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Battle of the Nudes

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Early Italian versus Early Northern European Engraving

The compelling aesthetic quality of Cleveland's impression certainly supports the notion that a thin, sparsely pigmented ink and soft-tonal style of printing was ideally suited for reproducing Pollaiuolo's ambitious creation - both the overall design and delicate line quality. The distinction between the pale tonal quality of early Italian engraving and the rich black line of early northern engraving may not however, be one of conscious effort or aesthetic choice but may instead reflect a difference in technical proficiency.

A strong case is made that the Italians at this early stage in the history of engraving lacked the technical proficiency of their northern counterparts. Simply put, they had not yet mastered the fine points of ink manufacture or developed the knack (or the proper printing press!) for good printing of copper plates. (Bibliography: see Manick; Hind)

While the earliest northern engravings demonstrate superior technical skill, the art drew from a limited range of subject and was used largely for religious images and specifically for small devotional prints. Hallmarks of early Italian engraving, of which Pollaiuolo's Battle of the Nudes is a perfect example, include a command of a more liberal range of subject and the capacity for conceiving engraved images on a grander pictorial scale. The higher artistic sense displayed by early Italian engraving is explained by the fact that masters of independently recognized stature, i.e., artists like Mantegna and Pollaiuolo, turned to engraving earlier in Italy than in the north. (Hind, A History of Engraving and Etching, pages 36 -37) ; (Landau and Parshall - page 65)


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