RKD podcast: Optional originality

As the world's largest knowledge centre for visual arts in the Netherlands, the RKD is keen to tell the background stories about art and artists. The second podcast (in Dutch) in the series Kroniek Kunstgeschiedenis (Art-historical Chronicle) is given by Joyce Zelen, Jacoba Lugt-Klever Research Fellow at the RKD and at the Fondation Custodia in Paris.

Early printmaking

This episode takes us back to the fifteenth century, to the very beginnings of printmaking in Europe, and to the moment when copper engraving was first introduced. Until that time, works of art were mainly made on commission. Now images could be distributed in large editions amongst various different segments of the public, meaning that artists could tackle a broader range of subject matter. What did the public really want to see, which prints did they buy, and which ones caught on? This development stimulated the creativity of individual printmakers who have often remained anonymous. Novelties included playing cards with images of wild animals, birds and flowers, not to mention amusing subjects such as fighting peasants and loving couples.

Optional originality: plagiarism among medieval engravers?

Some printmakers simply copied the compositions of others whose work had achieved market appeal. Religious subjects were copied most often, especially the prints of Martin Schongauer (c. 1430-1491). One of his best-known engravings is The Temptation of St Antony: a lively theatrical piece showing Saint Antony being tormented by grotesque demons. This print was frequently copied, often in a slightly different style. This was nothing unusual, because in the fifteenth century the concept of plagiarism did not yet exist. 

1. Martin Schongauer, The Temptation of St Antony, c. 1470-1490, British Museum
2. Monogrammist FVB, The Temptation of St Antony, c. 1475-1500, British Museum
3. Monogrammist FVB/Israhel van Meckenem, The Temptation of St Antony, c. 1475-1500, British Museum
4. Monogrammist IE, The Temptation of St Antony, c. 1480-1500, British Museum


Joyce Zelen's talk lasts a quarter of an hour and covers the origins of early printmaking, how prints were made, and how copyists went about their work. As Jacoba Lugt-Klever Research Fellow, she is at the RKD to do research into printmaking in Germany and the Netherlands in the fifteenth century. Every two months another edition of Kroniek Kunstgeschiedenis is put online. This is one of the ways in which the RKD provides a range of varied art-historical stories. The podcasts are aimed at all those with an interest in art history, and they can be listened to via our website or via Soundcloud.