This exhibition sheds light on an obscure and painstaking printmaking technique which originated around 1500 in Germany. What sets it apart is the use of at least one ‘tone block,’ which adds colour as well as line, as well as creating more depth with the interplay of light and dark.
The problem with an exhibition of prints can be that the tone is too similar, making it hard to appreciate the artists’ skill to produce such detailed work. At least here there are colours in evidence other than just black and white, although they are predominantly muted greys and browns (extending to the Farrow and Ball paint on the walls). The tone block makes some of the prints look almost like paintings. There’s also a welcome blast of colour in the informative video illustrating the process, as the modern printmakers have chosen a palette of lurid pinks to illustrate the method.
The pioneers of the technique in Germany were Lucas Cranach and Hans Burgkmair. The most famous printmaker in Germany at that time may have been Albrecht Dürer, but he didn’t adopt the technique. Later prints of his work, made after he had died, did introduce a tone block (including his famous rhino print on display here). From Germany, the technique spread to Italy and the Netherlands. Ugo da Carpi was the early adopter in Italy; many of his prints look very painterly in the way they use light and tone.
Domenico Beccafumi created an amazing Sacrifice of Isaac on three pieces reading like a comic strip. Other highlights include Andrea Andreani’s huge Lamentation of Christ. As you’d expect with 16th century Italy, there’s the usual mix of Biblical and classical themes, some of which are now obscure to the modern eye.
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