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La Bottega Dell'Acquaforte | Italian Fine Art Etchings



Bertarelli Declaration on original engraving, (Milan, 1994)

An engraving is considered "original" when it fulfills these characteristics:

~ Drawing made on a hard surface, either by hand using a sharp tool or chemically, using corrosives» (dictionary). The matrix must be engraved only by the artist's hand, with the exclusion of any photomechanical means.

~ The print is made using a hand printing press.

~ Each printed work is signed and numbered (numerator and denominator) by the artist's hand in pencil on a sheet of paper.

~ The number of printed copies, for technical reasons of value, must never exceed a limited number.

~ The print and the artist's proofs are always numbered.

~ After the edition is finished the matrix must be slashed, in order to prevent the printing of other copies. The slashed matrices are kept at the publisher's.

~ Every engraving bears the stamp of the publisher and is accompanied by a certificate of guarantee.

| The significance of the Art of Engraving |

The art of engraving owes its origin and success to its ability to duplicate images. The main elements in this art, besides the matrices and the means used to print them, are: paper and ink, that is black and white. Both have the same relevance; they are inseparable, interacting together. The black gives body to the image, the white breath and vital vibration.

The engraving is not a drawing transferred onto wood, metal or stone; it is conceived in consideration of the material which is used to make it, its nature, resources and potentialities; this is the essential starting point for achieving a style. Because it is on the matrix and not on the paper that the artist puts his creative stamp, which will be revealed in the finished print.

The engraver, as opposed to the painter or sculptor, does not have constant control and a vision of his work, because he works in reverse order, at a close distance and in difficult and deceptive viewing conditions, proceeding amongst doubts and risks.

A thorough technical experience, although subordinate to the creative act, is the basis for visualizing the effect of each single phase in the preparation of the finished product.

Engraving is an art in itself and has the same expressive force as painting. It is said to be original when creator and engraver are the same person.

This is the only criterion that really matters and has always yielded works of art of remarkable strength.

| A short history of engraving |

The engraving technique was used especially in prehistoric times, either on stone (rock engravings) or on pottery (dry or raw engravings); in classical times it appeared on Greek black figure pottery and in the decoration of metals (Etruscan and Greek mirrors) and walls (the graffiti in Pompei and Ercolano). It has been largely employed through the centuries till now especially in the decoration of artistic works and in architecture applied to the most diverse materials, sometimes mixed with other techniques.

Beside these general decorative uses, since the Renaissance engraving has acquired even more importance because it became the method for preparing the matrix for printing.

| European engraving from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries |

The matrices are carved either in relief (xylography or wood engraving, linocut or linoleum engraving) or intaglio (on a metal plate, copper, steel, zinc), depending on the method used to reproduce the image, either spreading the ink on the parts in relief or filling in the depressions.

Intaglio engravings can be incised directly by hand using various instruments (burin, drypoint, black manner or mezzotint); or indirectly when the plate used is prepared and treated with an acid solution, called "biting" (etching, aquatint, soft-ground etching or vernis mou). Finally there are techniques based on electrolysis and on a combination of techniques. All the different types of engraving share the "industrial" character of the technical procedure; based on the distinction between the moment of creation and the preparation of the matrix on one hand and the execution, that is the printing of copies in a limited series on the other, engraving is the first successful attempt to apply an industrial procedure to artistical representation.

Woodcut is the most ancient engraving technique, probably derived from printing on fabrics; examples from the fourteenth century are very rare, while the technique was largely applied in German and Italian book illustration in the following century.
Printing on a metal surface, especially on a copper plate (chalcography), was perfected in the middle of the fifteenth century, in Italy and in Germany at the same time. As Vasari points out, the inventor of the technique was Maso Finiguerra from Florence, and although his theory is not completely reliable, certainly the engravers of metals with burin and niello were the first to develop the copperplate technique. Pollaiolo ("Fighting Nudes") and Mantegna ("Bacchanals") used this technique, and achieved remarkable results, exploring all the possibilities of an art that has been preferred over the centuries by great artists for its ductility and at the same time rigorousness. Beside the Italian experiences, the German painters Master E.S., M. Shoangauer and U. Graff used this technique, although only Durer investigated thoroughly the intrinsic descriptive potentialities of engraving and woodcuts.

In the sixteenth century etching spread throughout Europe, and its great variety of effects was experimented by artists like Parmigianino and Barocci, followed by Reni, Guercino and S. Della Bella in the seventeenth century, to reach its height with Rembrandt.

