Engraved English school is much younger than Italian, German or Dutch. The history of English engraving, apparently, should be from the end of the 15th century. The first known engravings…

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Engraved English school is much younger than Italian, German or Dutch. The history of English engraving, apparently, should be from the end of the 15th century. The first known engravings are in the Mirror of the World book, published in Westminster in 1480 by the English first printer, William Kexton. The illustrations in the book are made using the technique of wood engraving.

Subsequently, other techniques spread in England – copper engraving, woodcut. However, all the oldest engravings of the island were exclusively illustrations for books, were made at a very mediocre level and did not represent independent artistic value.

Until the 17th century, the vast majority of engravers in England were foreigners, mostly from Germany and Holland. However, many of them settled on the island forever and made an undoubted contribution to the formation of the English school of engraving.

The fate of the illustrious Dutch master John Farber Sr. (1660-1721), an outstanding portrait painter and engraver, one of the pioneers of the mezzo-tinto technique (gravure printing) is indicative in this regard. John Farber came to England in his youth, and his entire creative life passed on the island. Among his works are many portraits of prominent figures of the Church of England, as well as Roman emperors and ancient philosophers. He was also close to academia, resulting in a series of portraits of the founders of Cambridge and Oxford universities.
However, his son and apprentice John Farber Jr. (1695-1756), who became the most famous mezzo-tinto master in England in the first half of the 18th century, far excelled Farber Sr. with fame.

Note that subsequently the mezzo-tinto method became a kind of calling card of English engraving.

Chronologically, the formation of the English school of engraving coincides with the period of the rise of British pictorial art, which is quite logical. In the XVIII century, a number of outstanding engravers appeared in England, who worked in different techniques – incisor engraving, etching and others.

But the main stylistic feature of the English school was the widespread use of complex decorative techniques, which make it possible to use in the drawing not just dark lines or dots, but smooth halftones. These methods, which brought the engraving to the painting as close as possible, were aquatint, dashed lines and the mezzo-tinto already mentioned.

England was especially famous for its color engraving on metal. Many prominent painters of that time understood that their fame owed it to the engravers who replicated their paintings. The famous Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), the founder and president of the Royal Academy of Arts, did not even demand money from engravers for the right to reproduce his paintings.

Many painters themselves were engaged in engraving. The founder of the English original school of painting, William Hogarth (1697-1764), began his career as a silver engraver. He has not parted with this art all his life. It was engravings that gave him a livelihood. So, having written his famous series of paintings under the shocking title “Life of a prostitute”, he immediately made engravings from the paintings, which were in great demand among buyers. The paintings of this cycle came to us only thanks to the engravings of Hogarth, since the originals were burned during the fire of 1775.

Inspired by financial success, Hogarth did the same with his other famous cycles – Mota Career, Fashionable Marriage. All the artist’s works diverged in unprecedented circulations. It was considered fashionable to buy Hogarth’s engraving in all walks of life, from aristocrats who purchased the originals to small shopkeepers and port workers who willingly adorned the walls of their homes with inexpensive reproductions.

John Smith (1652-1742) should be called the first in a series of outstanding English engravers of the emergence and heyday of the national school of engraving. He worked in the mezzo-tinto technique and was perhaps the most famous master of this technique in Europe. Most often, Smith reproduced the work of his outstanding contemporary, the painter Godfrey Neller (1646-1723). Moreover, it was simply impossible to call copies of his work. Rather, it is more appropriate to talk about the interpretation of the plots of Neller’s paintings. The artist himself treated John Smith with great respect and greatly appreciated his work.

A few words should be said about the history of the appearance of the mezzo-tinto technique in England. The spread of this method was initiated by a book published in 1662 by John Evelyn with a detailed description of the mezzo-tinto.

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