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This exhibition focuses on the first century of engraving, a meticulous new printmaking technique that developed in the Medieval goldsmith's workshop in the mid-1400s, when the burin, a v-tipped gouging tool, was put to new use incising exquisitely detailed images that were inked and printed on paper. Engravings, far more delicate than the more common woodcuts, were avidly sought after and preserved for their combination of exacting beauty and engaging content. These prints reflect the changes that took place in the Netherlands and Germany, as the Medieval learning of cloistered monks was transformed by the rediscovery of Antiquity by Renaissance humanists. A new emphasis on man's place in the world affected both style and choice of subject in the refined new medium.
A selection of sixty-five works by eleven artists traces engraving's first hundred years, beginning around 1450 with the Master E.S., one of many early craftsman-engravers known only by their initials, and culminating a century later in the painter-engraver Heinrich Aldegrever. Nearly a quarter of the prints in the exhibition are by Albrecht Dürer, the greatest artist of the German Renaissance. Renowned as an accomplished painter and draughtsman, his greater fame rests on such intricate engravings as the rich, densely-worked Adam and Eve of 1504 and the famously enigmatic Melencolia I (1514).
A highlight of the exhibition is a magnificent impression of Self-Portrait with his Wife, Ida (c. 1490) by Israhel van Meckenem (c. 1440–45–1503), a major recent addition to the Museum's collection. This extremely rare, early print depicts the confident engraver, who for the first time has left behind the anonymity of the goldsmith's workshop to claim a new status for himself and his refined craft.