BEFORE DÜRER: The Engraving Becomes Art
28 SEPTEMBER 2022 TO 22 JANUARY 2023

Exhibition Hall of the Department of Prints and Drawings
Press preview: 27 September 2022, 11 am

The Städel Museum is devoting an exhibition to the engraving in its early days as an artistic pictorial medium. From 28 September 2022 to 22 January 2023, the show will present some 130 important German and Netherlandish engravings of the fifteenth century, and thus retrace the development of the medium from its simple beginnings to ever more sophisticated creations. Outstanding prints by Martin Schongauer, Wenzel von Olmütz, and Israhel van Meckenem, but also by anonymous early engravers such as the Master ES, the Master with the Banderoles, and the Master b(x)g will be on view. A selection of early engravings by the great German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer will round out the presentation.

The engraving is one of the oldest techniques used in Europe to print images. An intaglio printing method, it developed around 1430/1440 out of the art of metal engraving in goldsmith workshops. On the Upper and Lower Rhine, and not long afterwards in Italy as well, goldsmiths and painters began engraving religious and secular depictions on copper plates from which they then printed them on paper. Thus reproduced, the compositions served purposes of private devotion or as models, not only for other engravers, but also for painters, stained-glass makers, and sculptors. A new pictorial world gradually evolved and spread in the form of prints. This imagery owes its special appeal—which is as strong as ever today—to its simple but nonetheless effective graphic pictorial language, its immediacy, and its fascinating narrative qualities.

Philipp Demandt, director of the Städel Museum, comments about the show: ‘The extremely rare early engravings not only offer insights into the world of the Late Middle Ages but—as printed, reproduced, and circulated images—also play a highly consequential role in art history in general. Thanks to Johann David Passavant, the first head of the Städel collection, the museum today has superb examples in its possession. Our exhibition vividly illustrates how the engraving evolved to become an innovative and dynamic pictorial medium and thus later helped Albrecht Dürer, the greatest artist of the German Renaissance, to fame.’

Curator: Dr Martin Sonnabend (Head of the Department of Prints and Drawings before 1750, Städel Museum)
Opening hours of the Department of Prints and Drawings Study Room: Wed, Fri 2–5 pm, Thu 2–7 pm. Please book in advance by e-mail to, stating the date, arrival time, and length of your stay.

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