LOS ANGELES, CA.-The Hammer Museum opened the exhibit And Then Again Printed Series, 1500-2007 through July 13. This exhibition examines the development of serial imagery in prints, from the early European Renaissance to the present day. Drawn primarily from the extensive collection of works on paper in the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, the exhibition is one in an ongoing series of exhibitions focusing on the Hammers permanent collections.
First inspired by the printed book in the late fifteenth century, early printed series frequently depicted narrative subjects drawn from literary sources. Biblical themes or mythological subjects were portrayed by a wide range of Renaissance artists such as Albrecht Dürer and the German Little Masters. Traditional subjects such as the Times of Day, Twelve Months, and Four Seasons offered an ideal pretext for the representation of landscape by Dutch artists of the seventeenth-century. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed the development of the improvisational capriccio and artists such as Callot, Goya, and Piranesi invented variations on fantastic and dramatic themes in printed series. These themes of time, landscape, narrative, and capriccio are also explored in contemporary printed series by artists such as Christiane Baumgartner, Chris Burden, Mona Hatoum, and Chris Ofili.
The variety of ways in which these artists have explored the serial image reminds us of the rich dialogue that can take place across centuries and cultures and of the enduring importance of the series in the visual arts.
Throughout the history of art the series format has offered seemingly endless possibilities for artistic representation and variation. This is particularly true of the art of the early European Renaissance, when a diverse selection of narrative, allegorical, and formal serial subjects appeared in various forms, from paintings to playing cards. The serial format proved particularly appropriate for the increasingly widespread artistic practice of relief and intaglio printmaking, which allowed for the representation of a wide range of subjects with multiple images in relatively small, portable, and easily expandable form. Among the most familiar themes were the Twelve Months, Four Seasons, and Times of Day, subjects that not only suggested the passage of time but also functioned as allegories of the course of human life. Suites of saints, virtues, vices, the signs of the zodiac and the seven liberal arts were also common, as were narrative series that recounted stories from the Bible and other religious and mythological subjects such as the Labors of Hercules, the Flight into Egypt, the Passion of Christ, and the Life of the Virgin.
Although the printed series first developed as part of the printed book, their paths diverged toward the end of the fifteenth century as images assumed a primary role, leading to the realization of the independent printed series. The most significant early example of this development was Albrecht Dürers Apocalypse, the first book to be both illustrated and published by a major artist. Though published in book form, the sixteen full-page woodcuts dominate rather than follow the accompanying text. Dürer produced additional series of woodcuts and engravings, with and without text, of such popular religious subjects as the Life of the Virgin and the Passion of Christ. His small engraved Passion was particularly influential for the sixteenthcentury artists Hans Sebald Beham, George Pencz, and other so-called German Little Masters, who created numerous series comprising small, meticulously engraved scenes of biblical and mythological stories.
In the seventeenth century landscape became an increasingly popular subject, particularly in the Netherlands, where printed series incorporated realistic and identifiable depictions of the local countryside. Traditional subjects such as the Times of Day, Twelve Months, and Four Seasons offered an ideal pretext for the depiction of landscape. Jan van de Veldes abundant prints of these subjects were innovative in their depictions of the Dutch landscape and their use of atmospheric and naturalistic details. Other artists went even further toward the development of landscape as subject, producing printed series with multiple individual views of the local countryside, in effect documenting the experience of a peaceful stroll in the country.
Jacques Callots oeuvre of more than fourteen hundred prints includes numerous series, testifying to the varied and innovative approaches to the format developed in the seventeenth century. His influential and harrowing Large Miseries of War of 1633 chronicles the relentless warfare of mercenary armies in the Duchy of Lorraine. Callot also etched a number of series depicting single figures, such as the Capricci di varie figure and the Varie figure gobbi which demonstrate the casual calligraphic quality of the etching medium. These variations on a theme, or
capriccios, demonstrate the artists imagination and talent for improvisation
The capriccio featured prominently in printed series produced in the eighteenth century. Giovanni Battista Piranesi specialized in architectural fantasies, and among his most mysterious and haunting works are the Carceri (Prisons)large, dramatic, and densely worked etchings of imaginary prisons. Francisco de Goyas first major printed series, the Caprichos of
179899, and his second, the Disasters of War, used the improvisational capriccio to explore even more disconcerting topics. Because of its controversial subject matter the Disasters was not published until 1863, thirty-five years after the artists death. Its eighty prints depict the Spanish
resistance to Napoléons invasion from 1808 to 1814, famine in Madrid in 181112, and images that allude to the repressive government of King Ferdinand VII. Like Callots Miseries, Goyas Disasters does not generally reference specific sites or persons. But in contrast to Callots small, distanced views populated by numerous tiny figures, Goya focuses on dramatic moments and individuals that symbolize the essence of these hostile episodes.