Well, I am somewhat functional and at my post again. I would like to thank Lori Woodward again for filling in for me. I have an extensive post over at Fine Art Views that you can read by clicking here. It is an Ask Stape column. It has a good level of cheerful mayhem and general wickedness to it.
The etching above is the best known of Rembrandt's landscape etchings. It resembles his paintings more than his other etchings.There are small figures scattered throughout this etching.The presentations I am doing on etching are merely to build your interest. I hope that the next time you are at the art museum you will stop and look more closely at the etchings displayed there . Because I am merely an aficionado and not a scholar, I can only hope to incite you to greater discovery on your own. If I can convince you that this stuff is interesting and fun I will have succeeded.
The plate is very heavily worked. That is, it has been bitten in the acid a number of times and had passages reworked by burnishing. Here's what that means. Because of the softness of the copper, the plate can be reworked more than you might expect. A three sided scraper is used to remove the burr and level the surface of the plate somewhat. Then using a tool called a burnisher which looks a little like a narrow steel spoon, set into a wooden handle the area of the plate to be "erased" can be polished flat again. Then the artist regrounds and etches the passage again. There is a limit to how much of this you can do, but it is possible to radically redesign a plate and Rembrandt did this routinely. This is one of the reasons why the scholars have studied the states of his different plates so much.
The long and low plate above is typical of the Rembrandt etchings. The format is appropriate to the low county where he worked. This one has an L design, and is so standard I really don't know that I need to analyze it much other than to say it falls into the balance or steelyard concept. A whole bunch of stuff and a strong vertical (the tree) are balanced by the great expanse of space on the right. Because of the small size typical of etchings and the fine line used, etchings are often full of fine detail and meant to be looked at very closely. That gives a different sort of design sensibility than something which needs to communicate big simple shapes across a distance like a large painting or mural decoration. The print above looks a little "crabbed" in our reproduction here. If you had it in front of you it would look precious. There is a relationship between scale and design. We see so many things in reproduction and are less aware of that, because reproduction presents large murals and tiny cabinet pictures the same size. Viewing distance effects how an image needs to be designed.
Everything in the etching above (and the one above that) marches from left to right and gradually into the distance, that's a nice device to install in your own paintings. The opposite and far less effective approach is to string everything across the picture plane equidistant to the viewer. That is static, less interesting and doesn't convey the viewer deep into the image, but across its surface. A great way to get a landscape design to recede is to put the nearest object in the left hand corner and then the next item behind that and so forth. Each successive part of the landscape steps back further into space. Usually you will have to install this as much as observe it.
That's a pretty daring placement of that tower, almost right in the center. There's a common trick for doing that too. What Rembrandt has done is put one of the edges of the object on the center and then hang the rest one way or the other out from there. This is something I have done many times in landscapes myself. Balancing that central tower are three spots of dark, (there is a design motif called a three spot by the way). The first is a little grouping of trees to the right of the tower, the second is the dark mass of bushes at the center on the bottom, and the third dark spot is in the house at the left. These darks "orbiting" the tower divert our eye a little from its central location . They also encourage us to explore the picture and find the different areas that Rembrandt has included to entertain us.
Images from the Athenaeum.org