The art of printmaking became much more than a means of reproduction in Haarlem. Printing became an art of its own right that placed the Dutch town on the world map.
Printing developed as an independent art form around 1500 with Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer and Lucas van Leyden leading the way. Over the course of the 1500s, publication of prints became professionalised, and the market was dominated by printing houses that were large in scale if few in number. In the Netherlands, the presses of Antwerp grew to dominance until Goltzius established his own printing house in Haarlem in 1582, thereby breaking the monopoly.
The engraver as an interpreter
The major printing houses developed systems for publishing prints en masse, and the engraver thereby became a specialist who was hired to complete an engraving imitating the works of other artists, but who would seldom create his own works. In such a way the engraver became an interpreter who was required to be able to interpret the style of works by others and then transfer this style into a graphic form. The final product thereby became an example of both the abilities of the creative author and the technical prowess of the engraver. At the same time, Hendrick Goltzius also held the unique position of a creative artist of international stature.
The exhibition The Artful Image – Haarlem Mannerism focused on the relationship between engraving, which reproduces the works of other artists, and the engravers' invention of new works of art. When Goltzius creates a Pietà, as Dürer would have done, he is showing that engraving can be used to gain insight into the work of great masters, thereby raising his own work up to their standard.
Abilities and technique
Publication of prints becomes systematised, and renowned artists devise a composition, which an engraver then translates into a print. In such a way the engraver becomes an interpreter whose role is to translate another master’s work into a graphic print. The final product thereby becomes both an example of the abilities of the creative author and the technical prowess of the engraver.
The exhibition from the Royal Collections of Prints and Drawings focused on the dynamic exchange between engraving as both a reproductive medium and an independent art form. At the same time it opened a path into the world of images that characterises the Dutch art centre of Haarlem at the end of the 1500s.
Read more about Hendrick Goltzius and Haarlem Mannerism by clicking on the links below: