Early history of mezzotint

The early history of mezzotint and the prints of Richard Tompson and Alexander Browne

Part funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art


Sir Peter Lely, published by Alexander Browne, after  Sir Peter Lely, circa 1680-1684 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir Peter Lely
published by Alexander Browne, after Sir Peter Lely
circa 1680-1684
NPG D11398



Published by Alexander Browne, Sir Peter Lely, mezzotint (D11398)

Contents

Summary
This part of the website presents information on the early history of mezzotint and the prints of Alexander Browne (floruit 1659-1706) and Richard Tompson (died 1693), two of the first and most important publishers of high quality mezzotints in Britain. Mezzotint has a particular association with portraiture and Browne's prints shed light on the Restoration period of Charles II and the work of the painter Sir Peter Lely. Further research is being undertaken on three albums of mezzotints containing prints both worked and published by John Smith (1652-1743) that date to 1683-1729.

Introduction
The Heinz Archive and Library at the National Portrait Gallery holds a reference collection of portrait prints and drawings that provides a vast visual resource for all aspects of British portraiture. The reference collection complements and provides a rich context for the Gallery's primary collection. The Archive and Library is presently engaged upon an ambitious digitisation programme to improve public access to this important resource.

The reference collection includes, amongst a number of discrete collections, two significant groups of early mezzotints contained in albums associated with Alexander Browne and John Smith as well as numerous loose impressions of prints published by Richard Tompson.

The Archive and Library has a commitment to pursue research in all aspects of British portraiture. In order to contribute to our knowledge and understanding of seventeenth and eighteenth century mezzotint production a project has been launched to catalogue the mezzotints of Tompson, Browne and Smith and, where possible, to locate the original paintings that are reproduced by these prints. This two-year research project has been made possible with the help of a generous grant from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

The research is being carried out by Carol Blackett-Ord and Simon Turner and is centred upon the reference collection in the Archive and Library; it is also however a collaborative project that will involve a number of other institutions. It is also intended to visit other appropriate collections to compare holdings and record details of missing prints and different states. The research findings will be presented on the Gallery's website and it is hoped to produce a series of displays at the Gallery and a more permanent digital exhibition for the website towards the end of the project to present new conclusions. This web feature has been developed to present the results of the research to date.

What is a mezzotint?
A mezzotint (in the Italian sense 'half-tone'; French manière noire; German schabkunst) is a print made using a copper plate which has been worked over ('grounded') using a semi-circular fine-toothed tool ('rocker') so that the entire surface is roughened. In this state, when inked the plate will print solid black. The design is then created by scraping down and polishing areas of the plate. These will hold less ink and so print more lightly than the unpolished areas. The mezzotint plate is particularly prone to wear during printing. The result is that the earliest impressions are the finest and print very dark with strong definition whereas later ones are noticeably fainter. The early mezzotints published by Tompson and Browne have a characteristic coarse ground. The later ones were 'rocked' more thoroughly usually by apprentices, and present a finer finish.  

For a fuller explanation see Antony Griffiths, Prints and Printmaking, an Introduction to the History and Techniques, London 2nd edition 1996, and Susan Lambert, Prints: Art and Techniques, London 2001.

The introduction of the mezzotint
The distinctive printmaking technique of mezzotint was invented in the mid-17th century. The German soldier Ludwig von Siegen is usually cited as the first to use it in a crude form although it appears that he used a roulette tool rather than the rocker used in mezzotint proper. Prince Rupert, Count Palatine (Ruprecht von der Pfaltz), a prominent Royalist during the English Civil War, who was also an early member of the Royal Society, encountered the technique while he was in exile in Holland. He developed the rocker that was the key to facilitating the process. While Prince Rupert made only a small number of mezzotints his assistant Wallerant Vaillant, a professional printmaker, made many more and refined the technique further. His prints are particularly impressive and exploit to the full the rich black and velvety tonal effects that can be achieved. Vaillant settled in Amsterdam in 1665 and as a consequence mezzotint was rapidly taken up in Holland by printmakers such as Abraham Blooteling. By the end of the 1660s a market in mezzotints had been established in the European centres of printmaking in France, Germany and Holland.

