Mezzotint was born of painting in the 17th century, died of photography in the 19th, and is being resurrected at the
beginning of the Third millennium, just as computer art is redefining reality for a generation in which mystery of what
we do not know is becoming more precious to us than all we know.
Mezzotint started out as the art for the nobility.
Among the earliest examples known are mezzotint made by the inventor of the technique Ludwig von Siegen,
“The Margravine of Hesse” (1643), and
another, “The Standard Bearer” by Prince
Rupert the Palatinate (1658). The mezzotint technique made it possible to create a full range of tones from the deepest
black to a brilliant white, and in this way match the full range
of tones of a painting. This was the time of Rembrandt, and the pictorial space which during the Renaissance had been
clearly defined as a constructed linear perspective, was suddenly becoming filled with ambiguous lights and shadows.
The process of producing mezzotint is labor intensive and calls first for the roughing up the surface of a copper plate by
means of rocking it with a spiky roulette. The artist then took the plate and by scraping and burnishing could achieve the
halftones and bright highlights of an oil painting. The effect was stunning, and when the technique was introduced to England
by Prince Rupert, it evolved under the influence of Sir Joshua Reynolds into an elegant substitute for paintings in English
drawing rooms. Ideally suited for the romantic taste of the time it became known as the “dark” or “English
Towards the end of the 18th century, just as Goya began his Caprichos, Joseph Wright of Derby became intrigued by the
mysterious play of light in the dark forge and of workshops at the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution. But then,
almost overnight, photography proved too powerful a rival in producing – or
reproducing the conflicting shadows of a new
age, and mezzotint making became a technique of the past.
Fragment of text by Hans Guggenheim, Ph.D.