Dürer’s woodcuts and engravings

Dürer’s woodcuts and engravings

talked about Durer as a great painter
from northern Germany. But Durer was also
a great printmaker. DAVID DROGIN: This is
an excellent example to talk about Durer’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 the 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. And 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
Durer himself– had carved away everything that’s
white and blank. It’s like a stamp. It’s very labor intensive. But it’s worth it in
the end, because you can make a lot of them. And you can make money
that way, as Durer did. You can spread your
point of view that way, because they can be distributed. They’re very portable. And 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 helped 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 is printed more and
more often at this time. Because, like letters
in a typewriter, the images are raised up off
the surface like the letters. And so they could all be
combined in the same printing press and used together. 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 Durer 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 paintbrush. 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 might crush. So Durer is interested in
other methods of printing that can give him the kinds of
details and tonal gradation. And so what he’s
able to do is then, instead, later in his
life, take advantage of the engraving
printing technique, which is very different from
the way a woodcut is made. The primary difference is
that with an engraving, the gestures that you
make are the lines that will appear on the paper. BETH HARRIS: Like drawing. DAVID DROGIN: Like drawing. 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. The lines that you’re
making with this tool can be extremely thin. You can make the very
faintest of lines. Here we can see how Durer’s
been able to achieve the kind of detail and
textural nuances and subtleties of shade and light– BETH HARRIS: Shadows
and light, yeah. DAVID DROGIN: –that
he would never, ever be able to achieve
with a woodcut. You’re carving the lines. Then the ink goes all over the
plate, including in the lines. BETH HARRIS: And
then you wipe it. DAVID DROGIN: 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
in a woodcut printing press. 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. So you can print
fewer engravings than you can a
woodcut, surprisingly. BETH HARRIS: And that would
make them more expensive. DAVID DROGIN: 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. BETH HARRIS: And
by the way, this is “Saint Jerome in
His Study,” by Durer. DAVID DROGIN: This is
“Saint Jerome in the Study,” a later print by Durer
from the early 1500s. 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 of detail. And also this idea of the
solitary man, working at, probably, the translation
of the Bible that Jerome is famous for. That sense of devotion and
solitary, pensive thought is also rather northern. We should also add that there
are influences of Italian art here. It’s quite evident that Durer
has used one-point perspective. In the early 1500s,
there were not many northern
European artists who had the mastery of
perspective as Durer did. BETH HARRIS: Yes, which he did. DAVID DROGIN: Since he had
travelled to Italy twice in the 1480s. BETH HARRIS: [? It’s a bit ?]
showing off here, I think. DAVID DROGIN: Absolutely.

5 thoughts on “Dürer’s woodcuts and engravings”

  1. Woodcuts and Etchings (with a focus on Albrecht Dürer)

  2. Great explanation, thank you! I was trying to understand the engraving process and this video answered my questions.

  3. Thank you for explaining the process of woodcut prints and the engraving techniques. These pieces are absolutely astounding, especially now that I understand what it took to make these prints.

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