Past Events

Mezzotint Engraving and the Making of Race

Public Event Series – Jennifer Y Chuong, Mechthild Fend, Martin Myrone

  • 10 October 2023
  • 6:00 – 8:00 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre

This event is part of Printmaking for Change: Past and Present – the Paul Mellon Centre's new public events programme.

How have prints shaped our understanding of bodies and, specifically, our understanding of race as a bodily attribute? In this session we will explore how a particular print technique, mezzotint engraving, contributed to racial theories between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The mezzotint, which can produce smooth tonal areas with dots or lines, became hugely popular in Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century as a means of reproducing portraits. We will discuss how this technique resonated with new anatomical and racial ideas in this period; and subsequently how we can better understand print’s role in developing ideas of race and the body.

This programme is an introduction to the subject and is open to all.

Talks and workshops will take place at the Paul Mellon Centre, the British Museum, PageMasters and the Royal College of Physicians.

Talks at the Paul Mellon Centre will be streamed live via Zoom. Off-site workshops will be in person only.

Registration via Eventbrite is required and opens 8 September.

Listing image credit: William Faithorne, Beauty's Tribute (Elizabeth Cooper) (detail), undated, mezzotint, 320 mm × 257 mm. Image courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.

About the speakers

  • Jennifer Y Chuong is a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University and a specialist in the art, architecture and material culture of the eighteenth-century transatlantic world. In her work she prioritises the intelligence of makers and making in order to expand our understanding of what art is, and who makes it. Recent publications have focused on the frontispiece portrait of the Senegambian-born, American-enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley, the tacit protests of revolutionary printers and the nature of early American veneer furniture.

  • Mechthild Fend is a professor of history of art at Goethe University Frankfurt and taught previously (2006–2020) at University College London (UCL). She specialises in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French art and visual culture. Major research interests are the relations between body and image, and the history of artistic anatomy and medical imagery. Many of her works take a feminist approach and her first book Grenzen der Männlichkeit (2003) was concerned with androgynous masculinities in the era of the French Revolution. Since then, she has published widely on the history and representation of skin flesh tones and skin colour. Her second book Fleshing out Surfaces. Skin in French Art and Medicine, 1650–1850 was published in 2017. With Amelia Rauser she has co-authored the chapter “Body and color” for A Cultural History of Color in the Age of Enlightenment (Bloomsbury 2021). More recently, she has been concerned with questions of portraiture and the pathological image, publications in this field include “Images Made by Contagion. On Dermatological Wax Moulages”, Body & Society 28.1 (2022).

  • Martin Myrone is Head of Grants, Fellowships and Networks at the Paul Mellon Centre. Before joining the Centre in 2020, Martin spent over twenty years in curatorial roles at Tate, London. His many exhibitions at Tate Britain have included Gothic Nightmares (2006), John Martin (2011), William Blake (2019) and Hogarth and Europe (2021). His research and publications have focused on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art, with a special interest in artistic identity and artists’ labour, class, cultural opportunity and gender. His many published works include Bodybuilding: Reforming Masculinities in British Art 1750–1810 (2005) and Making the Modern Artist: Culture, Class and Art-Educational Opportunity in Romantic Britain (2020), both published by the Paul Mellon Centre.