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Amalie Elisabeth von Hessen , first known mezzotint etching by Ludwig von Siegen, 1642, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The scraping technique , also called mezzotint or black art, is a gravure printing process that was developed in Holland in 1642 by the German Ludwig von Siegen . It reached its peak in English portrait painting in the 17th and 18th centuries . The first known portrait using this technique dates from 1642 and shows the Landgravine Amalie Elisabeth von Hessen .

C. Corbutt: Sir William Howe (British General in the US Revolutionary War ), mezzotint

The mezzotint was mainly used for single sheets and seldom for book illustrations.


In the scraping technique, the smoothed is copper plate having a toothed Granierstahl (also cradle iron or mezzotint knife called), or with the grain Roller ( Roulette , an occupied with teeth wheel or a ball () Moulette ) completely roughened by pressing smaller wells until the plate is covered with a dense, completely uniform grid. If a print of the printing plate were made in this state , the result would be an even, velvety black print.

On the prepared surface, the artist smooths the areas where he wants lightness with a scraper or polishing steel . The lighter the print tone, the more polished the plate must be. During the subsequent blackening process, depending on the smoothness and roughness, the copper will absorb less or more ink and transfer it to the paper during printing. This means that all tonal values ​​from very light to very dark can be created for a high-contrast light-shadow effect.

Guide rail for a mezzotint knife (chopping knife)

The graphic process, which is very time-consuming, is particularly suitable for reproducing the effect of large paintings. Since the plates are very sensitive, a maximum of less than 100 prints per printing plate in high quality is possible, provided the plate is not stolen.

Exemplary work in mezzotint

Charles Turner (1773–1857): Portrait of Charlotte, Countess of Cholmondeley, 1805, mezzotint

Due to the high workload associated with this technique, there is little modern work in mezzotint. This is all the more true as an at least similar effect can be achieved with the scraped aquatint . But there are at least two very well-known works in which this technique was used:

Distinguishing features of a mezzotint

In addition to the general characteristics of a gravure graphic, a mezzotint has the following characteristics:

  • plastic, painterly effect
  • Gradual, mostly velvety tones in all shades from the deepest black to the lightest white
  • Small, regular crosses or asterisks can be seen under a magnifying glass , which are created by the cross points of the preparatory rocker cuts.
In the upper area, the working marks of the chopping knife and the tooth positions are clearly visible, in the wider area the scraped areas. Format 218 × 15 cm. Title: "Sin Cabeza"
  • In light areas, traces of work on the chopping knife can be seen as ridged stripes.


  • Wolfgang Autenrieth: New and old techniques of etching and fine printing processes - An alchemical workshop book for erasers: From 'witch's meal and dragon's blood' to the photopolymer layer. Tips, tricks, instructions and recipes from five centuries . Krauchenwies 2010, 230 pages, ISBN 978-3-00-035619-3 ( table of contents , (→ excerpts online) )
  • Walter Koschatzky : The art of graphics. Technology, history, masterpieces . dtv, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-423-30742-0 .
  • Lothar Lang : The graphics collector. A book for collectors and everyone who wants to become one . Hauswedell, Stuttgart 1995, ISBN 3-7762-0395-1 .
  • Carol Wax: The Mezzotint, art of darkness . Stone & Press Galleries, New Orleans, LA 1996 (exhibition catalog).
  • Carol Wax: The mezzotint. History and technique . Abrams, New York 1990, ISBN 0-8109-3603-8 .

Web links

Commons : Mezzotints  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Joachim von Sandrart : Teutsche Academie (1675), I, book 3 (painting), p. 101 f .: “about 50 or 60 clean impressions”.