Collection: Antique Mezzotints

MEZZOTINT (mezzo-tinto in Italian means half painted) is a printing process of the intaglio family. It was the first process to achieve tonality without using other techniques like hatching, cross-hatching or stipple. The mezzotint printmaking method was invented by the German artist Ludwig von Siegen. His earliest mezzotint dates to 1642. Mezzotint achieves various tone levels by roughening the entire metal plate, usually copper, with thousands of little dots made by a metal tool with small teeth, called a "rocker", producing an overall burr that would print a velvety black. The artist then scrapes down the burr in proportion to the lightness of tone that he requires. In printing, the tiny pits in the plate hold the ink when the face of the plate is wiped clean. It is then put in a high pressure printing press with a sheet of paper. A high level of quality and richness in the print can be achieved. The pits in the plate are not deep, so only a small number of top-quality impressions can be printed before the quality starts to degrade as the pressure of the press begins to smooth them out. Only one or two hundred really good quality impressions can be taken. In the early 19th century steel plates began to be used, which as they are harder than copper, permitted a greater fineness of detail, and were more durable. The process was widely used in England from the eighteenth century, to reproduce portraits and other paintings.

A mezzotint is easy to recognise because of the distinctive manner in which the design emerges from a black background. Since the mid-nineteenth century it has been relatively little used. Robert Kipniss, Peter Ilsted and Maurits Escher are notable 20th-century exponents of the technique.

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  • Henry Prince of Wales (Exercising with a Lance) - Antique Mezzotint circa 1800
    Henry Prince of Wales Exercising with a Lance - Mezzotint circa 1800
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