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"In the Manner of . . .": Imitation, Emulation, and Forgery in Old Master Printmaking

December 21, 1996–March 16, 1997

Twentieth-century viewers have come to value originality as a crucial component of artistic talent. Our predecessors, however, had different views. For centuries the imitation of earlier artists was a major part of artistic training, with students learning to draw mainly by copying prints and drawings. Even masters such as Rembrandt continued to copy or adapt elements from other artists' works into their own compositions long after their school days. In art and literature throughout the Renaissance and later centuries, the emulation of an admired model was considered a valid and respected method of artistic creation. A talented artist was expected not simply to copy slavishly but to absorb the elements of the earlier master's style so thoroughly as to apparently transform himself into his model, working in his style and even surpassing him. The ability to work "in the manner of" another artist was widely praised, and some printmakers based their entire careers on this skill. Prints played an especially important role in this process. Before the age of photography, prints were the major transmitters of artistic style. While many Northern artists were unable to make the pilgrimage to Rome to see the works of Raphael or Michelangelo, most of them were familiar with reproductive engravings of designs by these masters. It is natural, then, that some of the most striking works done "in the manner of" other artists are old master prints. Some of these were intended as forgeries, yet many more were innocent exercises of a respected skill.

Main Building


Stacy Sell
John W. Ittmann

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