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The Art Of Etching

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



About the middle of the fifteenth century Tomaso Finiguerra, a Florentine, introduced the art of etching. In Germany, Italy, and France its value met with prompt recognition, but it was not carried to a state of perfection till later times. It was at first regarded as an industrial art, but it soon grew to have a higher value, reproducing in graceful freedom and precision of touch the very feeling of the artist. The first step in etching is to cover the plate with a composition of wax, asphaltum, gum-mastic, resin, etc., dissolved by heat. An outline of the design, made on paper in pencil or red chalk, is then ''transferred " to the surface of this composition by being passed through a press. The subject is then drawn on the ground with the etching point, which cuts through it and exposes the copper. Etching-points or needles resemble large sewing needles shortened and fixed into handles four or five inches long. Some are made oval, to produce broader lines. A rim of wax being put around the plate, acid is poured on, and corrodes the copper not protected by the ground. If the acid is found not to have acted sufficiently, it may be applied' again to the whole design, or only to portions of it, by stopping up with a mixture of lamp-black and Venice turpentine, applied with a camel's-hair pencil, what has been sufficiently bitten-in. When a series of parallel lines are wanted, as in backgrounds, etc., an ingenious machine called a ruler is employed, the accuracy of whose operation is exceedingly perfect. This is made to act on the etching-ground by a point or diamond connected with the apparatus, and the tracings are bit in with aqua fortis in the ordinary way. The art of etching was popularized by Sandro Botticelli, who embellished an edition of "Dante" with etching illustrations about the end of the fifteenth century. The great German etchers of that time were Shoengauer, Bechellin, and Wohlgemuth, and the Italian representatives were Bacio Baldini, Pollajuoli, and Montegna. In the succeeding century Goltzius and others reproduced the works of the old masters, through etching, with wonderful mobility. Toward the latter end of the seventeenth century the art was carried to a high degree of perfection by Le Bas and by the Spanish school. Then, for a time, the art declined, its place being taken by steel engraving, which in turn gave way to the chromo, and that to the lithograph. The revival of the art in England is largely due to Philip Gilbert Hamerton. At that time Seymour Haden was the leading etcher in England, as was Count de Gravesande in France. Whistler, the eccentric American, is now one of the leading lights in the art iii England, and Hamilton Hamilton is probably the most popular etcher iii America. Among the greatest of modern etchers are Salonne, Couteau, Waltner, Rajon, De Baines, and Koepping. Ether was known to the earliest chemists. Nitric ether was first discovered by Kunkel, in 1681; and muriatic ether, from the chloride of tin, by Courtanvaux in 1759. Acetic ether was discovered by Count Lauraguais, same year; and hydriodic ether was first prepared by Gay-Lussac. The phosphoric was obtained by M. Boullay. Ether is said to have been first applied to the purpose of causing insensibility to pain by Or. Horace Wells of Connecticut, in 1846. The discovery that by inhaling ether the patient is rendered unconscious of pain, is due to Dr. Charles T. Jackson, of Boston; but to Dr. Morton of the same place, probably belongs the credit of first demonstrating, by actual experiment, the use of ether in dentistry and surgery. The practice was first copied in Europe by Dr. Robertson, of Edinburgh, and Dr. Booth, of London, in 1846.


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