Composed entirely of incised lines, engravings are works of exquisite beauty and incomparable intricacy.

Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art will focus on the engraved line from April 9 through June 20 with two exhibitions highlighting the technical virtuosity and innovativeness of European engravers of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

Both exhibitions at the museum, located at 40 Arts Circle Drive in Evanston, are free and open to the public.

“The Brilliant Line: Following the Early Modern Engraver, 1480 1650,” in the Block’s Main Gallery, traces the development and proliferation of the art form across Europe with rarely seen prints from the Renaissance and Baroque periods by master engravers, including Albrecht Durer and Hendrick Goltzius.

An in-gallery and online interactive component lets visitors explore selected prints in detail and examine the complex layers of lines that make up engravings. More information and images of prints in the exhibition are available online.

“Engraving the Ephemeral,” a companion exhibition, drawn primarily from the Block Museum’s own collection, in the Ellen Philips Katz and Howard C. Katz Gallery, explores some of the methods used to represent atmospheric and transitory conditions in engravings. Artists developed a rich visual vocabulary of dots, dashes and lines to convey the effects of fire, light, clouds and wind.

Free guided weekend tours of both exhibitions are scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday from April 10 to June 20. Tours depart from the Block’s main floor lobby.

The Block will host a variety of public programs focusing on engravings, including a one-time only tour of “The Brilliant Line” at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 5, by its consulting curator Andrew Raftery, one of the few contemporary artists specializing in engraving and an associate professor of printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design. Cost of this program is $10; call (847) 491-7540 for reservations.

Five free programs that will be held on the Evanston campus at the Block Museum or University Hall, as noted, also are open to the public and include:

  • Noon Friday, April 23, Hagstrum Room, University Hall, 1897 Sheridan Road, lecture on the evolving significance of engravings during the 16th century by Stephen Goddard, senior curator, prints and drawings, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas.
  • 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 6, lecture on the sculptural nature of engravings by Michael Gaudio, associate professor of art history, University of Minnesota.
  • 2 p.m. Saturday, May 8, and 2 p.m. Saturday, June 5, engraving demonstrations by Chicago artist and printmaker Julian Cox.
  • 6 p.m. Thursday, May 13, lecture on Albrecht Durer’s engraving “Melencolia I” by Peter Parshall, curator of old master prints, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  • 6 p.m. Thursday, May 27, gallery talk about the Block Museum’s “The Brilliant Line” exhibition led by senior curator Debora Wood.

“The Brilliant Line: Following the Early Modern Engraver, 1480 1650” is organized by the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I.

Support for the exhibition and catalogue has been provided by The Samuel H. Kress Foundation, with additional funds from the International Fine Print Dealers Association, The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and Tru Vue, Inc. The lectures by Stephen Goddard and Michael Gaudio are co-presented with the department of art history, Northwestern University.

For more information, phone (847) 491-4000 or visit the Block Museum website.

Above: Claude Mellan. “Death of Adonis,” ca. 1630s, engraving. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island, Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth.

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