Initially in Britain mezzotint remained at an experimental stage and was regarded as a secret invention known only to a select few amateurs, notably Prince Rupert and John Evelyn. The first dated mezzotint in Britain was made in 1669 by William Sherwin of King Charles II. It carries a telling dedication to Rupert. The amateur artist Francis Place also made a number of mezzotints at this date. With the arrival in London in the 1670s of a number of Dutch printmakers, including Blooteling, the practice became more established.

 

Sir Peter Lely, by Arnold de Jode, published by  Richard Tompson, after  Sir Peter Lely, circa 1666 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir Peter Lely
by Arnold de Jode, published by Richard Tompson, after Sir Peter Lely
circa 1666
NPG D5062

 

An important impetus to the development of the process was the involvement of the court painter Sir Peter Lely. He appears to have given his backing to various printmakers to reproduce his work although the precise arrangements remain to be documented. Blooteling for example made some outstanding and very large mezzotints of the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II and James II as Duke of York that certainly would have required Lely's permission. Lely, like Van Dyck before him, was interested in printmaking, especially in a new development such as mezzotint, as a means to advertise his name, his skill in portraiture and to consolidate his pre-eminence in the field.

 

 

Richard Tompson, by Francis Place, published by  John Smith, after  Gilbert Soest, circa 1693 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Richard Tompson
by Francis Place, published by John Smith, after Gilbert Soest
circa 1693
NPG D13190

Alexander Browne, by Arnold de Jode, after  Jacob Huysmans, published 1669 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Alexander Browne
by Arnold de Jode, after Jacob Huysmans
published 1669
NPG D1121



Edward Cooper, by Peter Pelham, after  Jan van der Vaart, 1724 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Edward Cooper
by Peter Pelham, after Jan van der Vaart
1724
NPG D9315

 

 

Shepherd piping to a Shepherdess, by Robert Robinson, published by  Isaac Beckett, circa 1683-1688 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Shepherd piping to a Shepherdess
by Robert Robinson, published by Isaac Beckett
circa 1683-1688
NPG D11754

By the 1680s mezzotint was much better known and had been enthusiastically adopted by native printmakers such as Isaac Beckett and John Smith. It became the preferred medium for reproducing portraits due to its ability to reproduce painterly effects and ease of production compared with line engraving. Its commercial potential was also recognised by men such as Richard Tompson, Alexander Browne and Edward Cooper. They commissioned the printmakers to make mezzotints for them and became print publishers. They crucially sought the involvement of the great painters: Tompson and Browne certainly approached Lely while Cooper seems to have had an arrangement with William Wissing. Browne even sought privileges or protection to publish his prints and his Royal Licence of 1684 is of significance to the history of British printmaking.

Mezzotint was also used by Beckett and Smith and artists such as Robert Robinson, Bernard Lens (II) and William Faithorne Jr for 'subject' prints covering the entire range of religious, mythological, landscape, genre and still-life imagery.

The most outstanding practitioner of mezzotint at the turn of the century and the first to gain an international reputation was John Smith. His work is inextricably linked with that of Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, who became the leading portrait painter after Lely.

 

John Smith holding print by John Smith of Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, by John Smith, after  Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, 1716 (1696) - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

John Smith holding print by John Smith of Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
by John Smith, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
1716 (1696)
NPG D11491

 

   
Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, by John Smith, after  Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, 1694 (circa 1688-1690) - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
by John Smith, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
1694 (circa 1688-1690)
NPG D11492

 
Mezzotint continued in the eighteenth century to be the preferred method for reproducing portraits and became so firmly rooted in Britain that it was referred to as la manière anglaise. The eighteenth century saw many masterpieces of mezzotint notably prints after paintings by Fuseli, Reynolds, Stubbs and Wright of Derby.

