Can anyone fail to notice her? — the large Dominique who greets visitors to the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich with her gentle smile. The astounding portrait hanging in the corridor leading to the exhibition hall is captivating, with its inner radiance and immense sense of presence, holding the viewer suspended between fascination and bewilderment. When Franz Gertsch (b. 1930) started working on the woodcut in 1988, he was unable to decide for a long time on whether or not to use a landscape motif instead.

In addition to his portraits — which in the meantime have become icons of Swiss art — the great Swiss artist is also renowned today for his enchanting landscapes. However, his early work is less familiar to the general public. This is precisely the phase of Gertsch’s extensive oeuvre on which the presentation planned in honour of his ninetieth birthday will be focusing. In parallel with the exhibition being held at the Franz Gertsch Museum in Burgdorf (“Franz Gertsch. The Seventies” and „Luciano Castelli: Reckenbühl“, 21 March – 16 August 2020), the selection presented here will provide an insight into Gertsch’s early work, from a period when he was also creating romantic-seeming drawings in addition to delicate woodcuts. Individual groups of topics from his collection and from the ETH’s collection’s own holdings have been selected in collaboration with the artist. The survey will be rounded off with colour samples — affectionately termed “études (de) couleurs” by the artist — that are produced during the complex process of printing his incomparable monochrome worlds. A catalogue is planned for the exhibition.

Curators: Dr. Linda Schädler and Alexandra Barcal, Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich

Further information

Slack skin, shimmering silk, shiny armour, soft fur, air shimmering with heat, shadows of glass, even shades of colour, closeness and distance – all this depicted on a white sheet with nothing but black lines. How is that supposed to work?

The engravings of Agostino Carracci (1557–1602) and Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617) show that what might seem impossible in this technique can indeed be achieved. Nothing ever written about these two acrobats of the line has failed to include words such as ‘virtuoso’ or ‘masterly’. The ‘Crossing Parallels’ exhibition at the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich also emphasizes the astounding effects that the two artists created in their works.

The title of the exhibition also refers to remarkable parallels in the courses of Carracci’s and Goltzius’s lives. They were almost precise contemporaries; Goltzius was the most sought-after and influential engraver of his time north of the Alps, just as Carracci was in Italy. They were both interested in the theory of art and founded academies in their native countries. Despite their outstanding successes in the graphic medium, they both moved away from printmaking in their later years and turned their attention to painting.

Independently of one another, Carracci and Goltzius discovered the illusionistic potential of broadening and tapering lines, which their common paragon Cornelis Cort (1533–1578) had been the first to use in engraving. They further developed this technical innovation to such an extent that for each of them it became a trademark of their prints.

However, the comparison of the two masters that the Zürich exhibition attempts for the first time does not intend merely to draw attention to their technical expertise. Carracci and Goltzius also revolutionized the medium of engraving, both stylistically and in their choice of content. This aspect is illustrated specifically in selected subject areas – including portrait, erotic images, reproduction of antique and Renaissance art, and engravings in which they explicitly imitated the work or style of another artist.

The curators of the exhibition are Dr. Susanne Pollack of the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich and Dr. Samuel Vitali of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut.

The Graphische Sammlung ETH Zurich owns around 160,000 works of art on paper. In this exhibition, a small selection of them will be shown under a specific aspect.