After a brief stay during the first days of May 2008 in a sweltering Venice overcrowded with tourists, my family and I paid a visit to Livio Ceschin and his wife in their town, Collalto di Susegana, in the province of Treviso, in the remote heart of the countryside. The artist lives and works there in silent isolation, far from the masses of people in Venice and the large neighbouring cities. His studio, a small low building, is located behind the house. There is only one, intimate room inside, where little light comes through, and no noise. It is the ideal place for Livio Ceschin to find peace and concentration, essential to his work on etchings, which can take months and months. This secluded life, the peace, and spiritual meditation are unmistakably reflected in his engravings, which convey an extraordinary sense of calm and quiet, and are also distinguished by the accuracy of their details.
His corpus of engravings, totalling about a hundred works, is a testimony of his masterly technique. It is difficult to find such fine expertise in any other contemporary Italian artist.
Nature and the landscape are central themes for him, which he portrays either in panoramic views or glimpses of land and its characteristic vegetation. In his engravings, we come across marshy lake areas, bushes in the middle of woods, or groups of trees in well-hidden places. The artist finds his motifs in special spots in his own countryside, almost exclusively in the Veneto region, which he explores continuously. Although exceptional to his work, his portraits are also remarkable, such as those of the famous art historian Ernst H. Gombrich and the Italian author Mario Rigoni Stern.
From Conception to Execution
The detailed accuracy of the artist's work is always based on the essential use of photographs, which, however, he frequently reworks. He modifies them, or in certain cases combines them to form a kind of collage. By making these transformations, he adapts reality to his own ideas. The draft for the print comes from various preparatory drawings. The final preliminary study already encompasses the dimensions of the final engraving.
At this stage, the process of choosing and creating themes is complete. The drawing, with all its details, is ready and is then transferred as accurately as possible onto the etching plate. The artist works on this transposition assiduously, and exudes an inner tension that gradually releases itself as the most of the work is carried through, and he is then already beginning to think about the subject of his next work.
The plate for the engraving is not placed horizontally on the table. It is fixed vertically and can be moved upwards and downwards using rotating handles. The artist has chosen this system because many of his plates are so large that it is difficult to prevent his hands from touching them whether positioned horizontally or inclined.
The final drawing, executed on fine tissue-like paper, is actually only the contour of the image. Ceschin places this paper on the plate by reversing it so that the image on the print can be seen in exactly the same way as the original drawing. In order to transfer the composition onto the prepared plate with the varnish, the artist draws over the contours of the drawing with a hard pencil and finishes the details on the plate as precisely as possible.
With the pressure of the pencil, the point penetrates the varnish and exposes the metallic surface where the drawing is located. The plate is then immersed into the acid, which bites into the metal in the unprotected points of the varnish, thereby etching the lines that will then hold the ink. These will be printed onto the paper during the printing process. The artist doesn't usually print on white paper directly, but places a very thin piece of tissue-like paper of the same size as the etched plate between the plate and the engraving paper. The yellowish or brownish paper contrasts slightly with the white engraving paper. The surface of this thin paper (chine-collé) is very smooth. When printed, the etched line is finer and more precise than if it were printed directly onto white engraving paper. The use of the thin paper imparts a slightly painterly effect to the print and lends it the tone of old yellowed photographs.

Technique and Style
Precision in the reproduction of details, the differences that materials can render, and the chiaroscuro values in the prints are based on the great artistic variety of the lines and their intensity. In etchings such as Sottobosco con ponte (Undergrowth with Bridge, cat. 17), for example, one can observe the variety of the trunks one behind the other, the web-like interweaving branches in the background and the richness of the light reverberating on the water and leaves. At the same time the forms are reproduced with great clarity, and the space expands convincingly in depth. Images like these are still exclusively etched without using dry-point, a technique the artist began to develop only in 1993. In these etchings he obtains different values in his lines by immersing different sections for different lengths of time in the acid bath. The darker lines have to be drawn on the plate first in order to be oxidized for a longer time. The lighter parts, where there are only light lines, are put into the acid bath for only a few seconds. Ceschin may place his plates up to as many as twenty-two times in succession into the acid. In his works completed with dry-point, however, the different acid baths only amount to seven at most.
