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What is engraving? How it should be considered?

Dr. Ayşe Yetişkin Kubilay
Art Historian

What is engraving? The answer of this question can be described as the art or technique of one that engraves, a design or text engraved on a surface, an engraved surface for printing, a print made from an engraved plate or block.
In antiquity, the only engraving that could be carried out is evident in the shallow groves found in some jewelery after the beginning of the 1st Millennium B.C. Furthermore, the majority of so-called engraved designs on ancient gold rings or other items were produced by chasing or someties a combination of lost-wax casting and chasing.

During the Middle Ages, goldsmiths used engraving to decorate and inscribe metalwork. It is tought that they began to print impressions of their designs to record them. From this grew the engraving of copper printing plates to produce artistic images on paper, known as old master prints in Germany in the 1430s. likewise, Italy soon followed. Many early engravers came from a goldsmithing background. The first and greates period of the engraving was from about 1470 to 1530, with such masters as Marting Schongauer, Albert Durer,  and Lucas Van Leiden. Thereafter engraving tented to lose to etching, which was much easier technique for the artist to learn. But many prints combined  the two techniques-although Rembrandt`s prints are generally all called etching for convenience, many of them have some burin or drypoint work, and some have nothing else. By the nineteenth century, most engraving was for commercial illustrarion.
During the rest of the 16th century, engravers such as Hendrik Goltzius(1558-1617) continued to develop increasingly brillant techniques. Similtaneously, however, engraving became more and more restricted to reproducing paintings. This trend, which continued throughout the 17th century, was facilitated by the popularization of techniques capable of  producing gradations of tone. The dotting of the plate with short jabs of the burin, common from the late 15th century, evolved in the late 17th and 18th centuries into the techniques of stipple engraving and crayon manner( aslo called chalk-manner, or paster-manner, engraving). These techniques scored the plate with numberless dots and nicks made with a burin or special tools called rockers and roulettes. With mezzotint, a related technique invented in the 17th century by Ludwing von Siegen, they almost completely replaced line engreving in the 18th century. It was revived to an extant in the 20th century by the French artist Jacques Villion and the English artist Eric Gill and Stanley William Hayter. The latter demonstrated that line engraving is a suitable medium for much modern art, including abstraction. The American printmakers Mauricio Lasansky and Gabor Peterdi also produced engravings.

Traditionally, engravers created darker areas by making an area of many very thin parallel lines(called hatching). When two sets of parallel line hatching intersected each other for higher density, the resulting pattern was known as cross-hatching.

Before the advent of photography, engraving was used to reproduce other forms ot art, for example paintings. Engravings continued to common in newspapers and many books into the early 20th century, as they were cheaper to use in printing than photographic expression.

When we talk about art of engraving, originally a style of European Art is known as "art of carving" in Turkish. An engraver of this work of art is called "carver (hakkâk)" according to traditional Turkish Art. Engraving is not only one of those old printing techniques, changing accordance with the period, but also a picture-image or a design that has been cut into a surface of wood, copper, stone or steel with the helping of diffrent techniques of engraving. In a rough word, engraving is any of various processes of cutting a design into a plate or block of metal or wood. The cutting is done by a engraver, on a copper, zinc, aluminum, or steel plate and the design is printed with a roller from ink rubbed into the incised grooves. Likewise, in its broadest sense, the art of cutting lines in metal, wood, or other material either for decoration or for reproduction through printing. In its narrowest sense, it is an intaglio (a design cut into stone or other material or etched or engraved in a metal plate, producing a concave, instead of a convex, effect.) printing process in which the lines are cut in a metal plate with a engraver. Furrows are cleanly cut out, raising no burr, and then filled with ink that is transferred under high pressure to the printing surface of the press. It is also an artistic print made from a metal plate on which an artist has cut a design with a engraver  or a small chisel.

