Intaglio

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Intaglio is a series of printing techniques that involve incising (engraving or etching) a surface, inking the grooves, and then compressing the surface. The grooves print with ink and the surface is reproduced as whitespace.

This is as opposed to a relief print, where the ink is laid on the surface and the sunken areas are reproduced inklessly.

When making an intaglio print, lines or grooves are incised into metal surfaces called plates by hand or by using acid. When cut by hand, a cutting tool known as a burin is used (fig. 1) and the grooves left are engravings.

Engraving Burin used by Mathias J. Horn.
Fig.1. The engraving burin used by Mathias J. Horn

When grooves are made using acid, the process is called etching. When etching, parts of the plate is covered in an acid-resistant material and then the uncovered areas are etched. When acid cuts grooves in the surface of the plate, it’s called biting.

To reproduce an image from an intaglio plate, the plate is painted and the grooves are filled with ink. Then the surface ink is removed, often wiped away by hand using a rag. Finally, the plate is pressed against the new surface and the ink is transferred from the grooves to the new surface. The finished print, which appears in reverse, is called an impression.

While the intaglio method dates back to 1400s, this method was repopularized in the 1800s, and artist etchings can be found in some little magazines, such as The Dial (fig. 2 and 3).

The illustration is a black and white etching in portrait orientation and is centered on the page. In the left foreground, a large figure is standing in profile atop a parapet. His head is positioned downward as he is overlooking a city. The figure’s hair is long and dark and appears studded with pearls. He is wearing a large, dark robe which drapes loosely over his body. His left hand holds a flower (lily), and his right hand is raised to his chin in a meditative position. At the foot of the figure, there are leaves, petals, and small flowers. Below the parapet is a round, wooden turret with men working a canon. In the right foreground, across the turret at ground level, is a pillared tower with two dome rooftops and a connected series of structures. A large dragon/worm is entangled around the shortest pillar of the tower and the structures behind it. In the leftmost foreground is the head of a black bird looking downwards. There appears to be a storm forming a concave shape of clouds in the upper background. The initials “CR” are etched in a small rectangular box in the lower centre of the illustration.
Fig. 2 Charles Rickett’s “Illustration to the Great Worm” published in The Dial, vol. 1, 1889.
The illustration is in portrait orientation and is centered on the page. An angel in female form descends in profile from the top left region of the illustration down through the right centre. She has long, flowing hair, is studded with stars around her body, and radiates white light. Her right arm is outstretched around the waist of the lifeless child dressed in dark, ragged clothing in front of her. An explosion of light radiates out from the child’s outstretched open left palm. Beneath the child is a wave of darker light(?) and three studded stars. The initials “CHS” are etched in a small rectangular box positioned in the bottom right corner of the illustration.
Fig. 3 Charles Shannon’s “Illustration to A Glimpse of Heaven” published in The Dial, vol. 1, 1889.

Works Cited

“Intaglio | Printing.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc, 21 Jan. 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/intaglio-printing.

National Museums Liverpool. “How to Make an Etching.” YouTube, uploaded by John Moores University Print Studio, 5 June 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jzVjjRudfo.

Ricketts, Charles. “Illustration to the Great Worm.” The Dial, vol. 1, 1889, AE. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra 2019-2020. The Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/dialv1-ricketts-wormetched-ae/

Shannon, Charles. “Illustration to A Glimpse of Heaven.” The Dial, vol. 1, 1889, AF. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra 2019-2020. The Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/dialv1-shannon-heaven-af