Reproductive Prints

A reproductive print is a graphic copy, such as an engraving or etching, of an original work of art, such as a painting or a drawing. Reproductive prints can help map the dissemination, reception, and historiography of original works. Prints after Poussin represent the afterlife of some of the most important paintings produced during the early-modern period. It seems likely that reproductive etchings and engravings after his work have influenced the ways artists and scholars understand Poussin. For example, Charles Paul Landon's early- 19th-century Vies et oeuvres des peintres les plus célèbres (volumes 4–9), includes comprehensive illustrations that were based on reproductive prints, not Poussin's actual paintings. More recently, Jacques Thuillier, in his monograph Nicolas Poussin (1994), relies on reproductive prints both to attribute and, rather remarkably, to reject the attribution of purported lost paintings.

Most of the prints after Poussin in the Research Library's special collections were published during the reign of Louis XIV. By 1665, the year of Poussin's death, artists and collectors in Paris were heralding Poussin as the new Raphael. As the paintings' aesthetic importance and market value increased, printmakers and publishers responded to collectors' demands by producing numerous reproductive prints. And since prints after Poussin were relatively expensive, it seems that printmakers, publishers, and collectors implicitly agreed that the black and white images were viable and valuable approximations of Poussin's own "genius."

Despite the importance of reproductive prints for the history of art in general, they have largely escaped the critical attention of scholars. How were printmakers mindful of their tasks as translators from one medium to another? What, precisely, did they copy given their training, expectations, and links to academies? What qualities of Poussin's work did prints emphasize or alter? How did a print's scale, tone, and lack of color shape ideas about Poussin's art?

Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665)

Born in 1594 into a family of some local distinction in Normandy, where he probably received early training in painting, Poussin traveled to Paris in 1612. He worked with mannerist painters and collaborated with Philippe de Champaigne. By the early 1620s, Poussin had made his way to Rome, where (except for a short return to Paris) he would reside for the remainder of his life. After his first major commission, a baroque altarpiece for Saint Peter's Basilica, proved unsuccessful, Poussin turned to Raphael and classical antiquity, using them as his primary sources of inspiration.


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