Engraving is the practice of incising a desing onto a hard, flat surface, by cutting grooves into it. The resault may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold or steel are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing images on paper, which are called engravings. Engraving was a historically important method of producing images on paper, both in artistic printmaking and also for commercial reproductions and illustrations for books and magazines. It has long been replaced by photography in its commercial applications and partly because of the diffuculty of learning the technique, is much less common in printmaking, where it has been largely replaced by etching ( a method of engraving in which lines or textures are bitten, or etched, into a metal plate, usually copper, with acid) and other techniques.

Other terms  often used for engravings are Copper-plate engraving and Line engraving. These should all mean exactly the same, but especially in the past were often used very loosely to cover several printmaking techniques, so that many so-called engarvings were in fact produced by totally different techniques, such as etching.

However, the technique of engraving was used for picturing books, documentation and art for centuries, it  seems to have lost its ground to photograph after second half of 19th. century except in the field of art. However, this work of art became out of fashion in the course of time because of the diffuculty of the techniques and cost, it turned out to be an " Unique Art Value".

In order to give an answer to the question of "Which Engraving is The Most Valuable One?, we had better take into account many criteria  to give an answer to this question. The most important criterion for this manner is the technique by which engraving has been cut into a surface for the first hand. However, the technique is the first part of appriciation of value of engraving, there are also some criteria that we need to take into account as well like the artisan (engraver), text or subject of engraving, how many times it has been cut into the surface of plate, technique of colouring which is depending on its period, age of the paint and if it is  coloured or not?

When we say technique, it  refers to varying print techniques according to material of engraving. Consequently, the material of engraving identifies the name and type of technique.  Because engraving, known as art of printing in a sense, is named according to the material which is used for art of engraving, like wood-printing, copper printing, steel printing. The technique of engraving is one of the major criteria by which we can conclude the period of engraving too.Furthermore, in the past, the painter-artisan used to give picture -image to work shops of engraving for which engravers (hakkâklar in Turkish) had cut the picture-pattern-design-image into a surface of the material of engraving with the helping of different techniques.

The technique of engraving  can be divided into three categories:

-Relief printing
-Intaglio printing

Relif Printing, known as oldest application technique for engraving, is applied onto wood and it is also similar to the application used for rubber seals today. Firstly, Once engraver has cut black parts of  picture-image into the surface of wooden plate and then he cuts the white parts of picture-image into the bottom of surface of the plate. After this process has been done, ink is applied to picture-image-design which is on the wooden plate and the pattern-image-picture can be engraved on a paper in this way. Furthermore, the distinctive part of woodcut is bold design patterns composed of black hollowed out lines and white grooves.
Ancient printing technique utilizing a carved wooden block or board as a relief image carrier, also called black-line engraving. In a wood engraving, the image areas are recessed below the surface of the board; in a woodcut, the noninage areas are carved away. Woodcuts can be used with one or several colors of ink.
In another word, woodcut is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaning level with the surface while the non-printing part are removed, typically with gouges. The areas to show white are cut away with a knife or chisel, leaving the characters or image to show in black at the original surface level. The block is cut along the grain of the wood( unlike wood engraving where the blocks is cut in the end-grain). The surface is covered with ink by rolling over the surface with an ink-covered roller(brayer), leaving ink upon the flat surface but not in the non-printing areas. Multiple colors can be printed by keying the paper to a frame around the woodblocks(where a different block is used for each color).

Wood engraving derives  from the woodcut, but the use of the hard, smooth boxwood, cut with the burin commonly used by the copper-plate engraver, produces a finer, more detailed image. By contrast with engraving from metal plates, the printing of wood engravings  is done from the surface of the plate or block; the parts that are not to be printed are cut away. Wood engraving differs from true engraving in that it is a relief process. During the 19th century, steel engraving enjoyed a short popularity as a reproduction process because it made possible a large number of proofs, but it was superseded by photomechanical prcesses.