In comparison to the etched line, which is decisive, uniform and very loose, the lines made by the dry-point, manually etched on the metallic plate, result in more forceful, irregular gestures. By spreading out and contracting, they bear more tension. The ink is not only held by the line, but is also deposited in the blurring effect that forms on the edges of the furrows (called "burrs"). The line is thus enriched by a velvety tone that gives the image a remarkable effect of depth. The artist likes to use the dry-point in order to reinforce the darker etched areas.
The engraving Riflessi sull'acqua (Reflections on the Water, cat. 26), achieved totally with dry-point, portrays a thicket of reeds at the source of the Sile River. The eye is immediately caught by the extraordinary richness and vividness of the natural forms.  The herbaceous plants and interweaving stalks are in profusion. Long canes emerge, and, entrapped by the wind, they bend in different directions. The sun is mirrored in the water, entering the web and warming the humid air gathering in the bushes. Here and there fluffy white dandelions are let loose, while dark flowers, like spots of ink, emerge from the network of vegetation. The painterly effect comes from the multiplicity of the lines and the inner areas. In the dark zones, opaque tones alternate with other more decisive and intense ones. In the bright parts, luminous and brilliant tones are placed next to grey ones. In certain points, light, irregular white spots, like cotton balls, are formed. The composition obtains a particular tension through the positioning of the groups of reeds on opposite sides of the etching, with the river crossing through them. At the same time they are brought together by the marshy terrain.
Let us point out various examples when additions with dry-point are made by the artist to obtain a high degree of variation in line and tone.
Barche isolate (Isolated Boats, cat. 31) shows a panorama of a lagoon in a tight horizontal format that extends from a marshy foreground, where decaying boats lie in the mud, crossing over a marine bay, into a thin coastline on the horizon. The ample space is developed softly and continually into the distance because the landscape is characterized by grey values that become lighter, or denser in dark spots, yet never form strong contrasts. In order to achieve this fine and lively grey tonality, the artist makes somewhat sketchy, scribbled lines or short parallel lines with the dry-point, from which he will remove the burrs[1] with a burnishing tool. Often he smoothes out the plate only in certain areas, so that the unpolished portions give the print a slightly toned impression. In Barche isolate, the sky was levelled with fine sandpaper to make this area appear completely light and homogeneous.
Another example is the view of Comacchio, which the artist has depicted from different angles in various works. The Comacchio lagoon is a marshy territory in the vicinity of Chioggia, which Ceschin has reproduced with its characteristic fishing huts. Quadrangle nets are laid over wooden supports, used for eel fishing.
In Panorama a Comacchio (View of Comacchio, cat. 24), especially the dark zones on the horizon were worked over with the dry-point in order to give more depth to the space. The fishermen's cabins are also worked over with dry-point in the foreground, which sets them off neatly from the surrounding landscape. In the middle section the dry-point additions create a velvety grey tone with soft nuances. For the light plants sprouting in the foreground, the artist first etched them but subsequently covered them partially with varnish using a fine paintbrush. This is why the plants appear light in the print. He obtains the same effect also when he smoothes out parts with a burnisher and etches only the contours or intermediate spaces between the plants. The work Panorama a Comacchio is especially attractive owing to the calm movement of the lines. They all seem to lead together toward the horizon.
In Barca arenata (Stranded Boat, cat. 82), the landscape is treated from another angle. Particular tension is created here by the hull of the boat, which bends over towards the right, and the fishermen's huts in the background with their beams pointing in opposite directions, as well as by the contrast between the individual forms of vegetation and the amplitude of the panorama. Closeness and distance are closely linked. Our gaze, brushing over the individual stalks in the foreground, wanders into the depth of the space at the same time. In the centre, the reed thicket is of a complex graphic structure. It is no longer possible to follow line by line, since they stretch out into space. Only when observed from a distance does this intense web of lines reveal the unmistakable image of marshy land.
