But circulation is only one of the properties of engraving. Engraving is a special kind of fine art and it has its own language, its aesthetics, its capabilities, which are distinct from other types of art. And to a very large extent this originality of the engraving is determined by its technological side.
In engraving, there are a huge number of species, subspecies, varieties of technology. They are born in certain epochs, often die off after several decades, transformed are reborn at another time. And all this diversity is designed to expand the expressive capabilities of engraving, to enrich its language. After all, engraving, in principle, has a much more limited range of means than, say, painting: a line and a tonal spot – only these elements underlie each engraving sheet. And the appearance of each new technique gives rise to a new shade in the use of these permanent elements. But in their entirety, engraving techniques are extremely expressive. Moreover, each of them has its own special capabilities. Let us try to very briefly identify these differences, specifics.
Cutting engraving is characterized by great physical stress of the master during work: the steel caliper with effort overcomes the resistance of the metal plate. Saving effort forces the engraver to strive for the strictest discipline of hatching, to use systems of parallel lines that seem to hatch, smooth out the plastic of the figures depicted. But in addition to completeness, minting of the form, physical stress itself, when working, turns into plastic stress of the image. And as a result, the manner of engraving itself, the technology itself determines and limits the figurative specificity of incisor engraving: it always seeks to create an image characteristic of physical activity, plastic energy, the image of a person acting. This is probably why the highest achievements of the engraving engraving date back to the Renaissance (A. Mantegna, A. Dürer). The very nature of the Renaissance art is close to such an understanding of the image of man.
From a technological point of view, etching, which appeared somewhat later, is polar opposite to the cutter. An etching needle scratches a thin film of varnish with extreme ease, which itself provokes the master to maximum mobility and freedom of line. An etcher with the same ease can work with a long flowing stroke and short strokes of the needle, he has at his disposal a second etching that creates a wide scale of tonality, he can always make changes and corrections to the drawing during the work.
Therefore, in etching, interest is shown in the light-air medium, which is transmitted by the range of tonality, and in the mobility of the characteristic, which is associated with some uncertainty and fluency of the plastic. The image characteristic of etching is always in formation, in the process. It may not be physically complete, but dynamic, psychologically deep. And this technological difference between the cutter and etching determines the difference between the genres typical of them, and completely different areas of application. Cutter engravings are characterized by a plot composition or a representative portrait. For etching – landscape, psychological scene, intimate portrait, instant sketch. If the incisor is internally close to the sculptural relief, then the aesthetics of the etching is akin to the drawing.
A master of woodcut engraving cuts along a longitudinal cut board, cutting each line with a knife on both sides. The whole image consists of such black lines and spots that contrast with white paper as much as possible. This sonorous juxtaposition of black and white already predetermines the greater decorativeness of cropped engraving, and the contrasts of black and white planes, especially when working in black and white, create emotional stress.
Finally, lithography is extremely neutral in relation to the work of the master: you can draw on stone with the same ease as you can on paper – with pencil, ink, scratch, paint, etc. Nevertheless, lithography is not just a way to replicate a picture. A completely different character of lithographic ink, very dense and saturated, work with a scraper that allows you to create a moving white line, the ability to reduce tone to nothing – all this creates very rich opportunities for transmitting the dynamics of light, for expressing a romantic beginning, for creating a special, picturesque tonality.
Using these few examples, we wanted to show that the expressive capabilities of each technique, its language and its aesthetics are always determined in engraving by technology, by the way the board is processed. And this explains why the history of engraving has such a large number of different techniques.
In various periods, due to the basic, dominant figurative properties and stylistic qualities of the fine art of the era, one or another (sometimes several at the same time) engraving technique is most developed.
In the XV century – in the first century of the engraving – in a happy balance there are two main engraving techniques: rez and. trimmed woodcut. There is almost no competition between them.