In the Dark: Night Prints from Dürer to Goya

Night: The period of darkness occurring between one day and the next;
that part of a twenty-four-hour period during which a place receives no
light from the sun; the time between evening and morning.

–Oxford English Dictionary

Beyond its dictionary definition as a period of time bracketed by dusk and dawn, night has always served as a powerful source of inspiration and exploration for poets, scientists, and visual artists, conjuring a wide range of associations—from danger and death to mystery, romance, and melancholy. Before the advent of gaslight and electricity in the modern era, navigating night by moonlight or candlelight presented a challenge that was not only physical but also moral and spiritual, due in part to the prominent role of darkness in the Judeo-Christian tradition, in which it is cast as the antithesis of light, symbol of God’s divinity and power. This chronological selection of night prints by European and British artists from the early sixteenth through the late eighteenth century demonstrates the ways in which secular subject matter gradually displaced biblical texts and allegorical representations. At the same time, technical innovations in printmaking, most notably mezzotint and aquatint, marked a significant transition from linear to more atmospheric depictions of darkness, made visible by the increasingly illusionistic light effects in these nocturnal scenes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Download Checklist
Laura M. Giles
Heather and Paul G. Haaga Jr., Class of 1970, Curator of Prints and Drawings