ENGRAVING, the process or result of the action implied by the verb "to engrave" or mark by incision, the marks (whether for inscriptive, pictorial or decorative purposes) being produced, not by simply staining or discolouring the material (as with paint, pen or pencil), but by cutting into or otherwise removing a portion of the substance. In the case of pictures, the engraved surface is reproduced by printing; but this is only one restricted sense of "engraving," since the term includes seal-engraving (where a cast is taken), and also the chased ornamentation of plate or gems, etc.
The word itself is derived from an O. Fr. engraver (not to be confused with the same modern French word used for the running of a boat's keel into the beach, or for the sticking of a cart's wheels in the mud, - from grève, Provençal grava, sands of the sea or river shore; cf. Eng. "gravel"); it was at one time supposed that the Gr., to write, was etymologically connected, but this view is not now accepted, and (together with "grave," meaning either to engrave, or the place where the dead are buried) the derivation is referred to a common Teutonic form signifying "to dig" (O. Eng. grafan, Ger. graben). The modern French graver, to engrave, is a later adoption. The idea of a furrow, by digging or cutting, is thus historically associated with an engraving, which may properly include the rudest marks cut into any substance. In old English literature it included carving and sculpture, from which it has become convenient to differentiate the terminology; and the ancients who chiselled their writing on slabs of stone were really "engraving." The word is not applicable, therefore, either strictly to lithography (q.v.), nor to any of the photographic processes (see Process), except those in which the surface of the plate is actually eaten into or lowered. In the latter case, too, it is convenient to mark a distinction and to ignore the strict analogy. In modern times the term is, therefore, practically restricted - outside the spheres of gem-engraving and seal-engraving (see Gem), or the inscribing or ornamenting of stone, plate, glass, etc. - to the art of making original pictures (i.e. by the draughtsman himself, whether copies of an original painting or not), either by incised lines on metal plates (see Line-Engraving), or by the corrosion of the lines with acid (see Etching), or by the roughening of a metal surface without actual lines (see Mezzotint), or by cutting a wood surface away so as to leave lines in relief (see Wood-Engraving); the result in each case may be called generically an engraving, and in common parlance the term is applied, though incorrectly, to the printed reproduction or "print."
Of these four varieties of engraving - line-engraving, etching, mezzotint or wood-engraving - the woodcut is historically the earliest. Line-engraving is now practically obsolete, while etching and mezzotint have recently come more and more to the front. To the draughtsman the difference in technical handling in each case has in most cases some relation to his own artistic impulse, and to his own feeling for beauty. A line engraver, as P.G. Hamerton said, will not see or think like an etcher, nor an etcher like an engraver in mezzotint. Each kind, with its own sub-varieties, has its peculiar effect and attraction. A real knowledge of engraving can only be attained by a careful study and comparison of the prints themselves, or of accurate facsimiles, so that books are of little use except as guides to prints when the reader happens to be unaware of their existence, or else for their explanation of technical processes. The value of the prints varies not only according to the artist, but also according to the fineness of the impression, and the "state" (or stage) in the making of the plate, which may be altered from time to time. "Proofs" may also be taken from the plate, and even touched up by the artist, in various stages and various degrees of fineness of impression.
The department of art-literature which classifies prints is called Iconography, and the classifications adopted by iconographers are of the most various kinds. For example, if a complete book were written on Shakespearian iconography it would contain full information about all prints illustrating the life and works of Shakespeare, and in the same way there may be the iconography of a locality or of a single event.
The history of engraving is a part of iconography, and various histories of the art exist in different languages. In England W.Y. Ottley wrote an Early History of Engraving, published in two volumes 4to (1816), and began what was intended to be a series of notices on engravers and their works. The facilities for the reproduction of engravings by the photographic processes have of late years given an impetus to iconography. One of the best modern writers on the subject was Georges Duplessis, the keeper of prints in the national library of France. He wrote a History of Engraving in France (1888), and published many notices of engravers to accompany the reproductions by M. Amand Durand. He is also the author of a useful little manual entitled Les Merveilles de la gravure (1871). Jansen's work on the origin of wood and plate engraving, and on the knowledge of prints of the 15th and 16th centuries, was published at Paris in two volumes 8vo in 1808. Among general works see Adam Bartsch, Le Peintre-graveur (1803-1843); J.D. Passavant, Le Peintre-graveur (1860-1864); P.G. Hamerton, Graphic Arts (1882); William Gilpin, Essay on Prints (1781); J. Maberly, The Print Collector (1844); W.H. Wiltshire, Introduction to the Study and Collection of Ancient Prints (1874); F. Wedmore, Fine Prints (1897). See also the lists of works given under the separate headings for Line-engraving, Etching, Mezzotint and Wood-engraving.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)