Back to top

XVI Century

SG Collezione Stampe / Centuries / XVI Century

Lucas van Leyden, Dutch and Flemish engraving in the XVI century

Lucas van Leyden, contemporary of Dürer, found in the engraving, more than in painting, the best form of expression of his art. His prints were spread far beyond the Dutch borders and became a model and source of inspiration for other artists. His engravings obtained great appreciation and market as testified in a letter of Johann Cochleaus, an anti Lutheran theologian, that wrote to Willibald Pirckheimer, a friend of Dürer, in 1520. In this letter he asserted that at the Frankfurt Fair the prints of the young Lucas were even more required and more sold than those of Dürer himself.
In 1521, now rich and famous, Lucas left Leyden and moved to Antwerp, a major center of cultural life in full economic expansion, able to attract artists from all parts of Europe. Here Lucas intensifies his engraver activity producing refined works in which he masterfully fuses the burin technique with that of the etching, as no one before him had been able to do.
In his compositions he reflects, in addition to the influence of Dürer, also that of Italian artists who he had learned about mainly through the study of Marcantonio Raimondi prints and engravers at his school.
In 1521 in Antwerp he met Albrecht Dürer for whom he felt the deepest admiration and the two artists, who esteemed each other, exchanged on that occasion several prints. As reported in 1604 by Karel van Mander in his “Book of the painting”, at thirty-three Lucas van Leyden, eager to know the artists of Brabant, Zeeland and Flanders, rented a boat outfitted with everything needed for a long trip, as if he had a great personality. Soon, along the path to the waterways, he met the famous painter Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse, who accompanied him for the rest of the trip. The two competed in lavishness and opulence by hosting lavish banquets with the artists of the cities that they met along their route.
From this trip Lucas returned sick to Antwerp and did not recover anymore. His artistic activities suffered due to persistent fever until it ceased altogether, but his prints, for a long time even after his death, were much sought.
Several artists of northern Europe were deeply influenced by the genius of Lucas, as Dirk Vellert (Master of the Star), Frans Crabbe, and also Mabuse. Throughout the sixteenth century Lucas van Leyden was a reference for all the graphic work of the Flemish Master engravers, of the Netherlands and of northern Germany.

Development and spreading of engraving in Italy

In Nordic countries the printed representation has been one of the most important moments in the development of figurative arts, initially through carvers craftsmen with simple works of Gothic inspiration, but this was soon improved by more sophisticated and complex compositions of the major artists of the XV and XVI century: Shongauer, Durer, Cranach, van Leyden, Bruegel.
However, in Italy the engraving was not considered as an important value and an original artistic expression as they were beyond the Alps and the great masters of the time remain in the opinion of painting as the highest form of art. The prints were basically considered a useful tool to present their creations to a wider public.
The sheets of some important artist were considered an exception and today are called ‘primitive’, they worked towards the second half of the fifteenth century until the first decades of the sixteenth century and they left wonderful chalcographic works.
In Florence, Maso Finiguerra (1426 -1464) engraved the wonderful series of ‘Planets’, ‘Prophets’ and ‘Sybille’, and the famous ‘Battle of naked men is by Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432 – 1498), this remains a masterpiece, one of the finest works of graphic art. This engraving pointed out the expressive power of the classic theme of the male nude while in combat, which influenced many artists to this day.
The charm of Florentine art influenced Northern Italy and the graphic innovations of Pollaiuolo inspired the young Andrea Mantegna (1431 – 1506). He was able through few works of extraordinary technical and compositional quality, to offer an outstanding contribution to the art of engraving.
Around the central figure of Mantegna there are several engravers (Zoan Andrea, Giovanni Antonio da Brescia, Nicoletto from Modena, Maestro IB). These engravers first inspired by his works and then by those of Durer, produced very valuable prints although not all with the same high quality as those of the masters.
Thus the printed representation arises almost simultaneously and independently, following paths and different models, in Germany and Italy.
The link between these two artistic worlds remains the figure of Durer, capable of giving with its printed inventions a universal impulse to graphic art, to both north and south.

