Ludvig von Siegen, Holy Family and St John the Baptist, a mezzotint print

Germany, state I (dated 1657 on state II)

Mezzotint with etching after Annibale Carracci

Mezzotint (literally translated as 'half-tone') was a printmaking technique devised by Ludvig von Siegen (1609-82) in order to print areas of dark tone more easily. A taste for dark shadows in painting had been established early in the seventeenth century by the Italian artist Caravaggio, but shadows were laborious to reproduce in engraving or etching. Such techniques describe tone and form with line alone.

Von Siegen was a professional soldier, who probably received drawing lessons as part of his military schooling. He made the first mezzotints during the early 1640s in Amsterdam, where he had probably admired Rembrandt's success in etching darkness. He described the new technique in a letter to his former employer, William of Hesse, and produced some large mezzotint portraits, including one of William's mother, Amelia Elizabeth, landgravine of Hesse-Kassel.

This mezzotint skilfully reproduces a famous painting by Annibale Carracci, now lost. The initial roughening ('grounding') of the plate was rather haphazard, since the dark tones have an uneven density. In 1654 von Siegen taught his invention to Prince Rupert (Ruprecht of Pfalz), who improved the method for roughening the plate, and publicized the technique in England.

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More information


A. Griffiths (ed.), Landmarks in print collecting (London, The British Museum Press)


Height: 332.000 mm
Width: 272.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1838-4-20-1 (Chaloner Smith 7)



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