Although woodcuts have largely been replaced by modern photographic and printing techniques, they are still in use as an artist` s medium and are employed in advertising to evoke "the olden days," and for their unique character as a fine art form. There were various methods of transfering the artist`s drawn design onto the block for the cutter to follow. Either the drawing would be made directly onto the block( often whitened first), or a drawing on paper was glued to the block. Either way, the artist`s drawing was destroyed during the cutting process. Other methods were used, including tracing.

On the other hand, not only the lack of durability of wooden prints-plates used for woodprinting technique, but also poor quality of print-plate was the main reason of the search of better printing options in the art of engraving.

The technique of Intaglio Pinting, also known as one of the most favorite engraving techniques, applied onto metal plates. Unlike, woodprinting and  woodcut technique, the engraving process in this technique is done as follows; Engravers use a hardened steel tool called a burin( TIG KALEM in Turkish) to cut the design into the surface, most traditionally a copper plate. Gravers come in a variety of shapes and sizes that yield different line types. The burin produces a unique and recognizable quality of line that is characterized by its steady, deliberate appearance and clean edges. The angle tint tool has a slightly curved tip that is commonly used in printmaking. Florentine liners are flat-bottomed tools with multiple lines incised into them, used to do fill work on larger areas. Flat gravers are used for doing fill work on letters, as well as most musical instrument engraving. Round gravers are commonly used on silver to create bright cuts (also called bright-cut engarving), as well as other hard-to-cut metals such as nickel and steel. Burings are either square of elongated diamond-shaped and used for cutting straight lines. Other tools such as mezzotint rockers, roulets and burnishers are used for texturing effetcs. Once picture-design is cut into metal plate composed of hollowed out stripes in this technique, ink is appiled into the surface of the picture-image-design that is cut into the surface of copper plate with the helping of engraving tools and then surface of the plate is cleaned out of ink with skilful creative expertise.

Ink remaining in  grooves of the plate of engraving is transferred onto copper plate with  a roller pressing the rough shape on surface of the paper. Copper printing, which is much better then woodprinting-woodcut in some ways, has left its place to steel and zinc engraving techniques in the course of time. The distinctive feature of copper printing is delicate lines, detailed shapes of design  with grey tones.The lines of picture-image-design turn into thiner lines like joining pieces of the same unit in this art of engraving. In addition to this, the importance of copper printing is due to the fact that increasing  details and applications of the light and shadow to a  great extant.
Since 19th century, Monotipi technique had been applied to stone and it was called lithography (a printing process in which the image to be printed is rendered on a flat surface, as on sheet zinc or aluminum, and treated to retain ink while the nonimage areas are treated to repel ink-taşbaskı in Turkish). If there had colour been used in printing of engraving it was called  chromolithography-renkli taşbaskı in Turkish. The success and quality drived from applications of the image-design into the surface directly has a better quality in comparison to other techniques in copper-printing. The most distinctive feature of this engraving technique is that it is rough in terms of surface of plate. Similarly, thin lines lefting its place to rough flutes-grooves lines, the transition of colour and tones are cut into surface with a great care.
When we consider about an engraving to figure out its artistic value, the fact that painter and engraver has depicted the city in accordance with its original appearance is highly important regarding the appreciation of engraving itself. Simply, an engraving of Istanbul, created by an artisan who has been to Istanbul, is more valuable in comparision to an engraving created  by an artisan who has never been to Istanbul. Engravings, reflecting the progress and change of city, showing the world in a pictorial way by which we can perceive our cultural orientation for the past are also documentary values-records though their supreme artistic achievements

In order to figure out the real value of an engraving, we had better know about history of the city in engraving, old scenes of the city, orientation of the structures in the past of the city,to know about life story of engraver, a detailed search for  books of travels that have written during the period of engraving, to spend a lot of time  in a library or be a good  investigator of history of art in a rough word. Consequenly, there is more then one criterion to get  the real value of an engraving. There is also another crucial point at which we should consider about the subject-text of engraving and originality of engraving in terms of artistic value of work of art.

