Intern Insights: Line Engraving

Guest Post by Brooke Jackson

As an intern at Vanderbilt’s Special Collections and Archives, I have come across many interesting characteristics working with rare books. One such quality is that many of the books contain beautiful pieces of artwork. The artwork typically depicts various images such as maps, portraits, animals, etc. The technique used to create these images is quite astonishing and is called line engraving, which is a form of printmaking.

Line engraving is a term for engraved images printed on paper to be used as prints or illustrations. Typically the term line engravings is connected with commercial illustrations for magazines and books, or reproductions of paintings. To create line engravings, the artist cuts the design into a smooth metal plate (typically steel or copper) with a tool called a burin. The essential character of the medium is linear, though shading and tone may be suggested by parallel strokes (hatching), cross-hatching, or textures compounded of various dots and flicks. Typically, line engravings have a quality of metallic hardness and precision, compared with the spontaneity of etching or lithography, in which the artist draws the design freely. Often, however, engraving has been combined with etching on the same plate. The image is created as a mirror image on the metal plate, so that it is printed facing correctly on the page.

Line engraving has a very long history. It was developed during the 15th century, as a branch of the goldsmith’s art and was used heavily in printed material until the late 19th century, where it was challenged by wood engraving and then overcome by photography. However, during the 20th century and modern times, line engraving has been revived in the art world.
Here are images from the books that I have been working with that contain line engravings illustrations!

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