Blackwork Prints: Part 2: Technical mastery and enlivening blackwork ornament prints

The characteristic style of early blackwork prints incorporates sixteenth-century scrollwork, strapwork and arabesque motifs into an ornamental hybrid known as Schweifwerk or ‘tailwork’, recognisable by its curving lines terminating in tails. By the seventeenth century these forms develop into a more spontaneous flourish, often combining motifs taken from nature.

Figure 1

Daniel Mignot

Plate of ornament from a suite of seven

German, 1596-1616

V&A inventory number E.5208-1910

Here Daniel Mignot demonstrates his technical ability, confidently combining flowing forms into this design for ring shoulders and bezels framing the centrally placed oval brooch back or miniature case.  The ornamental scheifwerk scheme for the ring shoulders and bezels, to the left and right are in white on a black ground. In contrast the oval combines flowers and insects in black on a white ground. Here the scheme is given more space, being spread out to fill the frame. This central piece of jewellery and the chimerical animals framing it, employ different tones ranging from grey to black. This is achieved through the channels in the plate being cut to different depths, thus allowing for varied amounts of ink to be printed from the plate.

As well as appearing more fluid in line than earlier blackwork plates, Daniel Mignot introduces elements other than decorative schemes for jewellery. The two chimerical beasts, whilst framing the central oval, bring variety to the print and create a more lively composition.

Figure 2

Jean Toutin

Circular design with pea-pod ornament

French, 1618

V&A inventory number E.2903-1910

Other printmakers also incorporate motifs or figures to enliven their blackwork prints. This plate by Jean Toutin betrays his sense of humour by morphing a brooch back or pendant into a turtle through adding a head, tail and feet. This humour is continued with the addition below of figures wrestling. Like those of Contantinus, this print combines blackwork technique for ornamental with that of engraving for incidental details. Some printmakers including Daniel Mignot and Corvinian Saur, combine engraving and blackwork to distinguish the enamelled ornamentation from the rest of the jewellery design.

Figure 3

Corvinian Saur

Plate from a suite of six designs for pendants and goldsmith’s ornament

German, 1594

V&A inventory number E.2818-1910

This design by Corvinian Saur shows an oval in blackwork intended to ornament the back of the pendant, whilst the stone settings and pearls are described in engraving.

Figure 4

Anonymous goldsmith

Pendant jewel of gold and enamel set with stones

English, 1590

V&A inventory number M.26-2002

The back of a pendant in the V&A collection dating to the same decade as Saur’s design incorporates enamelling around the setting of the central stone and parts of the design in a similar manner to Saur’s engraving.

The third part of this series of three blog entries will look at further stylistic and technical developments in later blackwork prints and the demise of this technique of engraving.

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