Some contemporary accounts of how mezzotints were made

  • Contemporary accounts of the mezzotint process describe it with varying degrees of clarity. The first mention in English was made by John Evelyn in his Sculptura, or the history and art of Chalcography and engraving in copper published in 1662 under the heading 'Of the new way of Engraving, or Mezzo Tinto, Invented, and communicated by his Highnesse Prince RUPERT, Count Palatine of Rhyne, &c.'. Unfortunately the precise details of the process are left 'ænigmatical' but the small volume nevertheless did contain a specimen of the art by Prince Rupert no doubt intended to intrigue the reader.

 

John Evelyn, by Robert Nanteuil, 1650 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

John Evelyn
by Robert Nanteuil
1650
NPG 3258

 

Prince Rupert, 'Little Executioner' , mezzotint By permission of the Trustees of the British Museum

Prince Rupert, 'Little Executioner' , mezzotint
by permission of the Trustees of the British Museum

 
  • The fullest account of 'The Manner or Way of Mezo Tinto' is by Alexander Browne in his Ars Pictoria of 1669:

First take a very well polished Plate of Copper, and ruffen it all over with your Engin one way, then cross it over with the Engin again, and if you find occasion, then cross it over the third time, until it be ruffened all over alike (that is to say) if it were to be printed, it would print black all over; this done, take Charcole or black Chalk to rub over the plate, and then draw your design with white Chalk upon the plate, then take a sharp Stift and trace out the outlines of the design you drew with the white Chalk, and where you would have the light strike strongest, take a burnisher, and burnish that part of the plate, where you would have the light strike as clean as it was when it was first polished; where you would have fainter light, you must not polish it so much, and this way you may make it either fainter or stronger, according to your fancy. As for the manner or shape of the Engin, they are divers, and if any ingenious person have a desire to have any made, the Author will give them farther directions.

  • In  1683 Edward Luttrell, an amateur artist who made around twenty now scarce mezzotints, also provided an account of the 'The true way of laying a ground on a copper plate for working in mezzo tinto'. The following text derives from Luttrell's manuscript treatise on drawing, painting, limning and crayons now in the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven:

You must have a roule of good steel well tempered and gett itt cutt by a file cutter indifferent fine, and chequer waies. Be sure that ye roule be true turned and even cutt, and then putt itt into such a frame as the bookbinders roules are putt in, which they fillett their books with. Then fix your copper plate in some cement on a board and sett ye handle of your roule against your shoulder and guide itt with your hands and by often going over your plate you effect your ground.

Note that your plate must be well polished before you lay a ground on itt. And then tis no art but pure labour and patience perfects this work. Ye oftner you goe over itt, the finer twill be. You may have severall of them made, some finer and some courser, by one Haines a file cutter att the Two Crowns in the Little Minories.

The use of this ground is to make a picture upon which may print 5 or 6 hundred prints or more according to ye strength and deepness of ye ground. Having laid such a ground as you think is al over very fine and even, you may rub some white lead or any other colour over itt and then trick in or draw on your lines with a stift (which is a needle sett in a stick and blunt att the point). Then you must have scrapers (made like ye points of rapiers of fine razor mettle well tempered and hardned) with which you must scrape off the ground where you would have the lights appear. You must scrape itt gradually least you scratch itt. And where tis lightest scrape itt more and where not so light less and in the main shadows leave the ground itt self. You must prove your plate att ye printers often that by your proofs you may see your faults and correct them. This is as easy as drawing and tis the same thing backwards for whereas in a drawing we shadow ye darks, in a plate we heighten the lights.

You may be furnished with your scrapers att any rasor makers if you cutt out papers of these shapes following for his direction. You must have some bigger and some less, Finis.

