Blackwork prints: Part 3: the demise of the blackwork ornament print

As discussed in the previous blog entry by the seventeenth century printmakers were displaying their technical mastery through combining engraving and blackwork in their plates. This was soon followed in the second decade of the seventeenth century with new developments to create tonal modelling and a more feathery style.

Figure 1

Esaias van Hulsen

Plate from a suite of 6 designs for goldsmith’s work

Dutch, 1616

V&A inventory number E.3347-1928

Here Esaias van Hulsen has gouged out a complex series of channels to create a mottled tone, emulating the texture of the bird’s plumage and feathery form of leaves and stems of the foliage. This foliate scroll is no longer confined to the form of jewellery which it is intended to decorate, instead spreading across the plate.

Figure 2

Valentin Sezenius

The Nativity

German, 1623

V&A inventory number E.3466-1922

Similarly this print of the Nativity differs in style to earlier blackwork prints. Here Sezenius has gouged channels of different depths to apply ink in various thicknesses for tonal modelling. Now the only use of scheifwerk is the ornamentation of the lining of the Virgin’s robe. The subject matter is also unusual, being closer to devotional prints than blackwork designs. A pendant in the V&A collection demonstrates that, like other blackwork engravings, this was intended to ornament jewellery.

Figure 3

Unknown goldsmith

Pendant in en résille  enamel showing The Nativity

Western Europe, 1623-1630 or 1800-1860

V&A inventory number 6996-1860

The pendant is believed to have either been made soon after the print or in the nineteenth century. The scene of the nativity has been reversed during the production of the pendant. Here the tonal gradations of the print are interpreted into the polychrome enamel scheme of the pendant.

Figure 4

Unknown goldsmith

Enamelled back of a pendant

Italy, 1630

V&A inventory number M.133-1922

By the second quarter of the seventeenth century technical advances resulted in enamel decoration being painted rather than produced through the champlevé technique. This brought a fashion for painted enamel, resulting in the demise of the blackwork engraving.

Figure 4

Gilles Légaré

Plate from a suite of 12 designs for jewellery entitled ”Livres des  Ouvrages d’Orfevrerie’

Paris, 1663

V&A inventory number 12810.6

Designs for such painted enamel were more easily produced in engraving, which gave a fluid line more in the style of the freely painted enamel detail.

Spanning a production period of almost fifty years these engravings offer a valuable insight into stylistic changes in jewellery design and print production at this period.

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