New Inventions of Modern Times [Nova Reperta], The Invention of Copper Engraving, plate 19

Artist: Jan Collaert I (Netherlandish, Antwerp ca. 1530–1581 Antwerp)

Artist: After Jan van der Straet, called Stradanus (Netherlandish, Bruges 1523–1605 Florence)

Publisher: Philips Galle (Netherlandish, Haarlem 1537–1612 Antwerp)

Date: ca. 1600

Medium: Engraving

Dimensions: Sheet: 10 5/8 x 7 7/8 in. (27 x 20 cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1949

Accession Number: 49.95.870(10)


In the mid-sixteenth century, the story of Jupiter overcoming the Giants' uprising was often associated with the victories of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (r. 1519–56) over the Protestant rebellion. Such was the case with the vault painted in about 1533 by Perino del Vaga in a chamber that served as a temporary throne room for the emperor in Andrea Doria's Genoese palace. This engraving records one of the preliminary drawings for the fresco. Perino follows Ovid's account in showing Jupiter fighting the Giants without help from the other Olympians, yet includes the boulders and uprooted trees mentioned by Apollodorus (Library 1.6) as weapons of the Giants.
In this plate, we can trace all the steps involved in the new art of engraving on copper. At the lower right, a man with glasses engraves a copper plate, as young apprentices look on. He holds the plate at an angle in order to catch the light and because the only way to cut curved lines with a burin is by rotating the plate—usually the plate is placed on a cushion to make this easier. Several burins of different sizes lie on the table in front of the engraver and it is possible to discern both the lozenge-shaped tip of the tool and its bulbous handle.
In the center of the print, the engraved plate is prepared for the press. First it is heated, to make the ink flow more easily into the grooves, then the entire surface is covered with ink using a dabber. Finally, the plate is carefully wiped so that the surface is clean and the ink remains only in the grooves.
On the left side of the image, we see the printing process. After placing the copper plate, with a dampened sheet of paper on top of it, between protective felt blankets, the plate is run through the press. In order to force the paper into the grooves so that it will pick up the ink, tremendous pressure is required. The rolling press sandwiches the plate between two powerful rollers—we can see the effort required to operate the press. In the left foreground, a printer examines a proof impression to see if the pressure needs to be adjusted or other changes made before continuing with the edition. A series of identical impressions (an edition) are being hung to dry on ropes stretched around the walls of the shop.