Furió, V.: “Looking closely”

“It is not easy to look at ancient prints. Generally, they are small-sized and in black and white. It is necessary to look very closely at them to appreciate them and, and to let them reveal all what they contain. It is necessary to dedicate time and a lot of attention to them. A first look is not sufficient to identify the subject they represent, to admire the nuances and also the care with which one defined the smallest details. Prints are demanding with the spectator and do not open easily; but, when they open, they can offer as much or even more aesthetic and intellectual pleasure than any work of the so called ‘major arts’, like paintings, which have the advantage of the size and of the colour.”

Elena Santiago Páez
“Mirar Rembrandt”, to ‘Rembrandt. La luz de la sombra’
Fundació Caixa Catalunya, Barcelona, 2005

This magnificent text written by Elena Santiago for the catalogue of a Rembrandt engravings’ exhibition, shows with precision two of the essentials features of antique prints: they are generally small-sized works and they are demanding with the spectator. There are exceptions concerning the dimensions. Some prints are large, as for example the Prisons of Piranesi, which are impressive by their strength and their inventiveness. All the same with Tiepolo’s engravings reproducing painted ceilings, and in which the characters float in a vibrating space of clouds and light, in beautiful decorative compositions.

But most of the antique prints are small-sized, and it is necessary to look at them closely. A large part of the works by two of the best printers of all times, Durer and Rembrandt, are pieces of paper of few centimetres. Nevertheless, in this tiny space, Rembrandt created deeply moving images of a strong intensity and humanity, and his etchings and clair-obscurs have been admired for centuries. The qualities that we can appraise in details, must be looked at with attention, and a magnifying glass can prove useful. The magnifying glass can also allow us to admire the extraordinary technical fitness of some burins and xylography’s by Durer, an artist who has delimited ‘a before and an after him’ in the history of prints. Some consider Durer and Rembrandt bigger artists as engravers than as painters. The same can be said of Goya. One remains voiceless looking at the dramatic “Disasters of the War “, and “Los disparates” – probably the highlight of the genius of the artist; their modernity even today surprises us. The prints of Fortuny are also magnificent, of a technique and a meaning strength which allows comparison with the big names just mentioned above. Rembrandt was inspired by compositions of Durer; Goya was inspired by Rembrandt; and in the prints of Fortuny we find aspects of Rembrandt, Tiepolo as well as Goya. The big artists observe each other, and we should learn how to pay in-depth attention to their works. As said by Elena Santiago, prints are demanding with the spectator and they do not open easily; but, when they do so, they captivate us for ever.

Vicenç Furió

Professor of Art History
of the University of Barcelona