For example, a general view in Istanbul engravings like general view of Bosphorus, Yenikoy, Tarabya, Bebek, Beşiktaş, Bosphorus villages, Golden Horn and Sarayburnu or Seraglio,The palace of Ottoman Empire, are more valuable then other engravings depicting the scene of a single street of Istanbul. Likewise, engravings, revealing social life of people of city, trade in the city, animals in the city and transportation of the city are more valuable then engravings depicting only a single feature of the city like architecture of the city.

When we take into account these criteria of  finest quality of  a engraving, Engravings of  A.I. Melling, J.B. Hilair, T. Allom and  W.H. Bartlett will be notable examples by which we can talk about a work of art. Similtaneously, Istanbul engravings are not only a kind of archival records that contain historical information by which we can visualize desapperared beaties of the city, but also engravings of  Anatolian cities like Bodrum, Gelibolu, Çanakkale, Ankara, İzmir, Trabzon and Antalya has a great value either.


To take a nap, go to cemeteries of Istanbul,
To cheer up, take a walk on Galata Bridge,
To dream, take a look for Bosphorus,
To have a good time on Sunday, go to Princes` Irelands,
To see Anatolia, take a walk on Bulgurlu [Çamlıca] Hill,
To see Golden Horn, go to Galata Tower,
To see everthing, go to Serasker [Beyazıd] Tower.........
Edmondo de Amicis (1874)

Basically, Old Istanbul, the capital of empires though Turkish conquest in 1453, attraction of Western Travellers and Orientalists is the area that is surrounded by city walls in between The Sea of Marmara and Golden Horn. After Ottoman conquest, Istanbul, the city turning into a favorire subject for painters, artists and orientalists, became a meeting point of East and West. Therefore, Istanbul became favorite of Europeans from 15th century till 20th century to a great extant in terms of art and literacy as it was always a jewel in the crown of the civilizations.  This was also because of jeo-political situation of the city that used to be the capital of Byzantine Empire and Ottoman Empire.

The oldest painting-engraving reflecting Byzantion Istanbul(Constantinopole) with a map has been drawn by Buondelmonti  in between 1420-22. In addition to this, engravings of old Istanbul that have been created by Hartmann-Schedel in 1493 with the helping of woodprinting technique are known as the oldest images of Istanbul and printed in  Nüremberg. On the other hand, the first and the oldest drawings to depict Ottoman Istanbul have been created by Pieter Coecke Van Aelst who came to Istanbul in 1533. Coecke came to Istanbul to learn oriental art of weaving and to sell Goblens to Suleyman the magificent of Ottoman Empire and his drawings,printed by his wife in 1553, are on display at British Museum and composed of seven parts like Turkish life style,Turkish customs and The Sultan and his entourage in Hippodrome.

The heyday of Ottoman Empire was during the reign of Suleyman the magnificent(1520-1566). For that reason, it was during this period many developments took place like in field of  foreign relations, trade, economy, architectire and fine arts. Due to the profound developments of this period,t many European travellers, artisans, merchants started to come to Istanbul along with embassadors and diplomats, not only many books of travels have been written by Western travellers but also during this period many artisans depicted the period with their engravings in their travel books to reveal this era. While they were depecting this era, they were also delighted with the mysticism of Orient. Thanks to their  travel books, we can visualize the shape of that period in many respects. That is why, many engravings of Istanbul are dated back to this period during which many pictorial records  have been created to show the facts of the period like they did with their engravings.

The engravings in the book of travel of  French Nicolas de Nicolay, a famous French geographer, who came to Istanbul with D'Aramon, a French embassador  in 1551 are a kind of source of information. It is thanks to him for us to know about the facts of this period of change with the helping of his works of art like Jannisarries (The royal army of Ottoman Empire), Whirling dervishes ( followers of an Islamic Sect), The women to go for a bath, prostitute in the steet, Armenian merchant, Greeks and Jews of Thrace.

