Past Exhibitions

Mezzotints in 18th-century Life

March 3, 2007 – June 10, 2007



No photography. No telephones. No camera phones. No TV. No videos, movies, Internet, blogs. No Vogue magazine, Martha Stewart, or IKEA. So what did your average 18th-century man or woman buy in order to keep up with the latest fashions, scandals, culture clashes, and intellectual fads? Mezzotints. 

A mezzotint is an engraving made without lines. The mezzotint engraver, or more likely his unfortunate apprentice, “rocked” a tool covered with tiny teeth across the surface of a copper plate until it was densely covered with track marks. The surface indentations and burr could hold ink and produced a velvety dark tone when printed. The mezzotinter then rubbed with another tool, a burnisher, to smooth areas that would appear lighter in the print. The result is a dramatic, soft-edged image that might resemble a highly finished drawing in charcoal or brush and ink. The delicate surface of the plate meant that it wore down quickly during printing, so early impressions of the image, the richest and most detailed, became instant collectors’ items. Lithography, invented in the early 19th century, rapidly supplanted the mezzotint because it produced similar visual effects more simply and in great numbers. 

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The heyday of the mezzotint occurred in the Netherlands and Great Britain between 1670 and 1820, but it is becoming fashionable again today, especially in Japan. This exhibition of more than 60 mezzotints from a local collection explores the role this form of printmaking played in gossip, commerce, decoration, and print connoisseurship. 

Exhibition Credits

General support for the exhibition program at Carnegie Museum of Art is provided by grants from the Heinz Endowments and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. 

Installation Views