  • Yet another account is found in an early art treatise called The Excellency of the Pen and Pencil (1688, p. 79) under the heading 'The way of laying a Mezza-tinto Grownd, with the fashion of the Engine, and manner of scraping your design'. The treatise is also significant because it contains a plate illustrating the tools of the mezzotint process although the 'Engine' appears to be a roulette rather than a rocker:
Tools used in mezzotint engraving. By permission of the British Library (1044.a.27)

Tools used in mezzotint engraving
By permission of the British Library (1044.a.27)

You must go to some Ingenious File Cutter, and get a Roll made of the best steel, about one Inch Diameter, and one Third thick and hatcht round the edge, and crost again at right Angles: the fashion of the Engine and the several Tools used in scraping the Grownd is hereunto annexed, then take your Copper Plate and divide it into square Inches, and draw the lines Parellels and Perpendiculars with a Black-lead Pencil, then Cross it Diagonal ways; then take your Engine in one hand, the other bearing indifferent hard upon the frame, run it up two or three of the squares from the left till you come to the Right hand of your Plate, so gradually till you have gone it over one way, then cross it the other way; so likewise the Diagonal ways, till you have gone it over the four several ways; then you must begin again, and go it over the same ways again, till you have gone it over at least Twenty times, till you leave no place untoucht with your Engine: Your grownd being thus laid, take your design and Rub White-lead upon the back side, and fix it on the Plate, and with your Drawing-point, draw over all the out-stroakes and bounds of the Principal shadows, and it will come off upon the Plate; then with your several scrapers, lightly scraping upon the extreme lights, and so gradually all the other shadows, until you have brought all the drawing of your design upon the Plate; then take a Proof off, by which means you will be able to go on in the finishing of it, although you must proof it Three or four times before you can thoroughly finish it.


Alexander Browne, Practitioner of the Art of Limning

Alexander Browne (floruit 1659-1706) moved between several interconnected professions and was a notable figure in the art world of late seventeenth century London. He was variously a 'practitioner of the art of limning' (although none of his paintings or miniatures survives or can be identified); a drawing master (to Mrs Pepys among others); a colourman; the author of drawing manuals (the first in 1660) and of a treatise on art (Ars Pictoria, 1669); an art auctioneer (conducting sales later at his own premises in Gerrard Street, Soho), and a print publisher and printseller. His shop at 'ye Blew Balcony' in Little Queen Street near Lincolns Inn Fields would have contained quantities of prints, books and artists' materials.

Browne died in 1706 and as was usual his widow quickly sold his collections at auction. The sale was advertised:

A Curious Collection of Pictures by some of the best Masters, viz. Hannibal Carracci, Titian, Old Palma, Van Dyke, &c That belonged to Mr. Alexander Brown Deceas'd, are to be Sold by Auction at his late dwelling House in Gerrard-street, the 2d door from the Kings-Head near Newport Market, on Wednesday the 17th of this Instant April, at 10 a Clock in the morning. Together with 2 cabinets, the one of 48 Drawers, containing great variety of curious shels, Agates, Corals, Mocus's, Medals, Minerals and other Rarities. The other finely Inlaid with flowers and Birds of stone by Baptist. And there is also a good Collection of Drawing, Prints and Several Copper Plates to be disposed of The Widdow intending to sell off all, Intends the sale shall be managed with all the fairness imaginable.

The catalogue comprises 97 lots including many famous names and intriguing titles such as Titian's Mistress by Titian (no. 43). By modern standards, the cataloguing was not rigorous so that many of the attributions are questionable. The catalogue entries are also frustratingly brief. However, it is clear that Alexander Browne was a wealthy gentleman, and although his collection was not on a par with that of Sir Peter Lely (whose own collections were sold in important sales in 1682 and 1688) it was nevertheless substantial.

Although Alexander Browne is not a familiar name in British art history, it is one that features frequently in the late seventeenth century and his varied career sheds considerable light on the English art world of this period. 

The mezzotints of Richard Tompson and Alexander Browne
Tompson and Browne played a pivotal role in the development of the English mezzotint. They are the first publishers to issue large runs of mezzotints of distinct quality and format and in an organised manner. Amateur artists had produced earlier mezzotints but these tended to appear haphazardly and in smaller print runs. Their names are also linked as they were partners as art auctioneers - a business then still in its infancy - from around 1674 onwards, regularly advertising sales in the London Gazette.

