visual literacy, that is now a part of the 19th-century world, they start limiting the editions of things. And again, printmaking is pushing the boundaries on that, which I find ultimately fascinating. There are other times, of course. There are no limited editions of let's say Posada’s prints. Because during the Mexican revolution, at the beginning of the 20th century, the idea was to make 20,000 images and get them out there on cheap paper. Because this was the way to help the people rise up. Again, you get all of these different ways of understanding, seeing, owning. And the whole world of print now is so peculiarly rarefied. You and Ben discussed that whole concept of value. One of the things that we can always say to our students in History of Prints was: what you should do with each other before you graduate is trade. Because if you trade with some of your friends now, in 20 years, some of y'all will still be making art and some of you will have really turned into something. And you'll go, oh, I have some of his work. An early work by Josh Bales or… That's exciting stuff. I do have some of those.
AS: That's the nice thing about the multiples. You can leave an impression behind for your professor.
TL: Thank you very much. So, um, what else would you like to cover today?
AS: I think, I mean… We we've hit 50-ish minutes, so I think we probably can wrap up.
TL: I think we should. And then next time we'll talk to you folks about—if you stick with the program, which I think you might enjoy—which prints are made, what way. So we'll start off with woodcut, and then we'll go into intaglio and what that means. And we talk about lithography, which comes about 1798, but becomes a big deal in the 19th century. And then there was even a whole bunch of chauvinism about that, because it was too new and too awful. And then I started realizing, that's just like me and how I'm behaving with the whole digital revolution. I should pull my head out of my backside. And, nevermind... And then when go into screenprinting, silkscreens, serigraphy, depending on what name you want to give it. I think that's for another day. Just understanding the wide range of what prints can do and can be and can teach.
AS: And how they're completely integral in the social, cultural milieu. The entire history of Western printmaking.
TL: Pretty much. I mean, shoot, even Gauguin did his prints and he did Noa Noa and he illustrated his own book of poetry. So did William Blake.
AS: Didn't they… some of them decided that prints were a great way to make money in between their paintings selling.
TL: Absolutely. And I think in many ways we know more about Rembrandt because of his prints and well, and frankly, I think Goya is a superior printmaker to painter.
AS: Some of the paintings are amazing.
TL: Some of them are. We'll get there. We'll talk about that. But in the meantime, enjoy the fact that you're in for the history of everything tasty. Yeah, that's it. History of Prints. Yum-ola.
AS: Thanks for listening to Platemark series two the history of Western printmaking. I'm Ann Shafer, your host and editor for this series. And I'd like to send a special shout out to Michael Diamond for letting us use his original composition as our theme music. We welcome questions and hope you will rate us and leave a review. That will help us spread the word. And you could share it with your sphere of influence too. We'd appreciate it.
And we'll see you next time.
Platemark series two History of Prints
Producer and host: Ann Shafer
Co-host: Tru Ludwig
Theme music: Michael Diamond
Show notes and website: platemarkpodcast.com
©2021 Ann Shafer