From Painting to Print: The Artists' Process

In 1624 Peter Paul Rubens collaborated with Paulus Pontius to make an engraving after Rubens's 1618 painting The Assumption of the Virgin (below, left).

Step 1: Creating a Copy of the Painting
Pontius first drew a careful copy of the painting in black chalk over which Rubens made changes with pen and brown ink, brown and gray washes, and oil paint (below, right). Rubens balanced the composition of the painted original by adding more figures on the right-hand side, adding details that Pontius left out. Rubens effectively transformed the drawing into a small-scale painting, thereby challenging Pontius to capture his painterly effects in the engraving of the image.

Assumption of the Virgin / Rubens Assumption of the Virgin / Rubens and Pontius

Step 2: Transferring the Drawing to a Printing Plate
Once Rubens finalized the composition, Pontius laid the drawing over a copper plate and transferred the design by tracing the drawing over the plate with a sharp metal stylus. This detail of a putto's head photographed in raking light shows the indentations of the stylus.

Assumption of the Virgin, detail / Rubens and Pontius

Step 3: Creating the Print
Using a metal burin (a sharp engraver's tool), Pontius cut the design into the plate. After this, he inked the plate, placed a damp piece of paper over it, and ran it through a press.

The result of this labor-intensive process was a reproductive engraving of Rubens's painting The Assumption of the Virgin, in reverse. The print allowed Rubens's revised composition to circulate to a wider audience.

Assumption of the Virgin / Pontius