(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘engraving

“What beauty is, I know not, though it adheres to many things”*…

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471 – 1528 ), Saint Eustace, c. 1500/1501, engraving

Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer was on a constant hunt for inspiration– and found novelty everywhere on his travels…

In 1520 Albrecht Dürer was in Brussels when the contents of a treasure ship sent back from the Americas by Hernán Cortés were put on display to celebrate the coronation of Charles V. The cache contained, among other items, obsidian weapons, jaguar pelts, feathered shields, gemstones and mosaic pieces, and gold wrought in innumerable inventive ways. Dürer, the son of a Nuremberg goldsmith, was flabbergasted. “All the days of my life I have seen nothing that rejoiced my heart so much as these things,” he wrote, “for I saw amongst them wonderful works of art.” But then, for him, everything was a work of art – either God-made or man-made. His well-known watercolours of a piece of turf and the iridescent wing of a blue roller bird are themselves marvels of creation that show marvels of creation.

For Dürer, even more than for most artists, the world was a place of wonder. If Leonardo da Vinci, his senior by 19 years, looked longest and deepest at natural phenomena – from the flow of water to the action of veins and sinews – Dürer (1471-1528) was in thrall to materiality, where sight became an extension of touch…

How a Renaissance master and inveterate traveler journeyed in a permanent state of fascination: “The wonders of Albrecht Dürer’s world,” from Michael Prodger in @NewStatesman.

* Albrecht Dürer


As we wonder, we might spare a thought for Ludwig Emil Grimm; he died on this date in 1863. A painter, art professor, etcher, and copper engraver, his subjects included his two brothers, the folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

self-portrait, 1813


“Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary”*…



Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, CZARDAS DANCERS, 1908


Ugliness has never been the subject of much scrutiny. For the most part, artists and thinkers have treated ugliness as an immutable category, filled with things they simply didn’t like. These included dangerous landscapes, people with disabilities, and objects that showed signs of too much use. When survival was a number one priority, people viewed anything potentially threatening as ugly. And for the most part, ugly works, particularly pieces that were unintentionally ugly, were forgotten to history.

As a result, the most significant ugly works created before the nineteenth century were intentionally ugly, created by technically skilled painters who decided, for whatever reason, to depict an ugly subject. Often, ugly art was created as a warning. There but for the grace of God go I, screams the gargoyle clinging to a medieval facade. To contemporary eyes, the art of the Dark Ages looks ugly as a whole (consider this great Vox explainer about ugly babies in medieval paintings.) At the time, however, people didn’t consider the malformed dogs or awkward hat-wearing crows to be ugly, though they did know that doom paintings, which depict the worst-case afterlife scenarios, were hideous. Doom paintings highlight the difference between heaven and hell in order to strike fear into the heart of viewers and thus discourage them from, say, coveting their neighbor’s hot spouse or lying when the tax official came around to collect coins. Sometimes these paintings function like the medieval version of Jonathan Edward’s hellfire-and-brimstone sermons: they actually make the afterlife look interesting, stimulating, and perhaps even a little bit appealing…

A consideration of the less-than-beautiful in Western art through the ages: “Ugliness Is Underrated: In Defense of Ugly Paintings.”

* “Beauty belongs to the sphere of the simple, the ordinary, whilst ugliness is something extraordinary, and there is no question but that every ardent imagination prefers in lubricity, the extraordinary to the commonplace”  -Marquis de Sade

(Echoed by Umberto Eco: “Beauty is, in some ways, boring. Even if its concept changes through the ages, nevertheless a beautiful object must always follow certain rules … Ugliness is unpredictable and offers an infinite range of possibilities. Beauty is finite. Ugliness is infinite, like God.”)


As we agonize over aesthetics, we might spare a thought for Lucas van Leyden; he died on this date in 1533.  A seminal Dutch artist, he was among the first Dutch exponents of genre painting and is generally regarded as a very accomplished engraver.


A portrait of Lucas van Leyden by Albrecht Dürer, June 1521




Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The basic principle of miniatures is always clear: it is that time in making commands time in looking”*…


A portrait of Queen Elizabeth, carved on a speck of gold, framed in the eye of a needle

Graham Short, a British micro-engraver, works in miniature… extreme miniature.  In addition to the portrait of the Queen (completed to celebrate her 90th birthday on April 21), above…

Short has also inscribed a quote from Abraham Lincoln on the tip of a Civil War bullet, one from Rosa Parks on the rim of a commemorative medal, and one from Steve Jobs on a gold microchip the size of a fingertip. The piece that gave him the most battle scars are the words “Nothing is Impossible”, which he scratched along the business edge of a razor blade. He used another razor edge as a canvas for a depiction of The Last Supper

da Vinci’s The Last Supper, engraved along the edge of a razor blade

More on Short’s painstaking technique– and more examples of his work– at “Inside the studio of the ‘micro-engraver’ who works between heartbeats to keep his hand steady.”

* Robert Hughes, Time,  Jan. 28, 1980


As we get small, we might send striking birthday greetings to Victor Vasarely; he was born on this date in 1906.  Vasarely attended medical school in Hungary before giving it up to study academic painting in Paris, where he became an advertising and graphic designer, painting on the side.  His 1937 painting, Zebra, is considered one of the earliest (if not indeed the earliest) example of Op Art— a movement of which he is widely accepted as both “grandfather” and leader.

Vasarely’s Zebra



Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 9, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The proper study of mankind is man”*…


 click here (and again) for larger

British engraver and publisher Valentine Green was one of the most accomplished mezzotint engravers in the later 18th and early 19th centuries in England.  During his career he produced over four hundred plates after portraits by Reynolds, Romney, and other British artists, and after pictures by Van Dyck, Rubens, Murillo, and other old masters.  But on occasion Green turned his hand to more personal projects- like the “abridgment” of Pope’s An Essay on Man, above.

Alexander Pope’s 1734 poem An Essay on Man, a philosophical poem using rationality to try and justify God’s ways to man. Pope’s poem was a particular favorite among the top Enlightenment thinkers of the time, including Kant, Rousseau and Voltaire, the latter[most] calling it “the most beautiful, the most useful, the most sublime didactic poem ever written in any language” (though he would later satirize Pope’s optimism in Candide).

Read more– and see another example of Green’s meditation on ephemerality and vanity– in “Life and Death Contrasted (ca.1770)

* Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle II


As we wonder what ever happened to good old Yorick, we might send memorable birthday greetings to Aloysius “Alois” Alzheimer; he was born on this date in 1864.  A psychiatrist and neuropathologist, he was the first to recognize the condition he called “pre-senile dementia”– a progressive, degenerative disorder that begins with short-term memory loss– and to identify the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that cause (or at least accompany) it.  At the suggestion of his friend and collaborator Emil Kraepelin, the condition was re-named “Alzheimer’s Disease.”



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