The Many Faces of Engraved Art

Engraving – the art of making marks on a hard surface – often gets overlooked in favour of more mainstream visual arts like painting and sculpture. But, the fact is, engraving is one of the oldest forms of human creativity, dating back thousands of years ago to prehistoric times.

Engraving was widely used to illustrate books and newspapers, prior to photographic reproduction, and was elevated to the status of fine art by the insightful works of Albert Durer. Nowadays, computer-controlled engraving enables us to create our own personalised engraved gifts out of practically any metal or glass object.

In this guest post for BigArt, I shed some light on three famous engravings from the history of humankind.

Newspaper Rock, Utah

Art, several thousands years oldDating back in some cases to over 12,000 years, petroglyphs are ancient prehistoric rock carvings, which can be found in almost every country in the world. These take the form of marks and symbols made on the surface layer of boulders and rock faces to reveal the coloured layer of rock underneath.

Named after the Greek words petra (stone) and glyphen (to carve) this form of engraving is remarkable for the similarities in the types of figures appearing across geographically diverse locations. Some say this is evidence of Jung’s theory that all human brains have an underlying structure, causing us to think the same way and draw the same things.

Whether or not this is true, I don’t know. But petroglyphs seem to indicate the emergence of human creativity, a secret language, or simply Stone Age man’s desire to assert ‘I woz ere.’  There are many opportunities to see this unique phenomenon around the world, among the most impressive being Newspaper Rock in Utah, which contains the largest collection of petroglyphs known to man.

Albrecht Durer ‘Melencolia I’

Albrecht durer melencoliaFast-forward a few thousand years, and the art form of engraving really took off with the work of Albrecht Durer in the Renaissance period. Durer’s insightful ‘Melencolia I’ functions much like a doctor’s assessment, methodically diagnosing the symptoms of melancholia (or depression) for all to see.

The central figure adopts a pose of head resting on hand, commonly expressing a troubled mind in sixteenth century portraiture. At her feet lie the unused tools of discovery and creation. Keys and a money bag at her belt symbolise power and wealth. Her bright eyes glare out from the darkness, indicating intelligence and ability.

She is the sad and gifted intellectual, with a great deal of potential but the mysterious inability to realise it. A bat-like creature hovers in the sky with a sign to diagnose the condition, as if to say, “Yes madam, you’re suffering from a severe case of melancholia.”

Droeshout’s Shakespeare

Shakespeare Portrait - not the highest quality artwork that you will ever seeBefore the invention of photographic techniques, engravings were commonly used instead of paintings to illustrate books and newspapers. Among the most famous is Martin Droeshout’s portrait of Shakespeare for the title page of his First Folio – one of only two known portraits of the poet.

Droeshout’s skill as an engraver is undeniable, but his claim as an artist is much more open to question. Critics have often wondered how such an inadequate portrait could have been selected to illustrate such an important book!

The relationship between Shakespeare’s head and body is clumsy to say the least. And, to put it more bluntly, in the words of critic Northrop Frye, the portrait ‘makes Shakespeare look like an idiot’. There is also some speculation as to whether the engraver was actually the younger Martin Droeshout or his father of the same name.


Gerhard Richter – $34 million art

Despite being one of the richest rock stars in the entire world, the celebrity guitar play Eric Clapton is actually one of the savviest collectors of modern art. Eric, who has already previously had a net worth of an astonishing $200 million, is now more than $30 million richer after a rather competitive auction of various paintings from his personal art collection last year on October 15th 2012. One particular interesting piece of artwork, made by paint Gerhard Richter from Germany, sold more higher than twice the original ideal listing price after a hot bid war between several anonymous wealthy art fans.

Gerhard Richter painting
$34 million artwork by Gerhard Richter

Successfully this piece of artwork actually set a record for the most amount of money ever paid for a piece of artwork by a living artist.

Considered to be one of the greatest guitar players ever if not the best by many rock fans, Eric Clapton actually studied at The Kingston College Of Art in 1961 before leaving to take on music full time. Although pursuing music full time, Eric never lost his appreciation and interest for artwork and began investing in his interest whenever extra money rolled in. Throughout the years he has owned and sold dozens of very high profile paintings that have been valued at millions.

Before the weekend of the auction in October 2012, Sotheby’s which is situated in London reviewed the painting and estimated that Eric Clapton’s pieces, which was a 1994 oil canvas painting by the German artist Gerhard Richter would sell for a massive $14 million. Clapton only purchased the painting for $3.2 million in 2001 therefor selling it for this much would have been pretty something special.

Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton, art collector!

