Thursday, April 12, 2007

Armour to Paper - On the Origins of Etching

"Repetition is not the enemy of genius, an artist can exercise
creativity by acknowledging what ought to be reiterated."
[Richard Shiff on AC Quatremère de Quincy's praise for Raphael2]

Memento Mori etching by Daniel Hopfer
Memento Mori - Death & the Devil Surprising Two Women (source)

Etching of soldier and woman - 16th century
Soldier and Woman (etching on iron)

Landsknechte (renaissance mercenaries)
"The individualized soldier, the infantryman, made a late first appearance in the arts. Although wars could not have been fought without him, in ancient and medieval art he remained a notational cypher. He could not pay his way in the visual record, as could the centurion or the knight; but he was also absent because, unlike serving women, jugglers, friars, peasants and huntsmen, he was not wanted there.

Around 1500, in Switzerland and southern Germany, this conspiracy of silence was broken. In drawings and prints, glass painting and sculpture, the soldier emerged as a type, often strongly indivdualized; as a stereotype, familiar and real enough to bear a considerable weight of moral and allegorical resonance; and as a member of an occupational group whose appearance, way of life and relationships with comrades, civilians, and women were of avid if perturbing interest. By the end of the 1530s, artists had enabled us to know the soldier through visual evidence as we cannot know the practitioners of any other pursuit."
{JR Hale 'The Solider in Germanic Graphic Art of the Renaissance'
IN: Journal of Interdisiplinary History 1986 (85-114)}.

Officer accompanied by 4 soldiers etching
Officer Accompanied by Four Soldiers

Etching of 3 designs for a fountain - Daniel Hopfer
Three Designs for a Fountain

Arabesque and Satyrs
On the left: Frontpiece of architecture in 3 parts: below the Holy Family, in center the Crucifixion, and above the Resurrection and the two Apostles Peter and Paul.
On the right: Arabesque with Satyrs

Venus accompanied by cupid playing the flute
Venus Accompanied by Cupid Playing the Lute [see also: Lute iconography]

3 old women beating a devil on the ground
Three Old Women Beating a Devil on the Ground (source)

Man embracing a woman - 16th century etching
Man Embracing a Woman

Decorative etching - Mary with Jesus
Mary with Jesus (source)

Ornamental fillet with seahorse - Hopfer etching
Ornamental Fillet with Seahorse (source)

Hopfer etching - A trophy of arms
A Trophy of Arms (source)

Bacchanalian scene
Bacchanalian Scene

Battle of Tritons etching
Battle of Tritons

Alphabet of roman capital letters with metaphorical ornaments
Alphabet of Roman Capital Letters with Metaphorical Ornaments

Genius or simply Ingenious?

Daniel Hopfer (~1470-1536) was trained as an arms etcher at a time when Augsburg in southern Germany was one of the main centres for the production of weapons and armour in Europe.

As circumstances would have it, Hopfer was a contemporary of some of the greatest artists in german history - Lucas Cranach, Hans Bergkmair, Hans Holbein (each known as: 'The Elder') and Albrecht Dürer, among others - who were responsible for propelling Germany, in some senses, to the forefront of the Renaissance as it emerged from Italy at the beginning of the 16th century.

Hopfer's seminal contribution to this milieu was to adapt the etching technique, that he had applied to the decorative embellishment of suits of armour for an exclusive clientele, to a reproductive printing process that could distribute his artistic output to a larger population. The attraction of this new technique (originally undertaken on iron plates) was that, whereas previously an artist was reliant upon the specialist engravers and woodcut artisans to faithfully render their artistic vision in a reproducible form, etching required little in the way of specialist skills beyond competency as a draughstman. In etching, a needle is used to draw the illustration onto a soft wax ground coating which is then eaten into the plate in an acid bath. The popularity of etching would rise to challenge both the wood and metal engraving methods.
"Although the Swiss goldsmith, draftsman and printmaker Urs Graf actually produced the first dated example of etching in 1513, Daniel Hopfer, a German artist who probably made engravings on armor, is generally credited with inventing the etching process and showing it to his compatriot Albrecht Dürer, who in addition to his other talents was a prolific engraver. Dürer became the first well-known northern artist to try his hand at the new technique, producing six etched iron plates from 1515 to 1518."
The elaborate decoration of armour was most likely imported into Germany from Italy at the end of the 15th century. Rediscovered ancient Roman motifs that came to be known as grotesques as well as Islamic arabesque patterns emerged as favoured ornamental designs. Grotesques in particular, with their imaginary monsters and bizarre human figures among leafy garlands, candelabra and altars, provided a fertile decorative style for modification and reinterpretation. It was within this flux of renaissance influence that Hopfer produced both plate etchings of armour designs and armour decoration from printed illustrations. Add to this mix his fondness for emulating, modifying and borrowing from Italian renaissance art and it is not difficult to conclude that Hopfer played one of the most pivotal roles in spreading the decorative styles of the renaissance through Germany and Europe.
"On the whole, scholarship of arms etchings and other figured and ornamental arms decorations is still in its infancy. While Hopfer's contribution as a printmaker is generally acknowledged, his arms etchings are at least as important, and, like his prints, reveal the role that Italian ornamental motifs had on his transformation from a Late Gothic to a Renaissance artist. The etched motifs on the horse armour in the Landeszeughaus, for example, which were created shortly before 1510, show this important transition [figure 10]. Here he mixed intricate and fanciful Late Gothic foliate tendrils with Italianate fruit festoons that are clearly Renaissance in character."1
It was common practice (and not regarded particularly as a negative phenomenon) in the early 16th century printing environment for workshops to engage in various forms of copying: replication, imitation and hybrid adaptations. Creating and circulating printed images facilitated the spread of visual information and helped accelerate stylistic changes. And artists, who had close relationships with the workshops, probably encouraged these activities so that their works were reaching a wider audience. Hopfer had married into a family of printers so it's not surprising to find that he often (but not always) copied, borrowed from or modified works by Dürer, Mantegna, Antonio Giovanni da Brescia, Marcantonio, Flötner, Cranach and others in producing his etchings. Although he favoured illustrating decorative motifs, as can be seen in the sample images above, Hopfer's etchings incorporated visual elements from a wide variety of both religious and secular subject matter.
"By working in and between different media, Hopfer facilitated the expansion of the Power of Women topos from the margins of etched armor into the center of repeatable works on paper, demonstrating the versatility of this theme concerning sexual morality and social heirarchies and its appeal to various kinds of markets"2


jms said...

I just followed the link to the space needle pics from BoingBoing - but wow! This is the coolest blog I've ever seen! I'll defintely be checking back - keep up the awesome work! :D

gl. said...

what sort of hat is the woman in "Man Embracing a Woman" wearing? it looks like... a baseball hat! :)

Pilgrim said...

another amazing post

Reese Zollinger said...

Just have to say that your blog was my inspiration to create a blog myself. You continually post excellent material, cheers BibliOdyssey. Nice work once again.

misteraitch said...

Many thanks for this—fascinating stuff.

George Goodall said...

A Friday treat.

ellyy said...

And poor Adolf Loos believed ornament was a crime.

I'm 100% sure that if he were alive today and took a peek at your blog he would be eating his words pk. ;}

The ornamental alphabet has stolen my heart!

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