Livio Ceschin's engravings are generally characterized by remarkable pictorial treatment. He often does without linear delimitations and outlines, allowing the forms to grow out of the clash of different tones. An abundance of graphic movement-short sketchy lines, or stronger, intertwining straw-like lines and dots in as many different combinations as possible-define the object each time in its specific nature and optical appearance, which changes according to how it is placed in the space. He seeks to achieve harmony and fluency in all the transitions. He strives not so much to make the composition and the structure of things visible, but rather to integrate them into the atmosphere, concentrating on their optical effect. Barche a riposo (Boats at Rest, cat. 83) is a good example of how the engravings not only come alive with the accuracy in detail or variation of texture, but also their painterly richness. The light makes the reed stalks shine with silver hues, brushes over the boats' hulls, and blends into flat streaks among the ripples of the water. Also, in this case, the artist obtains subtle degrees of chiaroscuro with dry-point additions, burnished only in certain areas as usual. He uses dry-point to obtain the greatest possible amount of variation, but also seeks direct contact with the plate. The combination of the two techniques is much more difficult and demanding than using only the etching process. At the beginning of his artistic production he created up to ten etchings a year, but he now is only able to create four or five in the same amount of time. With continuous practice and refinement of his technique, which involves experimenting and searching for new possibilities, the artist has more and more success in achieving the desired effect in his etchings.

Themes and Subjects 
Livio Ceschin finds his subjects especially in the landscapes of his native region, which he explores with an attentive eye. He doesn't choose run-of-the-mill places, visited by hoards of tourists. He prefers hidden places, where a walker would rarely venture. He is especially interested in unsullied countryside, neither defaced nor spoiled by humans, preserved in its original state and free to flourish in keeping with its own laws. Many engravings show views of woods where vegetation is left to grow free. In the etching Nel bosco (In the Woods, cat. 29), it seems as if no human has yet stepped across the thicket of reeds and broad-leaved trees in their multiple intertwining and richness of details, which exude its extraordinary charm [2]. The artist dedicates himself passionately to the descriptions of grasses moving in various ways, the numerous resplendent leaves like pearls of light and the inextricable tangles of trees with their capillary ramifications. The eye is never sated with the richness of details, which the artist observes with constant and microscopic acuteness. No element is set apart from the others. In this manner, the complex general effect arises from the combination and interplay of details. Livio Ceschin observes nature with love, makes us conscious of its beauty and irregular primordial growth, and draws our attention to what we normally do not notice when passing. The vegetation reveals its unparalleled loveliness through the light that gently runs through it, and through the air that moves it softly. Thus, objects are not only seen with precision, they are felt.
One can perceive the artist's yearning for uncontaminated nature, only rarely luxuriant, in full blossom. Its growth and decline is very much unpredictable, even secretive. The vegetation is subject to the change of seasons and the weather conditions. This is, for example, evident in the etching Nei segreti recinti dell'acqua il ramo (In the Recesses of the Water, the Branch, cat. 95), to date his most monumental work. Here a storm has knocked down some trees that lie with their swollen bark in puddles or slowly rot in the marsh. The snow has just melted, and only patches are left here and there, with blades of grass piercing through. The observer feels the cold and breathes in the humidity. In his engravings, the artist shows his love for the contrasts which result from the linear structures of bristly grasses, bizarre tree trunks, spotted bark, marshy fields, dirty spots of snow, and variegated reflections of vegetation in water. His technical mastery becomes evident in the exactitude of the details in his images. He creates a tension from the opposition of individual forms and at the same time achieves a continuum that imparts an impression of complete unity to the space.
