This and That
19th Century Advertisements
Medieval Historical Backgrounds
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Come Up and See My Etchings
The line above used to be a joke about the various ways men would try to lure women up to their apartments. It is not in use much anymore, but many of you are probably familiar with it. I think it originated in an old New Yorker cartoon, but perhaps it has an older source than that. After all, collecting etchings and engravings was a popular hobby of educated young men in the 19th century, and showing off one's collection might have been a useful way to get a lady alone.
In Lord of Sin the heroine, Bride, is an engraver of fine prints and other interesting works on paper. The hero, Ewan, inconveniently turns out to be a connoisseur of fine prints. If you have read the book you know the secondary plot revolves around engraved forgeries and fakes that have bigger implications than whether someone's art collection is other than it seems.
The British have long had reputations as great collectors of art. During the 18th and 19th centuries they carried works back from their tours of the continent, and the British aristocracy amassed collections of high quality paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and, yes, fine prints. They had "good eyes" as it is known in the business— that means the ability to judge quality, to appreciate the distinctions between the merely good and the truly great in art.
In the area of works on paper— drawings and fine prints— they were among the earliest collectors. When much of Europe still considered these insignificant types of art, the Brits were scooping up the best to be had. The fortunes created by inheritance and the industrial revolution gave them the money to do it, but their "good eyes" allowed them to see the subtle nuances that defined quality in any medium. That is the essence of connoisseurship, and as their public and private collections attest to this day, the British were among the best connoisseurs.
There are a number of museums that now hold some of the results of this golden age of collecting. Among them is the British Museum. Old Master drawings by the best artists of the past are preserved in special archival storage boxes in the museum's Department of Prints and Drawings. So are engravings by artists described in Lord of Sin—Raimondi, Caraglio and Bonasone (among many others). Anyone can enter the study room with identification, sit at a table, fill out a request slip, and have the rarities brought to them, but it helps if you know what it is you want to see.
In Lord of Sin, some of the fine prints that figure in the plot are erotic engravings from the Italian Renaissance. The works described are all real works of art and all of the information given on them is accurate to the state of current scholarship. The I Modi by Raimondi have never been found in their original engraved versions, by the way. However, in the early 19th century there was a rumor that a set had been seen in a collection. In England.
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