All you need for groundbreaking art is a metal plate, some acid, and a big dose of inspiration. So it was some five hundred years ago when the first etchings appeared on paper.
The Renaissance of Etching – from Dürer to Bruegel at the Albertina museum reveals the artistry and imagination of the early pioneers of this intaglio printmaking technique.
- Features works by the likes of Dürer, Altdorfer, Parmigianino, and others
- Around 125 etchings on display
- Runs Feb 12 – Oct 18, 2020
- Standard museum entrance ticket includes the exhibition
- See also: Albertina visitor & tickets info
From Dürer to Bruegel
(Albrecht Dürer’s Landscape with a Cannon from 1518. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Creating designs on metal plates using acids had already established itself for decorative armour when a chap named Daniel Hopfer had a bright idea sometime around the end of the 15th century.
Historians believe Hopfer was the first to apply the same principle to printmaking and use etched metal plates to print designs on paper. And so the etching was born; the concept soon caught on among various artists of the Renaissance.
The first 70 or so years this technological development form the core of a new exhibition at the Albertina: The Renaissance of Etching: from Dürer to Bruegel.
The main attraction of etching lay in the (relatively) quick and easy way to create images and prints. Which is why various important personalities took to the technique.
Peter Bruegel (the Elder), for example, worked with etchings. (If you want to catch his famous paintings, head over to the Kunsthistorisches Museum after your Albertina visit.)
Albrect Dürer – he of Hare fame – also used etchings, though he produced very few and later favoured engraving for prints (same concept, but uses sharp tools to create the design directly in the metal plate).
(Albrecht Altdorfer’s Landscape with a Double Spruce from around 1506 – 1522 can be viewed in the exhibition. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
Dürer’s 1518 Landscape with a Cannon etching (his last) is one of around 125 works on display at the Albertina, alongside printing plates, drawings and a couple of pieces of beautifully-etched armour, too.
A series of rooms present these etchings by location (for example, French etchings) or individual artist, allowing you to raise suitably-impressed eyebrows at how mere lines, dots and hatchings generate light, shape and texture in the subsequent printed work.
I found myself drawn to two versions of Dürer’s 1515 Agony in the Garden, one an etching and one Dürer’s own pen and ink version. The simple use of dark strokes and white space creates almost unnaturally bright light around Christ’s head.
Other famous artists featured include, for example:
- Girolamo Francesco Maria Mazzola, better known as Parmigianino
- Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen – the man behind the Vermeyen cartoons (also in the Kunsthistorisches Museum)
- Albrecht Altdorfer, the pioneering landscape painter
Altdorfer inspired Augustin Hirschvogel, whose 1552 map of Vienna is a delight in itself, but more so given the copper plates sit right next to it.
(Parmigianino’s Woman Resting from the early 16th century. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
You can even see Daniel Hopfer’s own etchings, for example his Woman and Attendant Surprised by Death from (probably) the opening decade of the 16th century.
The title should perhaps be Woman and Attendant About to be Surprised by Death (either that or the two ladies are remarkably relaxed about the demonic creatures behind them).
Dates and tickets
The exhibition (a cooperation with New York’s The Met) runs from February 12th until October 18th, 2020.
How to get to the exhibition
Look for travel tips in the Albertina overview article. The museum is very central, right next to the State Opera House and at the back of the Hofburg Palace.
Address: Albertinaplatz 1, 1010 Vienna