 

King George I when Prince of Hanover, published by Richard Tompson, after  Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, 1680 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

King George I when Prince of Hanover
published by Richard Tompson, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
1680
NPG D5358

 

Browne and Tompson's mezzotints are stylistically similar and they probably employed the same printmakers. The name of the printmaker is not usually found on their plates. Nevertheless the prints can be convincingly attributed to the Dutch printmaker Jan van Somer and there is some evidence - such as an impression of an unlettered print with a contemporary pen and ink inscription, signed by Van Somer and dated 1680 (CS 17). Jan Vandervaart certainly worked for Tompson signing a small number of plates (CS 2, 3, 5 and 9). Tompson also used the native printmaker Robert Williams (CS 32) and Browne employed talented printmakers such as Isaac Beckett and John Smith.

 

Detail of unlettered print with a contemporary pen and ink inscription, signed by Jan van Somer and dated 1680

 
Lord Bernard Stuart; Lord John Stuart, published by Richard Tompson, after  Sir Anthony van Dyck, circa 1683 (circa 1638) - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Lord Bernard Stuart; Lord John Stuart
published by Richard Tompson, after Sir Anthony van Dyck
circa 1683 (circa 1638)
NPG D13176

 

The actual method of translating a painting into a black and white reduced-scale mezzotint is often taken for granted. Near-contemporary information is provided by George Vertue, who wrote an early history of art in England and was himself a prolific engraver: 'John Vansomer the mezzotinter has done a baundance of plates after Sir Peter Lilly. His drawings [ie the reductions from the original canvases] were commonly made in two colours, by Gas. Baptist. [Lely's assistant John Baptist Gaspars] & sometimes by Lemens [Balthazar van Lemens]. He was prodigious quick. He has in a long summers day very near begun & finisht a half length plate. He used to work hard & set close for many hours together'. Some of these rare drawings are known. The British Museum has a drawing attributed to Gaspars of Lords John and Bernard Stuart (the identity is uncertain and they are now called two young Englishmen). It relates to the mezzotint published by Tompson (CS 46) and ultimately to the painting possibly by Van Dyck in the National Gallery (NG3605). It is in reverse, squared for transfer and the figures are drawn in outline. There is also a drawing in the great Sutherland collection at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford of Mary of Modena when Duchess of York, tellingly also in reverse and squared, which relates to the print published by Tompson (CS 51).


While the printmakers remain somewhat mysterious the names of the publishers are clearly inscribed; Tompson's prints are signed 'R Tompson ex' (ex. is the abbreviated form of excudit or published) while Browne's usually include his full address. At this period prints do not carry publication dates (this became a statutory requirement much later) but it can be surmised that Tompson's mezzotints were published between 1678-79. Tompson had previously issued three remarkable engravings by Arnold de Jode in 1666-67. He also later co-published with Edward Cooper some prints with the address 'at ye Sun in Bedford-berry' and 'at ye 3 Pigeons in Bedford Street'. Browne's mezzotints must have been issued around 1680-84 and 1686. A clue to the dating of the prints - apart from the 1684 licence - rests on Lely's knighthood in 1680, shortly before his death: some of the prints are lettered 'P.Lilly pinxit' while others are lettered 'P. Lilly Eques pinxit' (Eques translates as Knight).

Browne published around a hundred mezzotints. A few are after Sir Anthony Van Dyck but the majority are of portraits after Sir Peter Lely, with subject prints after 'several of the most prominent Italian and modern masters'. The magnificent print of Anne Kirke after Van Dyck by Isaac Beckett is one of very few to carry a dedication. This is to the owner of the painting Anthony Grey, 11th Earl of Kent, who was a great buyer at Lely's sale in 1682. Tompson was the auctioneer at this sale and two prints published by Tompson also carry dedications to the Earl (CS 44 and CS 46). Of the subject prints some are copies from other prints but others seem to derive from paintings in Browne's own collection such as a St Catherine by Correggio and a Birth of Venus by Lemens.

