Souvenir from Rembrandt

February 13, 2012

printing

This is an original printing after Rembrandt van Rijn’s etching my brother made with his own two hands in a visit at the Museum Het Rembrandthuis in old Amsterdam, 2 months ago, when we had the coincidental inspiration of stepping into the painter’s graphic workshop exactly as the doors closed and a demonstration, presented by a nice, middle-aged, historian lady, began. Lucky us!

workshop

Dozens of people were cramped in the square, relatively small chamber  which contained faithful copies of the initial instruments utilized by the 17th century men, listening the guide’s concise information on the subject. She said Rembrandt’s real passion were these printings (exhibited all around the room) that, contradicting what many believe, actually made him famous in the epoch as his pictures were commissioned only by rich art patrons and never revealed to the  larger public. They were small, easily made and cheep, so even a mediocre butcher could afford buying least one, relishing their delicate beauty. The themes he depicted recalled those he usually painted: religious scenes, self-portraits-galore, Saskias (his wife and muse with a rodent’s face), local landscapes and, occasionally, erotic compositions. All were inspired by former masters of diverse conceptions such as Mantegna, Raphael and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione whose printings he had collected avidly along the years.

Rembrandt used both the etching and engraving technique, the lady continued explaining, of which etching represented a chemically based practice and engraving the incising of a design onto a flat copper surface by cutting groves. The latter requested hard work and the result was marked by visible contrasts between shadow and light while the first permitted softer lines similar to a sketch’s, rather fitted for painters. Obviously, he opted for etching and the guide further showed us how it was done step by step.

The museum’s site offers an online demonstration: Etching in 9 Steps

Basically, you take a copper plate, polish it smooth, apply a wax mixture ground, draw what you’ve planned with a special needle, coat it with acid-resistant varnish and leave it a few minutes then clean the plate, ink it using a dabber, wipe it off (a tip: the hands are preferable here) and print it on a damped paper by running it slowly through the wooden-press (my brother kindly volunteered to do this last part, which freely won us the thing you saw above). Voila, you’ve got a tiny work of art!

The originals conventionally bear the stamp of an official institution like the Het Rembrandthuis  museum to prove its authenticity:

stamp

And a final advice: if you ever enter in the possession of a legitimate print by any author, remember to take care and frame it so the protuberances around the margins of the illustration could be observed- they attest it’s not a mere copy reproduced through modern means but the genuine product of etching.

margins

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One Response to “Souvenir from Rembrandt”

  1. bennythomas Says:

    Coincidentally my wife and I had been in the same place in 94 and the press looks the same, unmistakable shape. Thanks for sharing this.


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