Man has no place in the engravings. If he were to appear sometimes, it is only as a static figure, a faded appearance in the heart of nature. Perhaps this is because man, in the land the artist loves so much, has destroyed many things, as Ceschin himself once suggested to me. His presence in the engravings is recorded in an indirect way, by common objects no longer of any use, aged and forgotten. In Barche isolate (Isolated Boats, cat. 31), the boats were abandoned there with indifference, their hulls are full of holes or reduced to skeletons, left to ruin. In Barche a riposo (Boats at Rest, cat. 83), the water and algae have left their traces on the hulls; likewise, on the right side of the etching, the fisherman's hut is in ruins, it windows broken. In La bicicletta (The Bicycle, cat. 32) an old bicycle waits for its former owner in vain. In etchings such as Vecchie dimore (Old Residences, cat. 10) or L'abbandono (Abandonment, cat. 72) there are old houses, once proud mansions belonging to noble society, now abandoned, where no one steps inside. Nature swallows them, covers their crusty facades and penetrates their interior through their wide-open windows. It takes possession of the building, almost as if taking revenge for the wounds that were once inflicted on it. In Angoli dimenticati (Forgotten Corners, cat. 74) the artist shows us an abandoned corner, perhaps the courtyard of an estate, where there is a table and three chairs. Three apples are on the table, as if laid out for guests. However, it seems that no one comes to this place, having been abandoned a long time ago. Autumn leaves have covered the floor, making the place inaccessible. In his engravings, Ceschin doesn't show sudden ruin or complete destruction. Instead he shows how nature re-appropriates places slowly and quietly, covering them with its patina and letting them fall into oblivion. This way he expresses his nostalgia for time past when nature had not yet been damaged by man.
Already in some of his first engravings the image does not fill the whole page. It fades gradually and irregularly toward the bottom, letting the pure white paper take over. In this way, the artist directs the viewer's attention toward the main subject, in the middle, which is reproduced more precisely and with more detail. In his later etchings, he prefers to use another stylistic means. He places irregular strips on the margins that cover parts of the image in a transparent way, thereby producing the effect of veiling or dissolving the image. With this form of partial distancing at the margins he creates another plane of reality, thereby creating a certain distance from the main subject. Such strips can be formed in different ways. In Barche a riposo (Boats at Rest, cat. 83) they mark the passage between the sea and the reeds as well as the right margin of the work, reminding us of broken glass plates, which blear the view of the landscape. Furthermore, they allude to the broken windows in the hut on the wharf.
Also in the engraving Nel sottobosco, tra betulle e foglie (In the Undergrowth, among Birches and Leaves, cat. 73) these strips recall the effect of milky glass which covers the vegetation in the foreground. They do not shade off the plants; the mere contours are still visible. In this two-dimensional linear reproduction, the artist creates a contrast with the richly detailed leaves that seem three-dimensional in the central part of the etching. Writing often appears in these blends. Individual words, sentences or entire texts are often cut off at the edge of the etching and can only be partially decrypted. Although the handwriting is different each time, it is always elegant, rendered in a calligraphic style, reminding us of nineteenth-century writing. These writings seem to be in part a commentary on the image. At the same time they suggest an indirect presence of man. Often they invite the observer to think of the past, connecting the subject of the etching to its historical aspect.
In the etching Angoli riparati (Sheltered Corners, cat. 68), a plant in a ceramic vase sits in the shady threshold of a house. Its glaze reflects the light. The house is an old building that could be found anywhere. The writing on the side seems to hint to a long story and life of its former inhabitant, who would otherwise not have left any traces of existence. The writing brings meaning to the building, freeing it from oblivion. This reference to the past, the long history of a place, occupies large spaces in certain engravings. In one engraving the writings occupy the whole bottom part of the paper. Here the image of a wall in ruins amongst old trees is a cut out space, an opening. It is not a scene from reality, but an image from memory, which may appear to the observer in his thoughts, as the title Luoghi della memoria (The Sites of Memory, cat. 63) suggests. Fragments of words and phrases also cover the sides of the print Silenzio meridiano (Midday Silence, cat. 67). A prodigious silence fills this landscape, with blazing sunshine unfurling over it in the oppressive summer heat. The forms are indistinct in the hazy air and diffused light. In the background the lines of a hill appear toward the right side, vanish little by little and allow the thoughts of the observer to digress. This is where the writing is integrated, as if to give the poetical picture a literary explanation. Literary and visual poetry seem to blend together in this engraving.
