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.

Curator: Laura Vuille