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The Rijksmuseum Rembrandt’s Etchings

“A work is finished when an artist realizes his intentions.”


Following on from the blog on the workshop at Sunderland, I decided to further blog about etching as it is, in my opinion, an amazing, process driven, medium that gives such beautiful results.

The basic principal behind etching is that you scrape your design onto the plate, cover the plate with ink, remove the surface ink, leaving the ink in the furrows and then press moistened paper down firmly onto the plate to lift the ink, therefore giving you a reverse picture. At Sunderland we used a type of film covered card for that learning experience. Traditionally a copper plate would have been used.

For this blog I will also briefly look at the work of the Dutch artist Rembrandt 1606 – 1669.

Last year I went to Amsterdam to go to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. The Rijksmuseum was showing an exhibition entitled “All the Rembrants” 15/2/19 – 10/6/19. It held 22 paintings, 60 drawings and over 300 prints of his etchings.

I had seen reproductions of Rembrandts etchings before, but had never realised just how small they were, many are postcard sized or smaller! The intricacy and the definition achieved in such a small space was amazing to see. During his life Rembrandt was well known and highly respected for his etchings, more so than his paintings.

Looking carefully at this depiction of Mary and Joseph on the long walk to Bethlehem, the darkness of the night is almost overpowering them, achieved by minute cross hatching, denser still in their immediate outline. It is the light from Joseph’s lantern that both guides the way and picks out enough detail on Joseph’s face to show his exhaustion.

He often used religious themes, such as the baptism pf Christ, seen above. But he also made landscapes, portraits and nudes.

Aside: I must admit I was getting a little confused about the difference between engraving and etching , so after a bit more reading I thought I would add in this definition to help anyone as muddled as me!

Engraving – A physical process
When engraving, you cut directly onto the copper plate using a burin (a sharpened steel tool).
This causes the excess metal to be pushed up beside the furrow cut by the burin.
This excess is carefully cut away before the plate is inked and prints are pulled from it.
The visual effect of an engraving is one of neat, regular lines.

Etching – A chemical process
When etching, the plate cleaned and then covered with a protective coat wax (a resist).
You can then begin to scratch your design through the wax with a needle.
When you are happy that your design is complete the plate should be immersed in a bath of acid,
such as (Ferric Chloride) which “bites” the metal wherever the wax has been removed.
The action of the acid produces lines of a slightly irregular, vibrating quality.

All images photographed by Samantha Tweddle.


Published by stweddle

Living in Newcastle I have access to great landscape; sea, urban, country and city which I am continually inspired by. Starting my artistic qualification in my 50's allows me the benefit of long years admiring others art and a burning need to create my own.

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