Copperplate engraving

Copperplate engraving is a process for intaglio printmaking and incising a design on a hard surface. The surface of a copper plate (1-3 mm thick) is smoothed before engraving and coated with a thin layer of varnish, chalk, soot or wax. The drawing is done in mirror-image on this layer, then the lines are incised in the metal with a graver or burin. Metal shavings are removed. Surfaces are created with densely juxtaposed lines. The ridges thrown up on both sides of the incised furrows are removed (unlike drypoint etching) with a scraper although they can be left to create particular effects in the print. Before printing takes place, the plate is heated, covered with ink. The warm ink seeps into the finest of depressions and fills the lines and textures of the drawing. The rest of the plate is cleaned off. The copper plate is now pressed with a printing press on to moistened paper which soaks up the ink from the depressions in the plate. The copperplate-engraving technique is very exacting, time-consuming and exhausting for the engraver, who needs a lot of strength for it. It took Albrecht Dürer more than three months to execute the celebrated copperplate engraving "Knight, Death and Devil". Characteristic features of copperplate engravings are fine lines, richness of detail, soft contrasts (unlike the woodcut); nevertheless, there are no actual gradations of tone. Viewing with a magnifying glass reveals that the line begins as fine as a hair, then swells, only to become thin again. This line typical of the copperplate engraving is called taille in French. There is no shading from a ridge as in drypoint. The edges of he lines are smooth whereas the edges of lines in etching are rough - due to biting in acid. The technique of copperplate engraving was probably first used ca 1430 in upper Germany; after the woodcut it is the second oldest printmaking technique. At that time the copperplate engraving provided a relatively economical reproducing method. In the 15th century the copperplate was discovered as an autonomous means of expression. Martin Schongauer made the technique famous but it reached a first pinnacle in the work of Albrecht Dürer, who had learned copperplate engraving from Schongauer and later revolutionised it. In the 16th century the copperplate engraving process was rationalised and mass reproduction became possible. The heyday of the copperplate engraving was the Baroque period. Peter Paul Rubens employed numerous copperplate engravers to make graphic reproductions of his paintings. They were bound as catalogues and sent throughout Europe to advertise his workshop. Towards the close of the 18th century the copperplate engraving was replaced by the wood engraving, which represented a less expensive reproduction technique. Leading exponents of the copperplate engraving included:
Heinrich Aldegrever (1502-1555)
Jost Amman (1539-1591)
Gian Giacomo Caraglio (1500-1570)
Daniel Chodowiecki (1726-1801)
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
Francisco de Goya (1746-1828)
Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945)
Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533)
Israhel van Meckenem (1440-1503)
Matthias Merian (1593-1650)
Marcantonio Raimondi (1475-1534)
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-1669)
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Martin Schongauer (1450-1491)
Christoff Weigel the Elder (1654-1725)