European Prints of the Late Renaissance

The style today known as Mannerism became the common currency of artists across Europe in the last decades of the sixteenth century. Characterized by elegantly drawn figures, complicated compositions, exquisite grace, and perhaps, above all, by an extraordinary degree of artistic self-consciousness, Mannerism has rightly been labeled “the stylish style”.

One modern critic compared Mannerist works of art to “strange and exotic blooms”, and one might go further and simply call these the the hot-house flowers of the Renaissance. The style was used in all media – painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts – but some of its most beautifully exotic aspects were found in the prints of the time, which were created for a rapidly growing class of connoisseurs. In addition to traditional religious subjects, Mannerist printmakers accordingly took on a variety of new subjects including mythological and allegorical themes, as well as subjects such as the four seasons or the four elements, which could be carried through a suite of prints.

Many of these prints are reproductive prints, in which a composition drawn by one artist would be engraved by another. The collaboration was meant to demonstrate the talents of both artists; the creative ability of the designing artist is manifest in the composition and the interpretation of the subject matter, while the engraver’s artistry shows itself in the translation of an ink drawing or a painting into a series of linear forms with cross-hatched shading. The roles could also be interchangeable. Hendrick Goltzius, the predominant artistic personality based on the works shown in this exhibition, was a master engraver, a creator of designs that would be engraved by his followers, and also at times even a publisher of the prints.

This project is a teaching exhibition, the result of a class on museum practice taught by John Marciari, curator of European Art at The San Diego Museum of Art. Dr. Marciari’s undergraduate students at the University of San Diego have helped in the selection and organization of the exhibition and have contributed many of the wall texts. The students are: Kelsey Day, Chase Doolan, Alexander Karol, Katherine Morris, Megan Pehl, and Jordan Wendt.

Mannered Bodies: European Prints of the Late Renaissanceis organized by The San Diego Museum of Art. Support is provided by the members of The San Diego Museum of Art and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Program. Institutional support for the Museum is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.

Jacob Matham, Autumn, 1589. Engraving. Gift of Norman Leitman and Todd Butler. 2004.163.3.