.. ..

Alexander Browne's 1684 Royal Licence. By permission of the Public Record Office.  

Significantly Browne sought protection for his prints and in 1684 he was granted a privilege or Royal Licence from Charles II for 'the sole printing and publishing' of the copper plates for fourteen years. Most of the prints listed can be identified but the 'thirty other small Plates wrought in meza tinto after severall Masters, not before mentioned' are harder to identify. Beyond the prints listed in the privilege Browne published only four further plates that date to 1686, notably portraits of the newly enthroned King James II and Mary of Modena by John Smith after Nicolas de Largillierre (CS 145 and CS 171). This may be due to the death of Lely and perhaps also to competition from dedicated publishers such as Edward Cooper (who in 1686 received a fourteen years Royal Licence to publish his prints), John Overton, John Smith and Pierce Tempest.

The privilege system provides an insight into the mechanics of print publishing in the late seventeenth century. However, due to the surge in print publishing and the increasing piracy of prints, by Hogarth's time further solutions were needed to regulate the industry.
 
King James II, by John Smith, published by  Alexander Browne, after  Nicolas de Largillière, 1686 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

King James II
by John Smith, published by Alexander Browne, after Nicolas de Largillière
1686
NPG D11522

 

Mary of Modena, by John Smith, published by  Alexander Browne, after  Nicolas de Largillière, 1686 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Mary of Modena
by John Smith, published by Alexander Browne, after Nicolas de Largillière
1686
NPG D11524

Samuel Pepys and Alexander Browne
An early, personal glimpse of Browne is found in the pages of Samuel Pepys's diary between 1665 and 1669. Browne features on a number of occasions over a three-year period as the drawing master to Elizabeth Pepys. Initially Pepys was delighted that his wife should be taught to 'limn' (paint in miniature) but he soon became suspicious of Browne and the frequent lessons with his wife and irritated at this 'stranger and a Mechanique' regularly dining at his table.

The first mention of Browne is on 7 May 1665: Yesterday begun my wife to learn to Limb of one Browne, which Mr. Hill helps her to. And by her beginning, upon some eyes, I think she will [do] very fine things - and I shall take great delight in it.

We encounter Browne again on 28 August: But having fitted myself and my things, I did go - and by night got thither - where I met my wife walking to the waterside with her painter, Mr. Browne, and her maids.

3 September: and after dinner I made my wife show them pictures, which did mad Pegg Pen (Lady Peg Penn, the daughter of Pepys's superior Sir William Penn) who learns of the same man - and cannot do so well.

Jealousy is aroused on 30 September: And so I on shore to my wife, and there to my great trouble find my wife out of order which I suspect may be about Browne.

On 29 October Pepys, Browne and some others ' discoursed about painting and the several sorts of it '.

3 May 1666: and the more to see my wife minding her painting, and not thinking of her house business (this being the first day of her beginning the second time to paint). This together made me forward, that I was angry with my wife and would not have Browne to think to dine at my table with me always, being desirous to have my house to myself, without a stranger and a Mechanique to be privy to all my concernments. Upon this my wife and I had a little disagreement, but it ended by and by.

And the next day: Thence home to the office a little, and then to dinner - and had a great fray with my wife again about Brown's coming to teach her to paint and sitting with me at table, which I will not yield to. I do thoroughly believe she means no hurt in it, but very angry we were.

Finally 27 May 1669: Presented this day by Mr. Browne with a book of drawing by him, lately printed, which cost me 20s to him. (Ars Pictoria, 1669)

From R. Latham and W. Matthews, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, 11 vols, London 1970-83 (6, p. 98; p. 205; p. 210; p. 246; p. 282; 7, pp. 215-16; p. 217; 9, p. 561).