In addition to these Western travellers, Melchior Lorichs also came to Istanbul with O.G. Busbecq, the embassador of  the king of Austria during the reign of Suleyman the magnificent and lived four and one half year in Istanbul. As he depicted shape of the period in his engravings that he has a great repuatation among other European travellers as well. Especially, his 11.5m. wide panoramic view of Istanbul from Galata Tower (1559), the portray  and life-size painting of Suleyman the magnificent, daily life of the people and his depiction of Suleymaniye Mosque are the most notable ones. As he  also witnessed to the opening of Suleymaniye Mosque, his works of art would be the most reliable source of records of the period naturally.

However, there also came many European travallers to Istanbul in 17th. century, the number of images and engravings in the books of travels of this period are not as plenty as the images and engarvings of the previous centuries in terms of number. The travel books, published in 17th century, have been printed with the technique of copper-printing.

Engravings of Dutch traveller C. Le Bruyn, who has been to Istanbul in between 1678-84, whose engarvings are known as  panoromic views of  Sarayburnu, Galata, İstanbul and printed in 1698 in his book of travel, likewise, engravings of G.J. Grelot, whose engravings are  known as panoramic views of Istanbul  and printed in 1680 and engravings,called as scenes from Anatolian cities in the travel book of  J.P. Tournefort are the major records that contain historical information of 17th to a great extant too.

Due to the fact that Ottoman Empire used to have an internal life style till 18th.century ,during which the Sultans of Ottoman Empire wanted to have drastic changes for modernization, it was not only Selim III initiated into great alterations in accordance with the facts of the  century but also Mehmet Celebi wanted to follow the same aim for which he had a visit to France to see the basics of see this change. As a resault of this great alteration movements of 18th century to illuminate the people in all respects, not only the number of  embassadors, officials but also the number of the painters, travellers and artists increased to reveal the circustamces between Exodus and Orient with their works of art. Consequently, many European travellers took long journeys throughout The Orient particularly Istanbul, meeting point of East and West culture. One of the leading  of these  European travellers is Dutch traveller J.B. Vanmour, who came to Istanbul with De Ferriol, The French ambassador, in 1699 and lived in Istanbul for 38 years. It was also J.B. Vanmour`s oil paintings as the most important eyewitnesses of the Tulip Era (Lâle Devri in Turkish), the era coincides with the latter half of the reign of Sultan Ahmed III (ruled 1703-1730), specifically the twelve-year grand vizierate of Ahmed's son-in-law, Nevşehirli Ibrahim.

The period is known for several breakthrough achievements, including the first Muslim printing press in the Empire, various innovations in the arts and urban design, and the first cultural embassies to Europe. It is also remembered for the extravagance of the imperial court and the emergence of a Western-inspired, elite pleasure culture. The period gets its name from court society's passion for tulips, which were especially prized as a cultivar and artistic motif. Grandees imported tulip bulbs at great expense, experimented with hybridization, and, planting them by the thousand, celebrated their blooms in candlelit "tulip illuminations" in gardens throughout Istanbul. For that reason this period constitutes a great place in the history of Ottoman engravings.J.B. Vanmour`s Ottoman costumes` album,  printed in 1712 in the city of Paris with copper printing technique was one of the major records of  The Tulip Era as well. Notable examples of these diplomat-traveller-painters can be considered as duo the comte French ambassador Choiseul-Gouffier and his painter J.B. Hilair, duo Britsh embassador  Sir Robert Ainslie and his painter.

Likewise it was Choiseul-Gouffier, who came to Istanbul during this era with his entourage composed of painters and drawers of map. His books of travel were published as three volumes, second volume of which were also complitely full of scenes from Istanbul and Aegean Coast of Turkey. His books were also printed with copper-printing technique.

