Hercules Segers took an original approach to the medium of etching that departed significantly from his predecessors and contemporaries, creating prints that could double as small paintings, each one slightly different in appearance.
Many of the techniques Segers employed demonstrate an unbridled experimentation with the medium. One labor-intensive method he invented was an innovative three-tone etching process, which involved etching highlights and a crosshatched middle tone, and then etching the printing plate a second time in order to create dark lines and shadows. Segers also made printing plates specifically for printing light inks on a dark ground. In one instance, he fashioned two separate printing plates for a single image, with one intended only to indicate the highlights.
The features here, composed by Robert G. Erdmann, senior scientist at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, allow you to compare differing impressions of Segers's works. Drag your mouse across each of the features to view the different impressions, or click on the link below each feature to view the prints in greater detail and fully interact with them using various keyboard, touchscreen, and mouse commands. (Please note: These features are best viewed in Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.)
The printing plate Segers created for the etching Tobias and the Angel was later acquired by Rembrandt, a great admirer of the artist and himself an accomplished etcher. In a display of esteem but also of artistic competition with his predecessor, Rembrandt reworked Segers's printing plate, burnishing out some of Segers's original composition, including the figures of Tobias and the Angel. Rembrandt then proceeded to change the composition by sketching directly into the printing plate with a sharp drypoint needle. He changed the subject of the print to The Flight into Egypt but kept much of the landscape. This feature allows you to slide between impressions of both of these prints and see the changes that Rembrandt made to the plate.
Seger's impression of The Lamentation of Christ is one of his most colorful painted prints. This feature allows you to slide between a black-and-white impression and a colored impression of this work, with the former showing just how densely etched the image was before painting.
Segers achieved vastly different effects by printing on various colored papers in colored inks and then later painting onto the impressions. Twenty-two impressions of The Enclosed Valley have been preserved, ten of which were printed on cloth. An impression in green ink on green-colored paper evokes a night scene, while another one printed in blue on a cream-tinted paper suggests daylight. This feature allows you to slide over the image in order to fade in and out among eight variously colored impressions of the print.
The impression in blue of Landscape with a Plateau, a River in the Distance is exceptional. Segers made this impression from two printing plates: first, he printed the image in black ink on blue-painted paper; then a separate plate was used to print the tiny yellow highlights. This may be the earliest example in etching of what is called printing in register. The impression in black ink on white paper shows an impression without the highlights. What a different effect! This feature allows you to slide between the two impressions.
Printmaking allowed Segers to take an existing painted composition and re-envision it in many more possible color combinations and tonal effects. A comparison of the painting Valley with Trees and Mountains and the etching River Valley with Four Trees shows that they are the same composition. (The painting here has been reversed in order to match up with the print whose composition, through the printmaking process, comes out in mirror image.) This feature allows you to fade from a black-and-white impression of the etching to the painting and back again.
In several instances, Segers created two printing plates of the same image, one of them intended expressly for the purpose of producing impressions in light ink on a dark ground. Almost a negative of the original print, Segers made this by tracing the lines of a counterproof onto a copper plate. The printed lines of the first version are now established by the dark ground, and the light passages of the original are here rendered in lines printed in light blue ink. This feature allows you to slide over two impressions and compare them.
Segers created two separate printing plates with nearly the same image in Landscape with a Waterfall—in pure line etching and in his three-tone mix of etching techniques in the second version. The dense etching patterns in the second version flood the scene with a slightly vibrating grayish hue. This feature allows you to slide between details of the two versions.
|Zoom out of all panes
|Fade to image 1
|Fade to image 2
|Fade to image 3
|Fade to image 4
|Side-by-side curtain view
|Fading view (move mouse to adjust mixture amounts)
|Drag on division between panes
|In curtain-view mode, move the division
|Zoom in to tapped location
|Instantly move curtain division to the barycenter of the touched points
|Zoom in on location of mouse cursor
|Shift + left-click
|Zoom out from location of mouse cursor
|Zoom in/out on mouse cursor location
|Left-click + drag
|In curtain-view mode: move the curtain division
In fade-view mode: change the relative mixture amounts of the panes
Banner image: Hercules Segers (Dutch, ca. 1590–ca. 1638). Ruins of the Abbey of Rijnsburg from the South (detail), ca. 1625–30. Line etching printed with tone and highlights in yellow-white, on a dark brown ground, 7 7/8 x 12 9/16 in. (20 x 31.9 cm). Kupferstichkabinett. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Inv. no. 961-13). Blog series promo: Hercules Segers (Dutch, ca. 1590–ca. 1638). Houses near Steep Cliffs (detail), ca. 1619–23. Oil on canvas, 27 9/16 x 34 1/8 in. (70 × 86.6 cm). Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam Inv. no. 2525