Marcantonio Raimondi from Bologna to Venice and Rome

The most important school of Italian engraving in the Renaissance developed in the early decades of the sixteenth century around the figure of Marcantonio Raimondi.
He was born in Bologna around 1480. After starting his career as niellist, he soon turned himself toward the engraving for the printed reproduction. The first artistic training of Raimondi took place in Bologna at the workshop of the painter and goldsmith Francesco Francia around 1504 and his first dated engraving bears the year 1505. The works of his first years of activity, for the most part inspired by mythology, reveal, in shapes and landscape composition, the influence of the Nordic graphic art.
He moved to Venice where he met and studied Dürer prints reproducing, using the technique of engraving, seventeen of the twenty woodcuts of the ‘Life of the Virgin’ of the German master. Similar in size, printed in the same direction and with Dürer’s monogram its copies with the burin, as well as the original woodcuts, were requested by many merchants and collectors of prints.
In 1506,following the charges of forgery by the German artist at the senate of Venice, it was decided that on copies of Raimondi a number should be added so they could be easily distinguished from those of the original woodcut. The effort that Marcantonio had to produce in order to imitate perfectly the boards of Dürer contributed considerably to make him the most skilled Italian burinist of his time.
During the Venetian period his compositions like ‘The Dream of Raphael’ and ‘Saint Jerome’ were affected by the influence of Giorgione’s works. In 1509 he moved to Rome, after making a stop in Florence where he drew, from a lost cartoon by Michelangelo for the ‘Battaglia di Cascina’, the subject of ‘The climbers’ that he later engraved adding a background landscape derived from a print of Lucas van Leyden.
He studied themes and different subjects and his work became more and more refined in a way that he even managed to reproduce the silver tone of the engravings of the master Leiden.
Around 1510 he reached Rome, where he remained until the looting of the city ,in 1527, by troops of mercenaries sent by the Emperor Charles V of Habsburg. In Rome he met Raphael with whom he started a solid working relationship translating in print many of his drawings.
In fact, he quickly grew to be one of the interpreter of the Urbino master.
The bond between Raphael and Marcantonio was such that the master of Urbino inserted his friend in one of his most famous works in the Vatican Loggia: La cacciata di Eliodoro dal tempio. However, next to the engravings of subjects drawn by Raffaello and his pupils as Gianfrancesco Penni and Giulio Romano, Marcantonio continued to produce prints of his own invention and his influence remained decisive over the whole sixteenth century graphic production.
Because of licentious engravings taken from drawings by Giulio Romano, he was locked up in prison for quite some time.
In 1515-1516 the works of Marcantonio showed a new greater interest in the chiaroscuro effects of the compositions.
It is possible that this change of style was influenced by the arrival of Agostino Veneziano and Marco Dente to Marcantonio’s workshop, with whom he created a strong partnership.
His engraving activity was stopped with the sacking of Rome during which he was forced to leave all his possessions to the invaders to save himself. After his return to Bologna he spent the last years of his life in misery.

The graphic work from late Renaissance to Baroque

With the end of the fifteenth century the stage of engraving on wood is slowly depleted due to the diffusion of the etching of the copper plate technique. Over the Alps the genius of Dürer gave space to all forms of expression of the burin in a long series of masterpieces of Renaissance German graphic.
Other Nordic artists such as Lucas van Leyden further refined the burin technique by producing sublime works. In fact, Lucas van Leyden was the first Flemish artist, in a country where painting was prevalent, to understand the lesson of Dürer’s engravings to such a degree to achieve the finest chromatic tones.
At the end of the fifteenth century in Italy the Venetian tradition in woodcut was also maintained in the new engraving technique on copper plates. There are wonderful prints of Andrea Mantegna, although limited in number, which were engraved as drawings with shading and perspective. These works are far from being schematizations of primitive woodcut engravings and we can understand how the chalcographic tool gave autonomy and originality to the artistic expression in printing representation. It is through the spreading of prints that the fame of many artists was quickly been propagated from one country to another.
The wide popular power of engraving induces artist as Titian to entrust the printed reproduction of many of his masterpieces to master engravers such as Jacopo Caraglio and Cornelis Cort.
Engraving centres and schools were rapidly developed this helped many artists to be educated and also contributed to make them well known.
A group of very skilled engravers worked, around the figure of Marcantonio Raimondi, first active in Venice and later in Rome. These include Agostino de Musi (Agostino Veneziano), Marco Dente and Nicola Beatricetto that left us a large number of derived engravings mainly from subjects of Raphael.
The latter, having understood the importance of printing for spreading his models and his works, often executed drawings for the workshop of Raimondi in order to be transferred on copper plates.
After Mantegna, Mantua returned to be one of the most important centres in the field of engravings with the work of sculptors like Gian Battista (said Semoleo) and of his sons Adam, Diana and especially by those of Giorgio Ghisi (said Mantovano).
In Bologna, on the second half of the sixteenth century, Agostino Carracci emerges in the art of engraving with the tradition previously established by Raimondi.
In Northern Europe the art of engraving was developed in the first half of the sixteenth century in Antwerp in the workshop of Bruegel’ the Elder ‘and subsequently in the Netherlands by Hendrick Goltzius and his school, and in the early seventeenth century, in the workshop of Rubens where many subjects of the Master were printed and translated by skilled engravers such as Lucas Vosterman and Adams Bolswert.

Type a name or search alphabetically