Between the end of the fifteenth and the early sixteenth century, one of the main uses of the engraver's art emerged in the work of Marcantonio Raimondi. The reproduction of paintings by the great masters is due to the great number of copies that can be produced from one matrix; the great paintings became the visual property of the vast public. Engraving lost its role of populariser of art when the photomechanical technique of reproduction was invented and, in turn, became the basis for the revival of the art of original engraving in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In the second half of the XVI century, Bologna and the Barraccesca Academy played a leading role in improving the engraving technique in Italy. In France, after a hesitant beginning, engraving reached its height in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the works of the great Jacques Callot and portraits done with a burin by Gerard Audran.

In Italy, in the seventeenth century, besides works of art such as those by Tiepolo (Caprices, Divertissements, Fantasies) the genre of the engraved view flourished in Rome (Vasi) and in Venice (Canaletto, Bellotto, Ricci). Fantasy views reached an unsurpassed height with Piranesi ( Prisons). In England original engraving had its major representatives in Hogarth, Rolandson and Blake while Bewick revived the woodcut technique by inventing wood-engraving, which used a block of wood sawn across the grain, giving a harder and smoother surface that yielded finer-detailed results. The prevalent technique used by the English school in the eighteenth century was mezzotint.

Etching and aquatint were used by the great painter Goya at the end of the eighteenth century. Later etching became the technique used by nineteenth century artists for preparing matrices, when the original etching, considered an artistic expression in its own right, experienced a revival.

To maintain the engraving's commercial value for collectors, limited editions and numbered copies were made and the matrix slashed afterwards to prevent further use.
Nearly all the great modern and contemporary artists experimented with this technique; from Chagal, Dérain, Léger and Nolde to Kokoschka ; from Picasso, Mirò and Dalì to Carrà, Morandi, Campigli, Guttuso. Thus it is impossible to separate the history of etching from its cultural period and from the overall activity of the artist who practiced it.

| Contemporary Italian engravers |

Contemporary Italian engravers are among the best known in the world. Historically, the art of original engraving has (with a few notable exception : Boccioni, Martini, Viani, Severini) taken on new characteristics since the second world war ; during the first half of the century it was still bound to the rigid conventions of nineteenth century reproduction. At the same time it was not able to conform to the new ideals of European avant-garde painting, except in the most superficial ways, as in the case of engraving for illustrations, which was influenced by Art Nouveau.
Since the end of the second world war, original engraving has become an academic subject. The great masters of the art, appointed to teach it in Italy's art academics, gave rise to schools distinguished by their particular style and technique.
The spread of this neo-Renaissance phenomenon of schools brought about a differentiation between schools characterized by regional aspects, while maintaining the tradition established by the Master engravers. Several schools that acquired their own style are worthy of note, such as the Piemonteseschool, working according to the rules of the Academia Albertina in Turin and referring to the artistic ideals of such teachers as Marcello Boglioni and Mario Calandri. Characterized by strict respect for tradition, this school fostered the development of the contemporary masters of pure etching VincenzoGatti and Daniele Gay, and the leading mezzotint artist Alberto Rocco.

The Venetian school, on the other hand, is characterized by engravings of landscape; its major teachers are Lino Bianchi Barriviera and Giovanni Barbisan. The school of Bologna had its forerunner and point of reference in the great Morandi; it developed a more intellectual ideal of original engraving, creating more surreal and contemplative atmospheres; Paolo Manaresi and Gino Gandini represent the school at its best. The Scuola del Libro in Urbino and the Istituto d 'Arte in Florence are historically very important, because they addressed their teaching attention to the development and spread of the art of original engraving, under the direction of Masters such as Luigi Servolini and Leandro Castellani in Urbino and Francesco Chiappelli in Florence. They also pointed the way to artists such as Arnoldo Ciarrocchi, Nunzio Gulino, Renato Bruscaglia, Walter Piacesi and Alberico Morena in Urbino, and Pietro Parigi, Renato Alessandrini, Mario Fallani, Enzo Faraoni in Florence.

Besides the Istituto d'Arte in Florence, the Accademia has played an Important role since the earliest years of our century. After the initial boost given by the famous twentieth century engraver Giovanni Fattori and the guidance of Celestino Celestini, this school encouraged the development of many great artists, including Vairo Mongatti and Gianni Cacciarini. Together with Gabriele Orselli and Maurizio Mariani they founded a group called ACADEMIA NOVA, supporting the revival of the purity of classical lines.

Among the Italian Academies where renowned contemporary engravers developed their art, Brera Academy in Milan (Lombard school) should be mentioned, where Paolo Petrò studied, and the Academy of Genoa (Ligurian School), where Mario Chianese teaches. This last artist is included not only in our catalogue, but also in the most famous international catalogues.

Italy is today a country where the art of original engraving is flourishing and spreading. The contemporary Italian "Maestri" are in the most important catalogues of the world, together with the greater engravers of the past, as practitioners of an art quite autonomous from painting, and certainly not inferior to it.