English, 1789-1854 Fall of Babylon from Illustrations from the Bible, 1835
Mezzotint and etching
Image: 188 mm x 289 mm
Museum purchase: Letha Churchill Walker Memorial Art Fund, 1992.0119 View full recordWhat to Look for:
Mezzotint is an intaglio medium in which the artist begins with a heavily textured plate that prints a solid black. The plate is then selectively scraped and burnished to create smoother areas that will not hold ink, allowing the artist to work progressively from dark to light. For this reason the technique lends itself to images demanding rich black or extensive tonal passages. The process begins by texturing the plate with a tool called a rocker. A rocker resembles a very broad flat chisel with an arced edge. One of the flat faces of the tool his very fine grooves in it so that the sharpened, arced edge is actually made up hundreds of fine points. The rocker is worked across the surface of the plate with a motion something like that applied to a vegetable chopper. As the rocker travels across the plate in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal courses it slowly builds up a texture that will hold enough ink to print a solid black. After the plate has been completely rocked the artist begins to scrape back into the plate to create the lighter passages. This results in the characteristic velvety passages of mezzotint. Often the process of scraping and burnishing the plate reveals the underlying courses of dots that make up the mezzotint tones. In this example this is extremely difficult to discern, but if you examine a detail of the clouds in the upper left hand corner you will see a subtle example of this. In the lower left you can see where Martin has worked back into the plate with traditional etching.