Tuesday, 3 June 2014

THESIS REFLECTION: ABRAHAM BOSSE AND THE VALUE OF PRINTED IMAGES

BY: KATIE METHOT

Over the last month, much of my research has focused on the history of printed images as collectible items and early perceptions of print as an art form. One of the challenges I have had is the lack of literature which specifically focuses on themes that are relevant to my thesis. However, a few weeks ago I stumbled across an article I had saved during my undergrad. The article was written by Carl Goldstein, a professor of art history at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Goldstein's article, Printmaking and Theory (2008), presents his research on Abraham Bosse, a French printmaker during the seventeenth century. Bosse championed the art of printmaking in his own etchings and through an influential treatise he wrote in 1645.

Abraham Bosse, Intaglio Printing.

Abraham Bosse, Intaglio Printing. c. 1642. British Museum. 
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_image.aspx?image=ps345081.jpg&retpage=21345

Goldstein has since developed his research into a book, Print Culture in Early Modern France: Abraham Bosse and the Purposes of Print (2012). Bosse defended printmaking as a form of artwork worthy of analysis, discussion, and appreciation. His writings were contrary to the dominant perception that printmaking was only a means for mechanical reproduction and not a platform for the development of original design. Bosse's work represents an early example of what I believe continues to be a relevant issue in contemporary art museums: the lack of appreciation of print as a form of art which can be valued alongside painting and sculpture. One of the most significant aspects of Bosse's argument is that production of printmaking was not thought of as romantically as painting because it was perceived as a physically demanding, dirty, and exhausting process. Bosse's etchings of printing shops acknowledge the physically demanding process, but also the close ties to painting through elements of drawing and design that were involved in developing printed images. However, what printmakers were creating and who they were creating for also makes printmaking an interesting medium, worthy of collection and display in museums.


Abraham Bosse, Intaglio Engravers, c. 1643. National Library of France http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/actualites/celebrations2004/img/76.jpg

The subjects that were proliferated in printed images display the development of popular themes in artwork that could be accessible to middle and lower class individuals. In his discussion of printed religious images, Goldstein writes that while many of these prints were created by unknown artists, “what mattered was that they were within the price range of people who until then had been denied the solace of religious images. Here was a new form of picture-making, directed at a new public: not high-priced altarpieces commissioned by the upper classes, but icons that almost anyone could afford” (Goldstein 2012, 13). A subject I would like to continue to read about is the development of early print collections in museums. Goldstein acknowledges that many prints were purchased by individuals who could not afford original paintings. I believe that the association with lower and middle class individuals disenfranchised some prints from being valued and collected amongst painting and sculpture (often owned by wealthier members of society).

In July will be able to report on my visit to New York City and my meeting at the Print and Drawing Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This will be the first of my interviews to discover how print collections are perceived and used in contemporary art museums.

2 comments:

  1. What a great find, Kathryn! It is so rewarding to find an article which speaks to you and provides avenues for research and inspiration. As I was reading your post, I was thinking that one area which you could explore more is the printing press history & culture to give you a better understanding of how the press became a "new" (believe it or not) technology. There is quite some literature on this topic, which I could recommend.

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  2. Thank you, Irina! I would love some recommendations for readings on the history of the printing press. I will send you an e-mail.

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