Agony in the Garden

Albrecht Dürer.
Agony in the Garden.
Etching. Nuremberg, 1515. (BRA1067)

Soon after the completion of his major illustrated books of 1511, Dürer initiated a period of experimentation with new engraving techniques that lasted until 1518. This included the use of drypoint, which utilized a rounded engraving tool that created a softer line, and etching. In the etching process, the metal plate was covered entirely with a waxy resin that the artist scraped away partially with the strokes of the stylus used to draw upon the plate; the plate was then submerged in an acid bath so that the lines exposed by the stylus were etched into the plate by a chemical reaction while the rest of the plate’s surface remained protected by the impervious resin; the surface was cleaned, inked, and wiped so that the ink remained only within the etched lines; this inked design was then transferred to the paper in a press.

Dürer’s Agony in the Garden, one of the first etchings produced by a German artist, reveals the sketch-like freedom of movement that the etching medium allowed, as opposed to the laborious control of the burin that traditional engraving required. Dürer’s energetic use of the new technique heightened the emotional drama of Christ’s last private moments of prayer and reflection.

Dürer the Engraver
Agony in the Garden