Light, shadows and colour

One of the most notable features of antique prints, in aesthetic terms, is its capacity and suitability for achieving effects of light and shadow. Rembrandt was the first great master of chiaroscuro effects. This group of prints contains examples that illustrate the range of technical possibilities, such as using etching (Rembrandt, Piranesi), mezzotint (McArdell), and etching combined with aquatint (Goya and Fortuny), all to create night scenes and labyrinthine spaces through sharp contrasts of light and shadow, with black as the main protagonist.

There were also engravers who used etching to capture the vibrations of light in nature. Examples include Canaletto’s Imaginary View of Padua, and the sky and clouds in the prints of the Tiepolo brothers, who showed great skill in translating the paintings of their father Giambattista Tiepolo into the syntax of graphic art.

While the majority of antique prints are in black and white, some prints do appear in colour. Colour prints were produced in Italy from the sixteenth century and in France and England from the eighteenth century. Colour was applied to one or more plates, which could be wood, as in the case of the prints by Antonio da Trento and Coriolano, or copper, as in the works by Janinet and Debucourt.