As the auction began, a hard five minutes of a bidding war broke out between three art collectors (obviously very wealthy!) Finally when the bidding war ended the winning bid was for $34,190,756. That is actually more than double the original expected price for the sale and is representing a 965% return in money For Eric himself in just ten years. A world record was also set because $34 million is the highest amount of money ever paid for a living artist, which beats the $28 million someone paid for Jasper John’s work called ‘Flag’. Gerald Richter who  is 82 years of age has long been considered to be one of the greatest artists in the world!

Author : Sean Alder Editor Of

5 London Artworks You Must See

London is undoubtedly one of the best cities in the world for art lovers, with many galleries and spaces exhibiting contemporary, modern and traditional work. If you’re interested in contemporary art, the Saatchi Gallery is a good starting point; modern art fans will be impressed by the Tate Modern; while those looking for traditional would do well to explore the National Gallery. However, on a short trip to the capital, it can be hard to fit everything in. That’s why I’ve put together this list of five must-see artworks, which are all completely free to view in person.

‘The Rokeby Venus’ at the National GalleryVelazquez Rrokeby Venus - London artworks

Diego Velazquez, 1651

The National Gallery contains many great European paintings from the 13th to 19th centuries, including this famous work by Velazquez, ‘The Rokeby Venus’. A rare subject in 17th century Spain, the female nude is Venus the Goddess of Love, while her son Cupid holds up a mirror. The painting is notable for its portrayal of Venus as a real woman and raises questions about gender due to the fact that Venus is not looking at herself in the mirror, but at us, the viewer. For some, the piece interrogates the notion of the ‘male gaze’: the male viewer looks at the female subject, while she looks back at him, taking pleasure in being looked at by the man.

‘The Great Wave’ at the British MuseumHolusai, the great wave - London artworks

Katsushika Hokusai, 1831

‘The Great Wave’ is the most famous woodblock print by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai and perhaps the most famous Japanese print in history. It depicts a giant wave dwarfing a tiny snow-capped Mount Fuji in the distance, while three fishing boats battle to traverse its mountainous peaks. Part of the print’s appeal is the way that it inverts the formula of the meisho-e tradition, which typically features Mount Fuji at the centre of the composition. The image was printed in its thousands in polychrome ink – as many as could be produced to meet demand – and has inspired many great artists throughout the ages, including Claude Debussy, who made it the cover image for the first edition of ‘The Sea’. Visitors would do well to visit the British Museum for an almost immodestly vast collection of interesting artefacts and objects gathered from different cultures and traditions.

‘J.K. Rowling’ at the National Portrait GalleryPortrait of JK Rowling - London art

Stuart Pearson Wright, 2005
The National Portrait Gallery contains an excellent collection of paintings and photographic works of people that have made Britain ‘Great’ over the years. One of the highlights is Wright’s enchanting portrait of Harry Potter creator J.K.Rowling, depicted in a humble domestic setting where she wrote much of her first novel. Rowling eats a boiled egg with toast soldiers, the three eggs on her plate representing her own children and perhaps children the world over whose imaginations have been touched by the Harry Potter series. The altered reality of the 3D space recalls another children’s classic, Alice in Wonderland, suggesting perhaps the slightly paradoxical notion of combining motherhood with a creative career.

The Crane on Hanbury StreetROA Crane - London art scene

Roa, 2010

East London’s walls have rarely been empty, and now is an ideal time to check out the ever-changing work on display by some of the world’s best street artists. Highlights include a giant 40-foot sacred crane painted by Belgian street artist Roa on a building in Hanbury Street, right in the heart of the Bengali community. The crane is one of several vivacious black and white animals of his dotted around the city, including a much-loved rabbit on Hackney Road and a newly-painted hedgehog on Chance Street. These creatures jump out at us off the walls, confronting us with our relationship to the natural world – something that can easily be forgotten in the city. For those wishing to experience more, Street Art London runs a 4-hour guided tour of the area every Saturday and Sunday, taking in Old Street, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green.

‘The Snail’ at Tate ModernMatisse the snail - London contemporary art

Henri Matisse, 1953

Housed in the Tate Modern, the most visited modern art museum in the world, Matisse’s late period masterpiece ‘The Snail’ is another must-see artwork in the Big Smoke. Made towards the end of his life when ill health prevented him from painting, Matisse had assistants cut out and paint giant gouache shapes to exact specifications, before having them mounted on a piece of paper nearly three metres square. The artist is said to have conceived the idea for the piece after watching his daughter draw snails in the garden, and the result is a bold, beautiful piece which lies somewhere between abstract painting and design. Whether or not ‘The Snail’ is as good as his earlier paintings is for you to decide, but there’s no denying its visual impact and childlike simplicity.

Matt writes for HotelClub, a leading provider of discounted London hotels.