Livio Ceschin also includes fragments of writing in his portraits of Ernst H. Gombrich and Mario Rigoni Stern. Much more so than in his other engravings, he builds these portraits from individual picture elements. He so greatly admires Gombrich's writings that he decided to meet the art historian and dedicate a portrait to him (Omaggio a Gombrich [Homage to Gombrich], cat. 64). Gombrich liked the work so much that he praised him for his masterly achievement. Ceschin used, as a model, the photo of the cover of a French publication about Gombrich. The etching shows the photograph of the scholar in reverse in front of an open book. The writings surrounding the figure of Gombrich in the engraving are inspired by the manuscripts of mirrored writing by Leonardo da Vinci. Likewise, at the bottom, the artist adds a reproduction of the famous drawing of a masculine nude from the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, the Vitruvian Man, with the canons of proportions according to the rule of Vitruvius. This is Ceschin's reference to the art historian's study of Leonardo. Leonardo likewise acts as symbol for Gombrich's important scientific research and universal knowledge.
The engraving Omaggio a Mario Rigoni Stern (Homage to Mario Rigoni Stern, cat. 90) is based on two photographs taken by the artist in the writer's house in Asiago in November 2003. That same day, Rigoni Stern recommended that he visit an age-old beech on the plateau, which he had dedicated to the writer Carlo Emilio Gadda, an officer in the Italian Alpine troops (Alpini) during the First World War, who had a machine gun position in that precise place. In the engraving, the artist integrated below a scene from an old photograph that showed the retreat of the Italian troops on the Russian Front in 1942 [3]. Before etching this image, Ceschin had already got to know the writer personally. His 1997 print Stradina d'inverno (Small Road in Winter, cat. 45) serves as illustration for the cover of the Polish edition of Rigoni Stern's book Storia di Tönle (Tönle's Story), which was published for the first time in 1978.

Stylistic Development
Let us now come to a few observations concerning the stylistic evolution of the artist, through an analysis of his engravings in chronological order.
Livio Ceschin became interested in the engraving technique relatively late, when he was 28 years old. After a few initial attempts, under the guidance of an expert engraver from his region, he followed a course for a few months at the Accademia Raffaello in Urbino in 1992. He subsequently returned there several times for a few days at a time, but from then on he operated as an autodidact. His true school was the study of the great masters in engraving such as Schongauer, Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo and Canaletto. His first engravings derived from other engravings that he used as models, four by Canaletto, two by Rembrandt, and one by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The works after Canaletto show how the Venetian vedute constituted true models for the artist. The exercise in the precise reproduction of these engravings was very useful in the transposition of photographs to engraving. Nevertheless, he avoids mechanical reproduction, freely allowing minor modifications. Surprisingly, three of his copies of Canaletto do not come from engravings, but rather from ink drawings. Ceschin prefers these to the etchings for their spontaneity. It was a special challenge for him in his own engravings to imitate the free course of the line and the vibrant chiaroscuro that in these ink drawings releases all the forms into the atmosphere.
In the copy of Canaletto's Case e ponte sul Brenta (Houses and Bridge on the Brenta)[4], Omaggio a Canaletto (Homage to Canaletto, cat. 4), for example, one can observe how the artist makes the background lighter in order to achieve the spatial depth of the model.
The engravings of Rembrandt fascinated him especially for the richness of his graphic techniques and tonal values. It should be noted that the copy of Die Landschaft mit der saufenden Kuh (Omaggio a Rembrandt [Homage to Rembrandt], cat. 7), made in reverse and with a few modifications, was performed for the first time with the sole technique of dry-point in 1991. Here the artist explores the possibilities of this technique and succeeds in obtaining an extremely painterly effect in soft, velvety transitions, the depths of the shadows and the vivacity of his engraving.
In 1992 the first independent engravings of different scenes of his native land were created. They consist of abandoned and crumbling buildings, overrun by spontaneous vegetation, a theme that continued throughout his oeuvre. The engraving Dal canneto (From the Thicket of Reeds, cat. 11), with reeds poking out of the marsh and rows of trees in the middle ground with thin branches spreading over the sky, anticipates many of the elements that will be developed in later works. The quiet of this image and the detailed execution becoming gradually more evanescent in the background make the observer's thoughts wander. In engravings such as this one and in others that follow, such as Susegana: Paesaggio collinare (Susegana: Hilly Landscape, cat. 12), one can recognize a romantic impulse, a reflection of the artist's nostalgia for uncontaminated nature. Some of these studies of nature, in their lightness and flat disposition of vegetation, with willowy trunks and thin looming branches, recall Asian woodcuts, like those by the Japanese artist Hokusai.