Therfore, there occured many drastic alterations in accordance with the movements of Modernization of the Ottoman Empire, this alteration seemed in the field of architecture too. Imperial buildings like palaces and pavillions, public buildings like traditional Ottoman houses decorating either side of Bosphorus have been built with European architecture styles as one of the outcome of  these Westernization movements.

At the same time, ongoing domestic-reform efforts produced a revitalized, powerful Ottoman state that reasserted its presence in an unprecedented fashion. A series of reform decrees - the Hatt-i Şerif of Gülhane (1839) and the Hatt-i Hümayun (1856) - presented the path that Ottoman leaders intended
to follow. Ottoman military forces successfully adopted Western weapons along with the abolition of Jannissaries, The Royal Army of Ottoman Empire, under the rule of Mahmut II, strategy, and tactics and crushed local notables, nomadic tribes, and other domestic challenges to the central regime. Increasing centralization, specialization of function, and ever-greater size marked the state apparatus. Knowledge of Western languages, administrative practices, and culture became critical to advancement in the political and, finally, social spheres.
The government, for example, founded a vast network of secular, nonsectarian, Westernizing schools to inculcate the new values. In the realm of popular culture, entertainment forms of Western origin - the theater and novels - became increasingly popular, as did European-style clothing and manners. Nineteenth-century Ottoman experiences foreshadowed those of third-world states of the twentieth century in yet other ways. After increasing taxation to finance the expensive civil and military changes, the Ottoman Empire ultimately resorted to borrowing vast sums from abroad, which eventually resulted in virtual bankruptcy and a partial foreign takeover of the Ottoman economy.
Toward the end, despite centuries of success, the empire could not compete with the explosion of twentieth-century European economic, military, and political power; after participating as a member of the losing Central powers in World War I, it was partitioned.
Because of these profound changes, Western artists were so cruious about the changes if the cultures that  there seemed an increase in the number of Orientalists, supposed to be affected by Romantism of the era, who have  created many works of art with engraving techniques. Therefore, with the helping of engravings in the travel books of the period, not only it is possible to see the realities of this era, but also it is possible to visualize the city of Istanbul, the center of drastic alterations, though we couldnt see the city with our own eyes.
Engravings in the album of of A.I. Melling, the architech of Selim III and his sister Sultan Hatice, whose engravings were printed in 1819 in Paris on life-size paper with copper-printing technique; Engravings of Thomas Allom, who painted these engravings by himself in his two books of travel in 1839 with the helping of steel-printing technique       and engravings of W.H. Bartlett are notable works of art in terms of historical records of  this imporant century as well.
Through enravings of Amadeo Preziosi, a painter lived in Istanbul for a while and used to have a engraving workshop in Istanbul, J. Brindesi and J.F. Lewis, the famous Orientalist, it is possible to see Istanbul, jewel in the crown of the civilizations, with a "pitoresk" manner. Their engravings printed with the technique of lithography (a printing process in which the image to be printed is rendered on a flat surface, as on sheet zinc or aluminum, and treated to retain ink while the nonimage areas are treated to repel ink)

Similarly, in order to talk about notable names of masters of engraving, Sir David Wilkie with stunning figures in his engravings, Preault, E. Flandin and J. Laurens with their fantastic Bosphorus scenes, J. Schranz with his panoramas,  C. Rogier with his scenes of details of daily life Ottomans, are the names that we need to bear in our minds as the  excellent engravers of the same period.

Finally, with the helping of The Crimean War, (March 1853-February 1856), fought between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, The war of 1877 between Russia and Ottoman Empire, emerging of art of photography, widespead usage of  printing press were the major reasons of the change from itinerant artists and Orientalists to painters of war reporters,  who were writing for the press like Illustrated London News, L'Illustration, The Graphic instead of books of travels. This gave an end to the era of itinerant artists and painters  of engraving. Consequently, the art of engraving subsided in the course of history to a great extant and become an antique value that you can find at antique  collections that you can find at antique galleries.

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