How Etching Played An Important Role for Old Manuscripts

September 23, 2019

Lope de Olana Rebuilds His Ship, Making a Ship in the New World by Theodore de Bry. Watercolor engraving, circa 1594,

By Chelsea Reed

Did you know the art of etching was essential to the history of printmaking? That book, newspaper, or ebook tablet in your hand would not have happened without etching. Etching is an art form that creates an original image printed by hand with ink on an etched metal plate. Etching spearheaded printmaking, which changed how the world exchanged information forever.
The Art of Enlightenment
Etching got its start in the Middle Ages as a way to decorate and engrave names on metal armor. Then, the first etching application for printing started in 1445 AD. But before that happened, all the content in books and manuscripts was drawn and written by hand. Page by page...line by line...everything. Needless to say, it took a lot of time and effort to make a single book. No wonder manuscript making was so closely guarded! In medieval times, only qualified monks and the rich could afford to produce books. When people introduced etching for printmaking, everything changed. Content was no longer exclusive to the rich. Printed information was easier and faster to produce and share. Publishing houses began circulating printed materials. More people were exposed to revolutionary ideas. That opened the door to the Age of Enlightenment... And eventually, the French and American Revolutions.
From Armor to Paper to Digital
Etching continued as its own separate genre in art history. Some pioneers included Daniel Hopfer, Johannes Gutenberg, Urs Graf, and Albrecht Durer. Meanwhile, the fledgling printmaking industry took off. New ways to print publications faster and better developed with each century. By the Industrial Revolution, all newspapers and magazines were printed by machines! And in the 20th Century, the printing industry was essential to mass media.

Much information today gets published in digital form, such as ebooks and websites. But even the digital format takes on the spirit of printed etchings and manuscripts... like this blog! Had it not been for etching art, we could still be hand painting manuscripts today.
See Tangible History
The Encounter is an etching by David Hunter Even in the digital age, etching art is alive and well. Etching demonstrations continue to mesmerize people of all ages. And most of the techniques from back then are used today! You can see Seaside Art Gallery’s abundant etching collection right here. Or, view them in person at the gallery. They’re a great way to start an art collection!

Chelsea Reed is a copywriter who writes online content, articles, blogs, and websites from her base in North Carolina.   



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