This is the catalogue of an imaginatively conceived and well-researched exhibition. Its lengthy and informative essays, by Michael Komanecky, Edgar Peters Bowron, Clara Bargellini, Isabel Horovits, Jorgen Wadum, and Ekkehard Westermann, span the fields of art history, art conservation and economic history.
Introductory essays focus on the many roles of copper in European history, its mining, processing and trade, and the evolution of copper as a painting support. As the earliest metal known to have been used by humans, copper came to have a wide range of everyday functions, ranging from common tools, rivets and other metal parts for shipbuilding, and the strings of musical instruments, to the plates used by engravers and etchers. In Western Europe during the second half of the sixteenth century, copper outdistanced wood panel as a painting support, reasons for this include the relative ease of preparation before painting and its smoothness and stability. Indeed, its use was a major impetus for the development of the genre known as cabinet painting.
Painters featured in the essays and catalogue include the influental Italian, Giulio Clovio, as well as Netherlandish and German artists who developed their techniques in Italy, including Paul Bril, Bartholomeus Spranger and other painters of the Prague Circle, Joos de Momper II, Jan Brueghel, and Johann Rottenhammer. Artists of the next generation include Jan van Kessel I, Hendrick van Steenwijk and Frans van Mieris. Those leading practitioners whose works do not appear in the catalogue are well represented in the essay section, which has lavish color illustrations. Further, the catalogue texts enhance the introductory essays, as they investigate the place paintings on copper held within specific artists’ works.
Scholars interested in the diffusion of artistic genres to Latin America will appreciate Clara Bargellini’s essay which discusses programs of paintings on copper, some imported from the Netherlands, in Mexico, Chile, Peru, and other Spanish colonies. Further, Jorgen Wadum’s study of the marks of Antwerp coppersmiths should provide further evidence for authenticating and localizing anonymous paintings.
This is a rare compendium of information on what was a significant genre of painting in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The comprehensive nature of the essays makes this a valuable reference for any library on painting.
St. Lawrence University