Study for Adoration des Mages da Vinci, Leonardo  (Italian, 1452-1519)

This photogravure was made by Baldus from an original da Vinci drawing owned by the editor of the Gazette de Beaux Arts Émile Galichon. It is the only one of Baldus gravures to appear in this journal. It reproduces the drawing at scale, which necessitated that it be bound into the journal folded in half. The image is printed in two tones: a warm grey for the background and black for Da Vinci’s lines. These have an iridescent quality in some areas, the result of ink pooling in grooves that the acid bath etched too widely. Baldus manually added some lines not present in this complex drawing, using a burin to represent the shading (or perhaps the smudge) on the Madonna’s cheek, for instance. The drawing appears entirely fresh in the reproduction, as though age had never touched it, whereas the original shows foxing across the whole surface—deterioration so widespread that it is rather woven into the composition. A technical limitation of Baldus’s process—the insensitivity of his gelatin emulsion to the red end of the colour spectrum—was in this instance advantageous. The most intriguing alteration to the original is found in the bottom-right corner, where the foot of the rightmost magus dangles below the rest of the image area, outside the frame. Baldus had to shorten Da Vinci’s sheet so that the requisite Gazette-style caption and credits would fit underneath the image, but as a result there was no room for the foot—the bottommost element in the drawing—within the picture proper. It hangs just beside Baldus’s name and credit: “Baldus sculp.” Across from these, on the left-hand side, are Da Vinci’s: “Léonard Da Vinci del.” There is no text on the print at all to identify it as an héliogravure, or Baldus as the responsible photograveur. Galichon did not wish to emphasize the photographic aspect of Baldus’s process, even as he implicitly promoted its particular suitability for publicizing his drawing. (source: Kate Addleman-Frankel PHD thesis 2019)

Gazette des beaux-arts, a luxury publication, aimed in part to encourage print connoisseurship and collecting, and every issue featured etchings made by and after leading artists, protected behind sheets of interleaving. Its plates served the dual purpose of illustrating articles and providing its well-to-do subscribers with material for their collections. Indeed, the journal was founded in large part to support and celebrate reproductive engraving and etching in a moment when photographic reproduction— understood as a threat to traditional methods—was on the rise, and it played an essential role in the so-called etching revival of the 1860s. (Batchen)

Reproduced / Exhibited

Addleman-Frankel Kate. 2018. After Photography? : The Photogravures of Édouard Baldus Reconsidered. Amsterdam The Netherlands: Rijksmuseum Manfred & Hanna Heiting Fund.

References

Addleman-Frankel Kate. 2018. After Photography? : The Photogravures of Édouard Baldus Reconsidered. Amsterdam The Netherlands: Rijksmuseum Manfred & Hanna Heiting Fund.

Batchen, Repetition and Difference: The Dissemination of Photography (web http://en.izhsh.com.cn/doc/10/185.html 2013)