In the first engravings, the plant world was reproduced in a flat and linear way for the most part, but in the engravings of 1993, Ceschin was able to give the groups of trees a greater sense of volume and model them in a stronger way. And he added light. In the realistic Autunno in campagna (Autumn in the Countryside, cat. 15), light circles around the tree stumps and makes them appear in spatial sequence. In Sottobosco con ponte (Undergrowth with Bridge, cat. 17) as well, light penetrates the thick of the woods at different angles and the bushes and leaves gleam. With the addition of light and atmosphere, the space feels more free and airy. However, it will still take some time before etchings such as Riflessi sull'acqua (Reflections on the Water, cat. 26) and Nel bosco (In the Woods, cat. 29) of 1994 show light surrounding the smallest details, seemingly penetrating nature from within and enveloping it completely. In these engravings, the light background of the paper takes on a stronger role in creating internal forms.
During this period, the artist also experimented with the depiction of new subjects, such as in the two panoramas of Comacchio (cat. 24, 25) and the etching Barche isolate (Isolated Boats, cat. 31). They are views of lagoons in a narrow and long format, which show an ample landscape extending itself gently into the distance. They are not characterized by a multitude of details, like the images of woods, but by the delicate undertone of tonal values within large enclosed surfaces. Here horizontal lines run parallel to each other and come closer and closer together toward the horizon. This disposition recalls certain drawings by Canaletto, like the view of Sant'Elena island at Windsor Castle (Royal Library)[5].
During the same period he brought to life an image of a narrow alleyway in Urbino (Urbino, cat. 30), seen from on high. This etching probably also has its roots in Venetian vedute painting.
It can be observed each time, and also later on, how the search for new technical challenges and stylistic variations accompany the choice of new subjects.
Between the end of 1994 and 1996, Livio Ceschin produced a series of engravings that depict coasts with a special species of pines, characterized by robust yet short trunks. They have an umbrella shape similar to that of the umbrella pine. In this case as well, the intention was not to represent a large quantity of small details, but to impart density and roundness to the spherical crowns of the trees. At that time, he wanted to obtain the maximum amount of variety within a closed artistic form. Even the dunes where trees shoot up were rendered as homogenously as possible. Only the grass sporadically makes its appearance in the ample areas of chiaroscuro (cat. 33-35).
With the continuous work of perfecting his expressive possibilities, the artist succeeded in integrating the pure white of the paper into his image with fine nuance, in order to obtain not only luminous effects, but different elements of landscape as well. A natural consequence of this was that Livio Ceschin would sooner or later approach the theme of winter.
Between 1996 and 1997 a series of winter images was born. These show the first newly fallen snow, the great snows up to the spring thaws, thus documenting the course of the season. In these images, the snow covers the branches like a hood and fills up parts of the composition with great white surfaces. This was the occasion for the artist to begin exploring new possibilities for articulating space. At the same time, he was technically able to capture the bite of the frost under a cloudy sky, where no ray of sun is able to shine through.
While in the engravings Paesaggio innevato (Snow-covered Landscape, cat. 41) and Sulla neve tra pini e betulle (In the Snow among Pine and Birch Trees, cat. 44) the landscape is built up especially with parallel planes, and the trees form a thick framework with their branches, in the works featuring snow that were produced later one notes a change. This begins with Stradina d'inverno (Small Road in Winter, cat. 45), in which the uphill road is fully connected to the snowed-in area in the foreground, but at the same time separates itself by leading neatly toward the background. The areas in the background are well differentiated from each other and constitute a true structure, while in the engraving Sulla neve tra pini e betulle the different areas lie on top of one another like stripes on parallel planes. The trees form a network there without creating effects of depth, while in Stradina d'inverno and the following works, one can sense their volume more; they jut out of the paper like independent shapes.
