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  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1450-1475 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Niello print on paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case TOPIC, shelf 6B

This print is from an engraved ‘niello’ plate. The design was first engraved very finely using a ciapolla, a round-ended burin. Niello describes a technique of inlaying a combination of lead, sulphur, silver and copper into engraved metal (usually silver) for decorative effect. When filled with niello, this brought out the engraved lines of the design in black. The heavily inked background here is fine cross-hatching, which on the finished metal object would be niello. These objects were made in Italy, especially Florence, in the 15th century. Sometimes the engraved design was printed onto paper before the niello was applied, to allow the artist to see the image better.

Maso Finiguerra (1426-1264), a famous niellist and a goldsmith, designer and engraver, was credited incorrectly by Vasari with the invention of copper line-engraving. Engraving originated in Germany. In Italy, however, line-engraving does seem to have emerged from the niello technique and at first the same tool was used, producing images with thin lines and shading expressed as cross-hatching.

The Man of Sorrows imagery shown here reflects a development that occurred in private devotion and was explained in guides to meditation from the 14th century. The torture inflicted on Christ leading up to his Crucifixion expressed in images focussing on his wounds was meant to encourage an internal meditation on the pain and suffering.

Physical description

Christ as Man of Sorrows supported by four angels above his sarcophagus. The Cross can be seen behind and three nails lie on the floor (some of the Instruments of the Passion). Christ is wearing his shroud and the Crown of Thorns. The sarcophagus is decorated with two panels of acanthus foliage and a centre panel showing a represention of the Holy Spirit as a dove.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


ca. 1450-1475 (made)


Unknown (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Niello print on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Reversed, top of cross


Height: 6.1 cm trimmed, Width: 7.6 cm trimmed

Descriptive line

Niello print, Man of Sorrows, Central Italy, mid-15th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Cicognara, Léopold. Le Première Siècle de la Calcographie ou Catalogue Raisonée des Estampes ... avec Une Appendice Sur Les Nielles. Venice: Joseph Antonelli, 1837, no. 52
Collection of impressions from works in niello. (Colbaccini Sale, E. Parsons). Sotheby's, London, 22 May 1871, lot 34.
Passavant, 501.


Ink; Paper


Engraving (printing process)

Subjects depicted

Cross; Instruments of the Passion; Nails; Acanthus; Crown of Thorns; Dove; Halo; Man of Sorrows; Angels; Sarcophagus


Prints; Christianity; Religion


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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