Thursday, November 8, 2012

How to love Lucas Van Leyden

Whoever expressed interest in engraving inevitably would admire divine works of Albrecht Dürer. His ability to draw and  originality of his images are without equal. Whatever achievements were accomplished in the course of 500 years of copper engraving had to take place in Dürer’s great shadow.
To my mind, the greatest engraver after Dürer was Lucas van Leyden.

One of the ways to marvel at Van Leyden’s small engravings is to examine the amount of information that lovingly is given within the tight confines of a little rectangle. When a viewer scans the artwork it is as if he arrived at an island and it could be as complicated, packed with fascinations and discoveries as Santorini or as sparse as Dry Tortuga, where you can count number of separate objects very quickly. Van Leyden wanted to understand the small window of his artwork as a porthole to a very complex view that approximates reality.

Metal resists free-hand pirouettes of cut lines. Engraver pushes hard against the surface and the resulting groove would normally not look at all like what he has intended. It would look like a plowman’s furrow with no relation to subtle convolutions describing the contour of some form. It would be a technical disaster without a good way to erase it. The plate would be ruined and it would have to be discarded. Seems that figure-skating on ice has similar intolerance for any mis-step, imbalance and a resulting fall.
The body has to tense, the hands at the ready –both to cut and at the same time to halt the cut.The attention has to focus entirely at the very point of the diamond-shaped tip of the graver. All extraneous concerns have to fade in mind. One sensation that will arise is a feeling expressing the emotion of the intended line. And- cut!

There is many refine offerings in a print of Van Leyden’s quality. Look at the breadth of his tonal scale he was able to achieve across faint grays and mid-tones all the way to deepest darks for which engravings are famous. There are certain contrasting blacks so assertive that the viewer can savor “the joy of black”.
Illusion of three-dimensionality is made in engravings by hatching and cross-hatching lines. That method has sometimes appearance of being too mechanical, especially when it is a result of an engraving workshop. Multiple liners cut rather mechanical-looking parallels. In Van Leyden’s art there is almost an infinite variety of lines, ways of hatchings, stippling,cross-hatchings to describe forms as a web of tiny, precise actions building scaffoldings or fabrics the forms are tightly wearing.

Unlike in painting an engraving has to rely entirely on beauty of its forms to win viewers heart. When the eyes examine Lucas’ print we are instantly aware of extreme purposefulness of every element brought to the image. Each form is presented as if hewing, chiseling and polishing made those forms into sculptural perfection. Nothing is tentative, nothing is intimating even a hint of provisionality of “more or less” there. Every action of the graver is aiming at certain absolutism, an overwhelming sense of necessity pervading even the smallest margin. Reading closely Shakespearean sonnet one gets the same sense of absolutism of each word.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this blessing of Van Leyden. Praise of an extra ordinary human hand that continues to bring us lovingly created stories.