Dürer, Prints Speakers: David Drogin and Beth Harris
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- So we've talked about Dürer as a great painter
- from northern Germany in the early 1500s
- around the same time as the High Renaissance
- in Italy, but up in the north, but Dürer
- was also a great print maker and this is
- one of his prints called 'The Four Horesemen
- of the Apocalypse' from the Book of Revelations.
- This is an excellent example to talk about
- Dürer's printmaking, in part because it's a
- woodcut. There are several different types
- of printmaking that are popular in the late
- 1400s and early 1500s and woodcuts was the
- first and most popular type of printing at
- the time. There's a couple of reasons for that
- but maybe one of the most important ones is
- the way that a woodcut is made. When we're
- looking at a woodcut like this, what we have
- to keep in mind is that all of the lines
- that have been printed on the page were
- raised up off the surface of the printing
- block, so we need to imagine that on the
- piece of wood that this was printed from,
- when we look at this cloud there was a thin
- piece of wood standing up from the surface
- and the carver, sometimes Dürer himself,
- had carved away everything that's white and
- blank. It's like a stamp, basically.
- So you kind of ink the raised parts.
- Right! And then press it down on the piece
- of paper. And then it gets put in the
- printing press where the paper gets pressed
- on the raised part, exactly like a stamp is how we should
- think of it and since...
- It looks like a very hard process!
- It's very labour intensive, but it's worth
- it in the end because you can make a lot of
- them, and they're relatively cheap.
- And you can make money that way, as Dürer
- did, you can spread your point of view that
- way, because they're very portable. So, a
- lot of effort goes into it at first, but
- then once you're making the prints, there's
- a lot of them, they're inexpensive, they can
- be carried around easily and so they help
- spread your name or your ideas very quickly.
- I was going to say that they were popular because
- they could be combined with the printed word, which
- was becoming printed more and more often at this
- time because, like letters in a typewriter in
- modern times, the images are raised up off the
- surface like the letters, and so they can all
- be combined in the same printing press and used together.
- And then the other kind of medium that Dürer used to
- make prints were engravings.
- That's right. He was interested in other kinds of
- media too, because although he could achieve, as
- we can see, a great deal of light and shadow and
- some detail in these woodcuts, there are, ultimately,
- limitations to the woodcut process, even though
- Dürer was a great master, as we can see.
- And the primary problem is, as we've said, that
- you're cutting away what you don't want to print.
- It's not a very direct way of making a representation.
- You're not drawing with a pen or painting with a
- paint brush. It's the opposite! You're making the
- marks that you don't want to appear on the paper, if
- that makes any sense. And that creates difficulties.
- Also, it's very hard in a woodcut to get very fine lines
- or very sharp details because, if you want a very thin
- line, like the lines in the clouds are, to a certain
- extent, you have to imagine these are very thin thins,
- basically, of wood that are sticking up and in the
- printing press they may crush and break and so it hard to
- get... It's amazing that this is printed as detailed as it is.
- So Dürer is interested in other methods of printing
- that can give him the kind of details and tonal gradation
- that he might be able to find. Yes, this has a very
- sharp feeling between dark and light. Right!
- Most woodcuts do have that feeling. There's not a lot
- of middle grays here. Exactly! And so what he's able
- to do is, then, instead, later in his life is take
- advantage of the engraving printing technique, which
- very different from the way a woodcut is made.
- So how do you make an engraving? Well, the primary
- difference is that with an engraving, the gestures
- that you make are the lines that will appear on the
- paper. Like drawing. Like drawing, like painting.
- It's not in opposite, it's not working backwards, like
- you are with a woodcut. With an engraving, you work
- with a metal plate and you use a very sharp
- instrument with a V-shaped tip - it's called a burin -
- and you push that through the metal. Is it hard to
- push through the metal? It's not very hard, because,
- it's metal, so it's hard, but you do have this very
- sharp, knife-like tool and, of course, we have to think
- of the metal as being a very smooth, uniform surface,
- again, an advantage over woodcuts, which has grain
- knots and other defects. The lines that you are making
- with this tool can be extremely thin. You can make
- the very faintest of lines, the very smallest of tiny
- little dots on the surface and here we can see how
- Dürer has been able to achieve the kind of detail and
- textural nuances and subtleties of shade and light
- that he would never, ever be able to achieve with a
- woodcut. There's no way this image could have been
- made with a woodcut, especially if we look at the faint
- lines and dots, for instance, over here. Yes, those
- reflections from the light in the windows.
- If that was wood, it would have been crushed in the
- printing press. So what's happening is the ink is
- going inside those incised areas in the metal plate.
- You're carving the lines, then the ink goes
- all over the plate, including in the lines, and you wipe
- off the surface of the plate so that the ink is only
- in the lines and then you put it through a printing
- press that presses much harder than a woodcut printing
- press and that gets the ink onto the paper which has
- been dampened in order to attract it. And by
- pressing hard, you probably can't pull that many
- prints from a single plate. This is one of the disadvantages
- of engravings. There are a couple compared to woodcuts.
- One of them is that because of the high pressure of
- the printing press and the faint, very delicate dots
- and lines of an engraving, you can't make as many
- good prints from an engraving. It would get kind
- of blurry, probably. It gets very blurry, it gets very
- low-contrast, it's very gray, there's no dark, deep
- shadows or fine definitions. So you can print fewer
- engravings than you can a woodcut, surprisingly.
- And that would make them more expensive.
- That makes them more expensive, along with the fact
- that the raw materials that you're using are also
- more expensive - metal, instead of wood. And so,
- engravings, in addition to having more detail,
- are more rare, more expensive than woodcuts are,
- but we see that the payoff is a kind of total subtlety of
- gradation. Richness! And ability to achieve detail
- that would be completely impossible in any other kind
- of printing technique that was available at the time.
- There's something very appealing about each of these
- processes, but in very different ways. Each of them
- has their advantages. It's not that one is superior to
- the other, but rather that they allowed artists to
- achieve different goals that they had. And by the way,
- this is Saint Jerome in his Study by Dürer.
- This is Saint Jerome in his Study - a later print
- by Dürer, from the early 1500s. It's just so lovely,
- the light coming in through the window, those very
- Northern Renaissance rays. It's amazing how he's
- able to achieve with an engraving, the characteristic
- features of Northern European painting, like the effects
- of light and shadow, the sense of texture, the sense
- detail. And also this idea of the solitary man in
- his study, working, probably, at the translation of the
- Bible that Jerome is famous for. That sense of devotion
- and solitary, pensive thought is also rather Northern.
- The individual relationship with God, or personal
- relationship with God. Absolutely. And we should also
- add that there are influences of Italian art here, too.
- Absolutely! Because it's quite evident that Dürer has
- used one-point perspective in making this figure-
- And he makes that very obvious. He clearly wants to
- show off his ability to create the illusion of space
- with linear perspective. In the early 1500s there were
- not many Northern European artist who had the mastery
- of perspective, as Dürer did, since he had travelled
- to Italy twice in the 1400s. He's showing off here. Absolutely!
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