The invention of print is mainly due to two elements, namely, paper spread and binding-press use. The combination of these two elements enables to draw many copies out of a single drawing, thus reaching a high number of people. From then on, culture and religion are spread among most people. All over Europe, as an example, believers can have icons at their disposal.
Before print, often works were considered as precious in light of their uniqueness. After print, this idea is somewhat changing. This way, printing and engraving masters can hand their talent down to posterity, as well as painters do with their unique works.
In view of this, starting from mid-1500 printed pictures are being collected by the same art lovers collecting pictures, statues and tapestries.
Printed pictures help spreading religious, political and scientific ideas. In fact, in 1500, printing masters create pictures of anatomy, botany, theology, as well as veduta of the main towns, topographical maps and nautical charts. Their diffusion enables culture to reach the newly born middle classes, and not only the privileged nobles and clergy.
Painters were used to reach large town courts to assert their artistic value. In the same way, printing masters created their works of art in the most advanced towns, where printing workshops could guarantee careful engravings, quality paper and ink. This way, in a few years, Italian artists became renowned all over Europe, thanks to the engraving market of large towns like Rome, Venice, Milan, Naples, Bologna, Florence and Palermo.
Today these engravings witness urban evolution throughout centuries. Starting from 1600, in fact, architects and art lovers wished to go through the refined and innovative architectural styles of churches, historical centers and palaces in those towns where clergy and politics made history.
In 1700 nature becomes the ideal subject, in that landscape is represented in all its features. Hence nature becomes the subject instead of the background of the new landscape printing pictures.
Engraving ends in 1800 when offset printing comes into force. Then, in mid-1800, the first photographic process prevail.
Offset printing process was quick and matrix was long-lasting, thus enabling to run thousands of copies. This way, culture could be spread among people with a higher profit.
In 1900 photomechanical techniques prevail since drawings are no longer hand-made on the matrix. The photographic process is instead utilized.
An image engraved on matrix and then reproduced is a PRINTING. An ORIGINAL printing is an image created engraved or drawn by a master. It is usually imprinted in a number of copies on paper. This is printing of master engravers. Printed pictures are to be considered as works of art just like any other man creations.
They are basically three: EMBOSSING, SUNKING, FLAT
Embossing or wood-engraving: drawing is made on a wooden plate. Then, white portions are removed from wood with a sharpened knife, just leaving the portions that are to be inked.
Grave sunking: the graver is a thin steel quadrangular bar ending with a slanting cutting point. Engravers can press on plates thanks to the graver handle. When engraving copper, the graver raises a thin metal leaf that is called beard.
Niello: same technique as graver, it was performed by goldsmiths mainly on silver plates in XV century.
Aquafortis: the master does not engrave on copper plate directly, in that drawing is hollowed by nitric acid erosion. The plate is carefully cleaned and polished and then coated with resin or bees-wax. The coat is to be spread when warm. The plate is subsequently darkened with lampblack so that the drawing is emphasized. By means of a thin-pointed steel tool, the engraver draws on paint disclosing the copper portions that are to be engraved. After that, the engraver dips the plate into a basin containing diluted nitric acid. This way, filling drawings where wax has been removed, the mordant can corrode metal. As soon as the engraver assumes the bite is sufficiently deep, he pulls the plate out dipping it into water in order to remove acid. Such a process can be repeated many times. After completion, the plate can be revised by a dry pointer in order to obtain shades from beards which would otherwise be corrupted by acid.
Aquatint: it is an aquafortis engraving process by which shades similar to half-shade are obtained. First, the drawing is slightly engraved with the same process as aquafortis. Then, the plate is cleaned and evenly coated with powdered quartz and asphalt. After that, the plate is warmed so that powder grains are fixed on bottom. After protecting by wax the drawn portions that are not to be engraved, a slight biting must be processed. Entering the grains cracks, acid corrupts metal that becomes rough. Rough metal is then inked thus rendering printed drawing similar to water-colour.
Pencil-stippled technique: out of an aquafortis background, special effects are obtained thanks to small rollers, punches and gravers. Pencil-stippled print is similar to the pencil technique. While the first one is wholly stippled, the second one leaves blank areas.
Soft paint technique: this is another aquafortis engraving process. Tallow is added to the resin and wax coat in order to maintain softness of the paint protecting copper. Drawing is made by pencil on a thin paper sheet stuck to the wax coat. When removing the paper sheet, paint is pasted to the pencil drawing, while copper is exposed. After that, it is dipped into acid. A soft painted engraving shows a gentle drawing, similar to pencil.
Colour engraving: techniques are basically two. The first one provides colouring the plate by a poupče (sort of ink ball). Engraved marks are filled with colours, starting from clearer and ending with darker. Colouring process is clearly repeated at every run. The second technique provides a number of engraved plates, that are separately engraved and coloured, each one having a different colour. The latter process can be applied to any engraving techniques.
Offset printing: this is a flat engraving. On smoothed stone, the master draws by a special rich pencil. The coat is then water soaked and inked to be printed through a roller.
Cinzia and Folco Paraboschi