The Best Portraits in Engraving

The Sleeping Cat

(Engraved by Cornelis Visscher from his own Design.)

In contrast with Visscher was his companion Vandyck, who painted portraits with constant beauty and carried into etching the same Virgilian taste and skill. His aquafortisVandyck. was not less gentle than his pencil. Among his etched portraits I would select that of Snyders, the animal painter, as extremely beautiful. M. Renouvier, in his learned and elaborate work, Des Types et des Maniéres des Maîtres Graveurs, though usually moderate in praise, speaks of these sketches as "possessing a boldness and delicacy which charm, being taken, at the height of his genius, by the painter who knew the best how to idealize the painting of portraits."

Such are illustrative instances from Germany, Italy, and Holland. As yet, power rather than beauty presided, unless in the etchings of Vandyck. But the reign of Louis XIV. was beginning to assert a supremacy in engraving as in literature. The great school of French engravers which appeared at this time brought the art to a splendid perfection, which many think has not been equalled since, so that Masson, Nanteuil, Edelinck, and Drevet may claim fellowship in genius with their immortal contemporaries, Corneille, Racine, La Fontaine, and Molière.

The Sudarium of St. Veronica

(Engraved by Claude Mellan from his own Design.)

The school was opened by Claude Mellan, more known as engraver than painter, and also author of most of the designs he engraved. His life, beginning with the sixteenthMellan. century, was protracted beyond ninety years, not without signal honor, for his name appears among the "Illustrious Men" of France, in the beautiful volumes of Perrault, which is also a homage to the art he practiced. One of his works, for a long time much admired, was described by this author:

"It is a Christ's head, designed and shaded, with his crown of thorns and the blood that gushes forth from all parts, by one single stroke, which, beginning at the tip of the nose, and so still circling on, forms most exactly everything that is represented in this plate, only by the different thickness of the stroke, which, according as it is more or less swelling, makes the eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks, hair, blood, and thorns; the whole so well represented and with such expressions of pain and affliction, that nothing is more dolorous or touching."[4]

This print is known as the Sudarium of St. Veronica. Longhi records that it was thought at the time "inimitable," and was praised "to the skies;" but people think differently now. At best it is a curiosity among portraits. A traveler reported some time ago that it was the sole print on the walls of the room occupied by the director of the Imperial Cabinet of Engravings at St. Petersburgh.

Morin was a contemporary of Mellan, and less famous at the time. His style of engraving was peculiar, being a mixture of strokes and dots, but so harmonized as to produceMorin. a pleasing effect. One of the best engraved portraits in the history of the art is his Cardinal Bentivoglio; but here he translated Vandyck, whose picture is among his best. A fine impression of this print is a choice possession.

Cardinal Bentivoglio

(Painted by Anthony Van Dyck, and Engraved by Jean Morin.)

Among French masters Antoine Masson is conspicuous for brilliant hardihood of style, which, though failing in taste, is powerful in effect. Metal, armor, velvet, feather,Masson. seem as if painted. He is also most successful in the treatment of hair. His immense skill made him welcome difficulties, as if to show his ability in overcoming them. His print of Henri de Lorraine, Comte d'Harcourt, known as Cadet à la Perle, from the pearl in the ear, with the date 1667, is often placed at the head of engraved portraits, although not particularly pleasing or interesting. The vigorous countenance is aided by the gleam and sheen of the various substances entering into the costume. Less powerful, but having a charm of its own, is that of Brisacier, known as the Gray-haired Man, executed in 1664. The remarkable representation of hair in this print has been a model for artists, especially for Longhi, who recounts that he copied it in his head of Washington. Somewhat similar is the head of Charrier, the criminal judge at Lyons. Though inferior in hair, it surpasses the other in expression.