Alexander Browne's art treatise Ars Pictoria
The Ars Pictoria was advertised in the Mercurius Librarius in June 1669 for publication at 10 shillings bound. It was dedicated to Browne's former pupil Anne, Duchess of Monmouth and addressed to 'all Ingenious Gentlemen and Artists'. The manual is indeed a mixture of art theory and practical instruction and recipes, with an additional insert of engraved exemplars by Arnold de Jode for drawing the human figure copied from Abraham Bloemaert and others. There are sections on symmetry and proportion; on painting, including the depiction of passions and motion; on miniature painting and on the preparation of colours. The final section instructs how to produce an etching and the manual concludes with a brief and relatively informative paragraph on mezzotint. The 1675 edition contains a second part dedicated to Sir Peter Lely.

Title page, Ars Pictoria , letterpress

Title page, Ars Pictoria , letterpress

Plate by Arnold de Jode to Ars Pictoria , engraving

Plate by Arnold de Jode to Ars Pictoria , engraving

Ars Pictoria , with its elegant frontispiece engraving of Browne by Arnold de Jode after Jacob Huysmans, was a clear advertisement for Browne the limner, colourman and drawing master. He had already produced two drawing manuals, The Whole Art of Drawing, 1660, and A Compendious Drawing-Book, ?1669, based on Odoardo Fialetti's popular drawing manual Il vero modo et ordine per dissegnar tutte le parti et membra del corpo humano (1606). The art theory sections in Ars Pictoria were also derived from an earlier continental precedent, Lomazzo's Trattato dell'Arte della Pittura Scultura et Architettura (1584). The Trattato had been translated into English by Richard Haydocke in 1598 and remained of crucial importance for art theory during the seventeenth century.

An earlier important English treatise was Edward Norgate's Miniatura, or the Art of Limning (1627-28). This was never published but circulated in manuscript versions among collectors and professional limners in court circles, and became the basis for a number of manuals published in the second half of the century. In 1654 the artist Isaac Fuller published Un Libro da Disegniare, although this was a simple pattern book of etched figures for amateurs to copy. Closer to the part treatise, part manual format of Ars Pictoria was Graphice. Or, the use of the Pen and Pensil, published by the artist William Sanderson in 1658. Sanderson, like Browne, drew on the earlier writings of Norgate and Lomazzo for the theoretical sections of his treatise.

The National Portrait Gallery's Alexander Browne album and the Brownlow Family of Belton House
The Heinz Archive and Library of the National Portrait Gallery holds a near complete set of the mezzotints published by Alexander Browne contained in an unique album. The album belonged to the Brownlow family of Belton House, Lincolnshire. The set comprises sixty-one mezzotints mainly after portraits by Sir Peter Lely and some after Sir Anthony Van Dyck. The Gallery acquired the album at auction in 1984 with the help of the Friends of the National Libraries (Christie's, London, 27 June 1984, lot 438).

 

Bookplate, engraving

Bookplate, engraving

The album - in an early ?eighteenth century binding - carries the bookplate of Sir John Brownlow, 5th Bt, Viscount Tyrconnel (1690-1754). Brownlow was created Viscount Tyrconnel and Baron Charleville in 1718 but this Irish title did not prevent him from continuing to represent Grantham and Lincolnshire in Parliament, as he had done since 1712, until 1741. It was a long and (in the eyes of his contemporaries) rather ineffective political career in the Whig interest. He had married his cousin Eleanor Brownlow (1691-1730) in 1712, and they lived in London and Somerset until 1721 when Eleanor's mother Lady Alice Brownlow died. Belton House, which had been built by Lady Alice's husband Sir John Brownlow, 3rd Bt (1659-1697), now became the Tyrconnels' main residence.
The couple now set about consolidating the estate, buying back some of the Brownlow property from Eleanor's sisters and embellishing the house. Tyrconnel patronised artists such as Charles Jervas and Philippe Mercier and created a picture gallery for his collection of old master paintings. The Tyrconnels did not have the wealth that had enabled Sir John Brownlow to build Belton in the 1680s but they spent lavishly on refreshing its interiors, acquiring new hangings, paintings and furnishings. House inventories from 1737 and 1754 testify to the changes. Tyrconnel had no children from his first or second marriages and, like his uncle (and father-in-law) before him, transferred his attention and ambitions to his nephews and nieces. At his death in 1754 his sister Anne Cust moved into the house, and Belton was made over to her son Sir John Cust (1718-1770) in 1766.

