Line Engraving

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line engraving

[′līn in‚grāv·iŋ]
(graphic arts)
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Line Engraving


a very old type of engraving on metal, predominantly copper, in which the depressions in the plate are made with a sharp burin.

The origin of line engraving goes back to the carved decorations on various metallic wares. In the Middle Ages lines cut in metal were often filled with a coloring compound, mainly black pigment, making it possible to transfer the image onto paper. The reproduction of these impressions as samples for gunsmiths and gold and silver craftsmen led to the appearance of line engraving proper sometime in the first half of the 15th century. The oldest examples of line engraving are naively executed playing cards and sheets depicting the Virgin, saints, and evangelical scenes. The engravings were widespread along the Rhine (the main commercial artery of Western Europe), in Switzerland, Germany, Alsace, and the Netherlands.

The art of line engraving was perfected in the 15th century in the works of anonymous craftsmen (for example, Master E. S.) who made ornaments for silver objects. It reached the zenith of its development toward the end of the 15th century in the works of M. Schongauer and A. Dürer in Germany and A. Pollaiuolo, A. Mantegna, and M. Raimondi in Italy. Line engraving flourished in the Netherlands in the 16th century (Lucas van Leiden) and in France in the 17th century (R. Nanteuil and others). The old masters of line engraving achieved a highly convincing treatment of the human form, objects from daily life, and the texture of various fabrics. They solved extremely complex problems of anatomy, perspective, and composition, and their figures exhibit philosophical depth.

The technique of line engraving is characterized by a strict rhythm of parallel lines or cross-hatching. Precise strokes accurately outline and fill in a three-dimensional form, and the number and density of the strokes suggest shading and tone. However, line engraving’s limited artistic possibilities—for example, the inability to render the ambience of light and air or the attractiveness of nature—and its exceptionally time- and labor-consuming character led in the 17th century to its decline and replacement by various etching techniques. However, until the 19th century line engraving remained the principal technique used in making maps, cityscapes (vedute), scientific illustrations, and, particularly, reproductions (on large pages) of paintings, sculptures, and architectural works for albums (so-called ouvrages).

In Russia, after short-lived experiments in book ornamentation in the 16th century, line engraving became popular at the end of the 17th century through the work of Ukrainian craftsmen, such as I. Shchirskii. It initially was used in the production of printed publications (the work of A. Trukhmenskii and L. Bunin). In the 18th century the brothers A. F. Zubov and I. F. Zubov used line engraving to depict various views, battle scenes, and other subjects. Line engraving combined with etching was used by the portraitists E. P. Chemesov and G. I. Skoro-dumov. In the 19th century the tradition of line engraving was preserved at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts in the works of N. I. Utkin, A. G. Ukhtomskii, and F. I. Iordan.

In the early 19th century a special type of line engraving called outline or contour engraving was widely used for illustrations, primarily of the ancient Greek and Roman authors. The engravings were based on the drawings of classicist artists. For example, the line engravings of the Italian master T. Piroli are based on drawings by the Englishman J. Flaxman. In Russia this type of line engraving was perfected by F. P. Tolstoi (illustrations of I. F. Bogdanovich’s poem Sweetheart, which were based on the artist’s own drawings; 1820–33).

With the development of photomechanical methods of reproduction, line engraving greatly declined in importance. Since roughly 1850 it has been used almost exclusively in the preparation of government papers and banknotes. Variations of line engraving have been used on steel (first half of the 19th century), organic glass, and plastic (20th century), but these efforts have not had much artistic significance. A number of 20th-century artists, however, have proved to be masters of line engraving in its traditional form (D. I. Mitrokhin in the USSR, J. Laboureur in France, and D. Galanes in Greece).


See references under engraving.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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This slim little book, illustrated with austere line engravings, promoted Hope's expensive neo-classical vision to a wider public.