The alternate process for printmaking is intaglio. In this case, ink is placed in the valleys, and the valleys print onto the paper. The most common techniques are engraving and etching. In engravings, artists carve into metal plates with a tool called a burin which creates the valleys (identical to the engraving of names into jewelry). The metal plate is covered with ink; the excess is wiped off, leaving ink only in the valleys. A wet paper is placed atop and the ink is attracted to the paper and be sucked out of the valleys.





The examples are Marcantonio Raimondi’s The Judgment of Paris, 1514-18, and Antonio Pollaiuolo’s Battle of Ten Nude Men, 1460.  Lines are sharp: forms are clearly defined. As the process parallels the creation of a drawing – drawing with a burin onto a metal plate – yet with more pressure on the tool in order to create valleys into the plate, detailing is superb. Edges are clean. Both images demonstrate a detailed disegno esterno in the representation of the muscled bodies, elaborate plant patterns, and hatching for light and shadow. Even though the narratives are from the Greek and Roman worlds, there is an almost photo-realistic tone to the prints.


In contrast, in etchings like Rembrandt’s Christ Preaching, 1652, the edges are soft and blurred. This is due to an adjustment in the creation of the valleys. Rather than the artist carving each depression with the burin (which takes much strength and manual dexterity), the artist covers the metal plate with a ground (resist) most commonly made of beeswax. The artist carves the image in the resist. The plate is then placed into an acid bath. The acid eats away at the metal where it was exposed in the carving of the resist. And so, the acid is biting the metal and creating the valleys. As the acid may bite the plate irregularly or slowly corrode the exposed metal, the valleys are fuzzier in texture and looser in shape. Therefore, edges are not sharp and details not in focus as they were in engravings. The result is more hazy and atmospheric which may be to the advantage of the artist’s expressive intent. In Rembrandt’s etching, Christ’s body seems to radiate light or glow while the people assembled seem to be submerged in the soft darkness of their ignorance.