In 1984, six years after his father's death, Edward Cust, 7th Baron Brownlow, gave Belton House, much of its contents and the garden to the National Trust. After May of that year sales were held of the contents and the property of the Lord Brownlow and the trustees of The Lord Brownlow settlement which would not be acquired by the Trust. The major acquisition of the National Portrait Gallery was the album of mezzotints published by Browne.

It is possible that the set of Browne mezzotints was acquired by the third baronet despite the bookplate, as the uniform condition of the prints points to a 1680s date. The 1680s was a time of Brownlow aggrandisement with new family houses going up in London and Lincolnshire, and whole length family portraits commissioned from John Baptist Closterman, John Riley, Gerard Soest and William Wissing. Furthermore, a number of mezzotints were made from these paintings and it is possible that there was an acquaintance between the family and Browne. This suggests that the album may have been inherited by Tyrconnel. Alternatively, as the bookplate indicates (and the date of the binding is uncertain) the mezzotints may have been acquired indirectly by Tyrconnel in the early eighteenth century. In either case the prints must have been highly prized and stored in a closed album away from the light. This has allowed the unique set to retain its remarkable condition and the rich velvetiness of the early impressions.
 
Further reading
J. Chaloner Smith, British Mezzotinto Portraits, 4 vols., London 1878-83 [referred to as CS]
O. Pissarro, 'Prince Rupert and the invention of mezzotint', Walpole Society, XXXVI, 1956-58, pp. 1-9
J. Bayard and E. D'Oench, Darkness into Light: The Early Mezzotint, Yale University Art Gallery exhibition catalogue, New Haven 1976
D. Alexander, The Dutch Mezzotint and England in the Late Seventeenth Century, York (York City Art Gallery) and London (Geffrye Museum), exhibition catalogue 1976-77
D. Alexander, 'English Prints and Printmaking' and C. Schuckman, 'Dutch Prints and Printmaking' in (Eds.) R. P. Maccubbin and M. Hamilton-Phillips, The Age of William III & Mary II: Power, Politics, and Patronage 1688-1702, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia 1989, pp. 272-280, pp. 281-292
A. Griffiths, 'Early Mezzotint Publishing in England - I: John Smith, 1652-1743', Print Quarterly, VI, 1989, pp. 243-257
A. Griffiths, 'Early Mezzotint Publishing in England - II: Peter Lely, Tompson and Browne', Print Quarterly, VII, 1990, pp. 130-145
C. Wax, The Mezzotint: History and Technique, London 1990
J. Ganz, Fancy Pieces: Genre Mezzotints by Robert Robinson and his Contemporaries, Yale Center for British Art exhibition catalogue, New Haven 1994
G. Wuestman, 'The mezzotint in Holland: "easily learned, neat and convenient"', Simiolus, XXIII, 1995, pp. 63-89
S. O'Connell, 'William Second Baron Cheylesmore (1843-1902) and the Taste for Mezzotints', Landmarks in Print Collecting, British Museum exhibition catalogue, London 1996, pp. 134-158
A. Griffiths, The Print in Stuart Britain 1603-1689, British Museum exhibition catalogue, London 1998 [and ''The Print in Stuart Britain' Revisited', Print Quarterly, XVII, 2000, pp. 121-122]
C. MacLeod and J.M. Alexander, Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II, National Portrait Gallery, London and Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001
C. Blackett-Ord, K. Jaram and S. Turner, 'Print Cataloguing Projects at the National Portrait Gallery', Print Quarterly, XX, 2003, pp. 78-80.