Before Dürer

The Engraving Becomes Art

28 September 2022 to 22 January 2023

The Städel Museum devoted an exhibition to the engraving in its early days as an artistic pictorial medium. The show presented some 130 important German and Netherlandish engravings of the fifteenth century, and thus retraced the development of the medium from its simple beginnings to ever more sophisticated creations. Outstanding prints by Martin Schongauer, Wenzel von Olmütz, and Israhel van Meckenem, but also by anonymous early engravers such as the Master ES, the Master with the Banderoles, and the Master b(x)g were on view. A selection of early engravings by the great German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer rounded out the presentation.

The engraving is one of the oldest techniques used in Europe to print images. An intaglio printing method, it developed around 1430/1440 out of the art of metal engraving in goldsmith workshops. On the Upper and Lower Rhine, and not long afterwards in Italy as well, goldsmiths and painters began engraving religious and secular depictions on copper plates from which they then printed them on paper. Thus reproduced, the compositions served purposes of private devotion or as models, not only for other engravers, but also for painters, stained-glass makers, and sculptors. A new pictorial world gradually evolved and spread in the form of prints. This imagery owes its special appeal—which is as strong as ever today — to its simple but nonetheless effective graphic pictorial language, its immediacy, and its fascinating narrative qualities.

Curator: Dr. Martin Sonnabend (Head of Prints and Drawings before 1750, Städel Museum)

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