Spring has arrived Friday, May 8 2015 

Aveline Le Printemps - AusschnittSpring has arrived in personam in this pretty etching by French book illustrator and engraver François-Antoine Aveline. He was born 1718 in Paris as the son of the engraver Antoine Aveline (1691-1743) and the grandson of Pierre Aveline the Elder (1654-1722). After the death of his father, he left Paris around 1750 for London. Here he worked for Wiliam Hogarth (1697-1764), creating satirical scenes like the Election print. He seemed to have changed his name to F. Aviline, perhaps to facilitate a proper pronouncation of his French name by his English speaking buyers.

Le Printemps (Spring) presented here is the first in a series of four prints after designs by his father Pierre Aveline. The son consequently marked it with F. Aveline filius sculp.  We know of a series of earlier prints by Pierre showing the same theme, then after designs by François Boucher.

William Young Ottley, in his dictionary on engravers bearing the impressing title Notice of Engravers, and Their Works: Being the Commencement of a New Dictionay, which is not Intended to Continue, Containing Some Account of Upwards of Three Hundred Masters, with More Complete Catalogues of Several of the more Eminent than Have yet Appeared, and Numerous Original Notices of the Performances of Other Artists Hitherto Little Known (1831, available online here) criticized that “the four etchings by François-Antoine Aveline are[…] poorly executed and were perhaps some of the artist’s first works.

Nevertheless, this didn’t stop an unkown later artist to lay a fine grid on the etching to create a copy (perhaps a drawing) after the copy.

Aveline Le Printemps

François-Antoine Aveline (1718-1780): Le Printemps

Abkupfern, or how to crib a post Thursday, Feb 27 2014 

We live in a world where texts are copy-pasted, images are being downloaded and uploaded again, tweets are re-tweeted and blog articles are re-posted. Standard multiplying procedures in the digital age. A few hundred years ago, the common procedure to multiply pictorial works on paper was to get prints first from woodcuts and later on from engravings on copper plates.

The modern German language offers some phrases and words which originate from these times. Let us have a somewhat nostalgic look at them.

The German word for the metal “copper” is “Kupfer”, thus we have:

  • abkupfern”: Verb, meaning “to copy in a plagiary way”, to crib1. Often used in the present perfect form “abgekupfert” (copied).
  • gestochen scharf”: Adjective, meaning “pin sharp”. “Gestochen” is the present perfect of “stechen”, meaning “to engrave”. This is related to the sharp edges of the lines engraved in the copper plate, creating a pin sharp image.
  • Mein lieber Freund und Kupferstecher”: Literally “my dear friend and engraver”. A lightheartedly phrase used in the sense of “my dear old chap”.
  • “Die Presse”: “The press”, nowadays rather called “media”. Still widely used in the German words Presselandschaft and Pressesprecher.

The modern use of abkupfern and gestochen scharf is probably not too different from their original meaning. The derogatory touch of abkupfern may be related to the notion that engravers at the time had not only the necessary skills for faithfully copying works of art, but also for counterfeiting banknotes.  This went along with the impression of engravings being mainly reproductive works lacking any creativeness.

The phrase “Mein lieber Freund und Kupferstecher” may have been in use much longer, but we know that the German poet Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866) used it as the opening words in letters to his dear friend and engraver Carl Barth (1787-1853), whom he devoted one of his rather cumbersome poems.2

Carl Barth - Engraver The German novelist Theodor Fontane (1819-1898) used it in his play from 1892, “Frau Jenny Treibel”: “Das hat so sein sollen, Freund und Kupferstecher; mitunter fällt Ostern und Pfingsten auf einen Tag” – “Sometimes, dear old chap, Easter and Pentecost happen to be on the same day.” It is rather doubtful that these quotations were the only source for the widespread use of the phrase, as Lutz Röhrich pointed out.3

The widespread profession of an engraver has been long gone, but the charming, old-fashioned  abkupfern  and gestochen scharf are still in use today4. It is still perfectly normal to say that a blog entry has been abgekupfert, although no copper plates are involved in the process anymore, just buzzing photons in fiber cables.

I am sure other languages feature similar words originating from the analog age of engravings and printing presses, as the English word press5 itself.

1 A side note on the verb “to crib”: The verb exists already in 1605, with the transitive meaning of “to put something into a crib” or “support it with a framework of timber”. It would be certainly interesting to retrace the story behind its intransitive form of “to plagiarize”.

2 “An den Gevatter Kupferstecher Barth / Wenn du dich gestochen müd am Stechtisch / Wie ich mich gesprochen matt am Sprechtisch / Laß uns sitzen sprechen und ausstechen / Reinen Rheinweins eine Flasch am Zechtisch / Freien Künsten stehen wir zu Dienste / Laß uns ihnen dienen nicht zu knechtisch.”

3 Lutz Röhrich, Lexikon der sprichwörtlichen Redensarten, Herder (Freiburg-Basel-Wien, 1991, 1994, 1999), Vol. 3, p. 911.

4 See the Retropedia for more nostalgic examples.

5 See the Online Etymology Dictionary with interesting notes on the press.

First painting by Michelangelo inspired by a contemporary engraving Thursday, Jun 18 2009 

Schongauer Saint Anthony

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

“When a copper engraving by Martin of St. Anthony beaten by the devils reached Florence, Michelangelo made a pen drawing and then painted it. To counterfeit some strange forms of devils he bought fish with curiously coloured scales, and showed such ability that he won much credit and reputation. He also made perfect copies of various old masks, making them look old with smoke and other things so that they could not be distinguished from the originals. He did this to obtain the originals in exchange for the copies, as he wanted the former and sought to surpass them, thereby acquiring a great name.”

In this colorful excerpt from the Lives of the Artists, Italian biographer Giorgio Vasari provides an interesting detail of the early years of Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1564) as a painter: He used a contemporary engraving by the German artist Martin Schongauer (ca. 1445-1491) as the model for his first steps as a painter. The engraving is one of Schongauer’s earliest prints (he was around 30 when he made it) and depicts Saint Anthony tormented by the Demons.

It is interesting to note here  that in this case the engraving forms  the original work of art providing the model for a painting; in later centuries (especially in the 18th century) prints would be the objet d’art par ecxellence serving as a faithful copy of a painting or a drawing.

In the recently opened exhibition Michelangelo’s First Painting, you now have the opportunity to first take a look at the original Schongauer engraving (unique in its collage of fantastic beasts and figures, reminiscent of later Pieter Bruegel paintings) and then decide for yourself whether those fish heads bought at the market indeed surpassed the copies.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Michelangelo’s First Painting. June 16, 2009–September 7, 2009. European Paintings Galleries, 2nd floor.

Print news from around the world Monday, Mar 23 2009 

A short roundup of print news from around the world:

Youenoch has an aminated version of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.

Mercuriuspoliticus was delighted to see  “The Headless Horseman”, an engraving by Pierre Lombart which underwent some drastic changes.

Clara Lieu spotted the grouchiest looking putto ever in the etching/engraving Allegory of the Arts by the Italian Andrea Giovanni Podesta (1608-~1674).

The iconic woodblock print  In the well of the great wave off Kanagawa by Katshushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was sold at Christie’s for $68’500. The equally beautiful The Tama River in Musashi province from the same series Fugaku sanjurokkei (The thirty-six views of Mount Fuji) fetched $5’000.

Edward Sozanski shows us When European prints went supersized.