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The RISD Museum of Art to Present The Brilliant Line: Following the Early Modern Engraver
Claude Mellan. Death of Adonis, ca. 1630s. Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth.
PROVIDENCE, RI.- The RISD Museum of Art presents The Brilliant Line: Following the Early Modern Engraver, 1480-1650, featuring 85 objects from the RISD Museum’s outstanding collection of Renaissance and Baroque prints—until now unpublished and rarely viewed—as well as objects from major public institutions such as the National Gallery of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visitors to the exhibition will receive a privileged view into this prized resource. Although most people see and even touch an engraving every day—US currency and many stamps are engraved on steel—few artists work in the medium today. In the Renaissance engraving was new, and one of the world’s first reproducible art forms, full of possibility for the spread of designs of all types throughout Europe.

The Brilliant Line focuses on the height of the medium, from 1480 to 1650, when engravers made dramatic and rapid visual changes to engraving technique as they responded to the demands of reproducing artworks in other media. The Brilliant Line follows these visual transformations and offers new insight into the special inventiveness and technical virtuosity of Renaissance and Baroque (Early Modern) engravers. The exhibition will travel to the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL in April, 2010.

Renaissance engravings, objects of exquisite beauty and incomparable intricacy, are composed entirely of lines. Using a burin (a metal tool with a lozenge-shaped tip), an engraver carves recessed grooves into a copperplate. After the plate is inked and its flat surfaces wiped clean, the copperplate is forced through a press against dampened paper, onto which the ink pulled from inside the lines transfers, printing the incised image in reverse. Artists began using this intaglio process in Europe as early as 1430.

Engravers learned quickly from one another by buying and trading engravings and meeting fellow practitioners on transcontinental travels. The exhibition takes an international approach, following connections among engravers from Nuremberg, to Rome, to Paris, and the cumulative effects of the knowledge they shared. Objects on view lay out the medium’s continuities, or “systems”—those visual tricks that responded so well to the pictorial problems of tone, texture, and volume—while highlighting the exceptional ingenuity of individual engravers. Visitors will be invited to think about the relationships between spectacular prints by Albrecht Dürer and Marcantonio Raimondi, Cornelis Cort and Agostino Carracci, or Martin Schongauer and Robert Nanteuil. Where many Renaissance print exhibitions have emphasized the regional specificity of particular schools, assembling all printmaking techniques together, this exhibition outlines the fluid geography of engraving and the particular history of one medium as it was shaped by its specific applications and circumstances of production.

The exhibition also features an exciting collaboration between Associate Curator Emily Peters and RISD Associate Professor of Printmaking Andrew Raftery, a practicing engraver. Raftery redrew and analyzed several engravings in the show, creating an interactive in-gallery and online Flash program that allows visitors to visually unpack engraving’s complex visual language. A video features Raftery engraving and printing. Through this and other key comparisons in the gallery, the exhibition brings the early modern engraver’s working process to life.

RISD Museum of Art | Block Museum of Art | Renaissance | Baroque | Andrew Raftery |


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