From the time that Parmigianino first used an etching needle in the 1520s, Italian artists were noted for their distinctive approach to this new printmaking technique. Drawing on Copper: Etching in Italy before 1700, on view in the Director's Corridor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art from April 19 through July 19, 1998, presents 71 works dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, including prints by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), Parmigianino (1503-1540), and Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609- c. 1665).
Etching developed as a printmaking technique in Italy simultaneously with a growing interest in the rough sketch. Sixteenth-century collectors and scholars regarded unfinished drawings as immediate expressions of the artist's creative and intellectual processes. In keeping with the artistic preferences of the period, early Italian etchings are characterized by this same feeling of spontaneity. Theorists such as Leonardo da Vinci saw the scribbled sketch as an important source of new ideas. This predilection is evident in the rough, sketch-like etchings of Giovanni Pietro Possenti (active c. 1638-1659) and Giovanni Cesare Procaccini (1574-1625). These ideas would also have contributed to the willingness of Italian etchers to leave evidence of the creative process (including mistakes) in the final state of the print.
Italian etching of the 16th and 17th centuries is also marked by a sense of experimentation. Painters, who needed little additional training in order to take up etching, often explored the technique. Experienced etchers were eager to try new approaches, and worked with varying types of metal plates, chemical tones and colored papers. As experiments, these works were often considered to be failures by their makers, and are extremely rare and now highly sought after. Drawing on Copper includes etchings by Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734), Angiolo Falconetto (active c. 1555-1567), and Andrea Previtali (c. 1480-1528) that relay a great deal about the artists' creative methods.
Nearly all the etchings in Drawings on Copper are on view at the Museum for the first time and were part of over 42,000 works in the Muriel and Philip Berman Gift of European Prints, which was acquired in 1985 from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The Berman Gift was, in turn, drawn mainly from the collection given to the Academy by John S. Phillips, a Philadelphian who died in 1876. The Berman Gift is unusually rich in early impressions and rare examples of Italian Renaissance and Baroque etching.