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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 22, 2004 | Vol. 33 No. 27
JHU Course Catalog: History of Early Modern Printmaking

History of Early Modern Printmaking holds its Wednesday class in the print room of the BMA, which owns one of the country's most comprehensive collections of works on paper. Here, Walter Melion shows students a piece by Lucas van Leyden.

Editor's note: This is the second in an occasional series of articles dropping in on interesting classes throughout the university's eight academic divisions. To read about the anthropology class Do You Want Fries With That? go to

By Amy Cowles

The course: History of Early Modern Printmaking. Focusing on woodcuts, engraving and etching, this course studies how mechanical reproduction changed the way artists put their ideas to paper between the 15th and 17th centuries. Beginning with the origins of woodcut and engraving in the early 15th century, students examine how print technologies related to the older methods they replaced, like painting in oils and tempera and drawing with metalpoint, lead, charcoal and other kinds of styluses. One of the central issues considered in the course is the use of prints to tell archetypal stories. A week each is devoted to the workshops of Durer, Lucas van Leyden, Marcantonio Raimondi, the Carracci, Hendrick Goltzius and Rembrandt. It's a small lecture designed for undergraduates, but some graduate students are also enrolled. The course meets three times a week, including a weekly session in the print room at the Baltimore Museum of Art adjacent to the university's Homewood campus. 3 credits. Department of the History of Art.

The instructor: Department chair Walter S. Melion, who specializes in northern Renaissance and baroque art, with an emphasis on Netherlandish art and art theory; early modern printmaking; meditative and mnemonic imagery; and Jesuitica.

Teaching assistant: Jannette Vusich, a doctoral degree candidate.

Meeting time: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 to 11 a.m., spring 2004.

Syllabus: On the Homewood campus, finding important works on paper (or a Matisse or a Toulouse-Lautrec) is as easy as crossing the quads to the Baltimore Museum of Art. A collaboration between the BMA and the university, this course encourages students to make the most of their close proximity to the museum. One class session each week meets in the BMA's print room, which houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of works on paper in the country. On a recent Wednesday, students viewed delicate 16th-century prints by Dutch artist Lucas van Leyden, whose work depicts traditional subjects in untraditional ways. Throughout the hourlong class, Melion gently carried intricate prints of van Leyden's work around the room, allowing his students to look deeply into the images. Students learned that van Leyden is known for playing on the assumptions of his audience. While presenting Ecce Homo, van Leyden's depiction of the judgment of Christ, Melion pointed out how van Leyden placed Jesus in the background surrounded by a crowd of onlookers rather than in the foreground in plain sight. Melion explained that obscuring the view of Christ was van Leyden's deliberate choice to emphasize how difficult it is for mankind to observe Christ's moral value. Putting Christ in the background shifts the focus to the crowd — an editorial choice van Leyden made to encourage his audience to think about their own reactions to Christ and one another, Melion said.

Coursework: In addition to 65-100 pages of reading each week, requirements include two five- to 10-page papers — a comparative study of three prints on display at the BMA and an essay studying a print series from the collection of the BMA — and two in-class exams.

Required reading: A History of Woodcut (2 vols.), by Arthur M. Hind; A History of Engraving and Etching, by Arthur M. Hind; Prints and Visual Communication, by William Ivins; How Prints Look, by William Ivins; The Renaissance Print 1470-1550, by David Landau and Peter Parshall; and The Making of the Renaissance Printmaker, by Evelyn Lincoln.

Overheard in class: "You can tell that this is a late impression of this engraving," Melion said, presenting a print of van Leyden's Adam and Eve, circa 1510. "It was probably printed rather late in the life of the plate because the lines are somewhat worn, and we don't have strong contrasts."


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