Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Venus et Adonis

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1686 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Smith, John (mezzotinter)
    Lemens, Balthazar van, born 1637 - died 1704 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case EM24B

Mezzotint is a form of tonal engraving. The engraver first creates a surface that will print solid black by roughening the surface of a copper plate with a serrated tool called a 'rocker'. This process raises a fragile burr of displaced copper which will hold a lot of printing ink. The design is then created by smoothing this burr in varying degrees to print a range of velvety tones. For white highlights, the engraver polishes the burr completely away, making the plate perfectly smooth once more, so no ink will adhere after the surface has been wiped. Mezzotint is particularly suited to reproducing the tonal gradations of painting.

John Smith was the most important mezzotinter in late Stuart England as well as being a print publisher. A generation before the now more famous William Hogarth, he was the first native born British printmaker to earn an international reputation. Active from 1683 to 1729 he made his name and his fortune as the creator of portrait mezzotints but in the same period he also made or published 'subject' mezzotints, a blanket term for everything which is not a portrait.

Smith was taught mezzotinting by Isaac Beckett who learnt the technique from John Lloyd, who in turn learnt it from the Dutch printmaker Abraham Blooteling (1640-1690) who was resident in London from 1673-1680. Smith began his career around 1683 mezzotinting portraits for other publishers but by 1687 was beginning to act as his own publisher and by the early 1690s had taken over from Isaac Beckett (died 1688) as the mezzotinter who had an agreement with Kneller to reproduce his portraits. This professional partnership between an artist and a printmaker is similar to one or two other important examples of the same phenomenon (Raphael and Marcantonio Raimondi, John Constable and David Lucas) in being a crucial vehicle for the dissemination of a painter's work at the same time as it pushed a talented printmaker to new heights of achievement.

Physical description


Place of Origin

London (made)


1686 (made)


Smith, John (mezzotinter)
Lemens, Balthazar van, born 1637 - died 1704 (artist)

Materials and Techniques


Marks and inscriptions

Venus et Adonis / B.V. Lemens pinx: / Sold by I. Smith at ye Lyon and Crown in Russell Street Covent Garden
Lettered below the image


Height: 33.5 cm Size of plate, Width: 25 cm Size of plate

Object history note

Museum numbers E.104-133-1998 were lot 500 at the sale at Sotheby's London on 13 November 1997 of an Eighteenth Century Collection of British Prints. This collection was put together in Germany, mostly in the period 1770-1800. The lot consisted chiefly of mezzotints by John Smith, or by other mezzotinters but subsequently republished by John Smith.

Descriptive line

Venus and Adonis; by John Smith (1652-1743) after Balthazar van Lemens (1637-1704); mezzotint, ca 1686

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

J. E. Wessely, "John Smith Verzeichniss seiner Schabkunstblätter", Hamburg 1887, no 384
G.K. Nagler "Neues allgemeines Kunstler-Lexicon, Munch 1835-52, no 370
Thomas, Ben 'The Paradox of Mezzotint'; University of Kent; 2008
'Early English Mezzotints: John Smith as Printmaker and Publisher', Elizabeth Miller; Prints, Drawings and Paintings Temporary Display; 8th April-8th November 1998

Production Note

The composition is derived from a painting of the same subject versions of which are in the National Gallery, London; Prado, Madrid; Metropolitan Museum, New York and National Gallery Washington. Another impression is in the Smith volumes in the National Portrait Gallery, London, see A. Griffiths "Early Mezzotint Publishing in England - I, John Smith 1652-1743" in Print Quarterly, volume VI, September 1989 pp 243-257, for details of those. Prints with museum numbers E.104-133-1998 were one lot in a sale of a collection (see Provenance), put together on the Continent mostly in the period 1770-1800. The group chiefly consists of mezzotints by John Smith or by other mezzotinters, but subsequently republished by John Smith.


Printing ink




Prints; Images Online


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.