One can recognize a new conception of space. It may be no wonder that this should occur when the artist was 35 years old. The art historian Konrad Oberhuber, who has recently passed away, showed how the specific rhythms of development in human life are also noticeable in the works of artists. Based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, the philosopher and founder of anthroposophy, Oberhuber elaborated a theory according to which a change is noticeable in artists in their conception of figures and space every seven years, which is connected to the seven-year long phases of man's development [6]. These periodic variations, which can also be observed externally, such as the changing of teeth in the seventh year, puberty at 14 years, perfection of spiritual and physical strength at twenty-one years, were applied for the first time by Oberhuber to explain a change in style in the work of artists. According to the art historian, the rhythm of physical development also influences the spiritual development of life. The psychic sensitivity at a certain age in turn conditions the way in which the three categories of space are perceived, depth, width, height. Our vision can either be directed strictly into depth, in which case it detects the contours first of all, or moves freely over the objects (width), or looks in all directions in space and analyzes things (height). With these different relationships with space and different sensitivities in relation to surrounding objects, the role and function of line, chiaroscuro and colour also change.
Oberhuber explained his theory through the works of Raphael. According to him, the figures of Raphael in the first part of his juvenile period still fluctuated, without solid anchorage to ground and space. At the age of 21, he became aware of his body and was then able to develop volume in human figures, by establishing a convincing relationship with space and ground. From his twenty-eighth year on, Raphael's figures were able to rotate in space. And our vision rotates impulsively around his figures, from one to another. By his thirty-fifth year, Raphael's line had appropriated a spatially oriented, analytical and structural function. The energies to create volume are not directed toward their objects any longer; they rise from within them. "Light and shadow emanate from the faces and hands and create a chiaroscuro atmosphere in which the figures can exist freely and develop their own chromatic life"[7].
In the works of Livio Ceschin too, one can notice a change in style every seven years, which cannot be explained as due to external influences. Instead, the change signals the beginning of a new phase of psychophysical development, as described by Oberhuber. In the engravings he created at the age of 35, space is clearly structured. While wandering through this space, one feels the weight of one's own body and that of all the surrounding elements. This is accompanied by both a greater sense of volume and clarity in the reproduction of forms. One can observe the precision with which the trees are reproduced, together with the structure of the bark in the engravings, Ultima neve sulla vallata (The Last Snowfall in the Valley, cat. 48), Bosco di betulle (Birch Forest, cat. 49) or Sentiero (Path, cat. 52), and how convincingly the trunks are placed one behind the another. There is an increase in clarity and accuracy of the subject representation in the print La vite (The Vine, cat. 53). In the foreground, a tendril climbs along a pole, which seems three-dimensional. The details are drawn so vividly that the observer is invited literally to grasp them.
To add to this greater compositional structure of the image, the rich opposition of contrasts of light and dark zones impart a colouristic effect to compositions such as Nei fossati, lungo la strada (In the Ditches, along the Road, cat. 54) and Continuando a piedi (Proceeding on Foot, cat. 55). The forms of vegetation assert themselves as autonomous elements, such as the reeds in these two engravings or the robust trunks in Nevicata sui campi (Snowfall in the Fields, cat. 57).
In the engravings produced between 1999 and 2000 different forms of creating landscape are noticeable. Here the artist continued in his experimentation, as described above, with the integration of writing on the sides and the partial blurring of the images. In Vecchi passaggi (Old Passageways, cat. 58) or in the engraving Luoghi della memoria (The Sites of Memory, cat. 63) old walls can be seen in an enchanted place, beset by an enigmatic series of words that seem to evoke dream-like images. In Nel silenzio dell'inverno (In the Silence of Winter, cat. 62) the forest landscape lies under a thick blanket of snow where one can see dry frozen grass and strangely shaped bushes poking through it. A mysterious black hole is formed in the centre among the branches bent in different directions by the wind and the inclement weather. Our eye is pulled into the unknown.
Another form of composition can be found in the engraving Dalla strada, in campagna (From the Road, in the Countryside, cat. 66), where one can see a farmhouse at the foot of hills through a row of reeds in the foreground. The plants are rendered only with their contours, forming a kind of flat ornament placed in front of the image. This ornament has the effect of ordering the composition in segments, while at the same time forming a contrast with the landscape, which becomes more and more developed toward the back, thereby increasing the effect of perspective. The incorporeal plants in this engraving thereby create a certain distance from the realistic composition and rendering of the motif.
One of the most unusual and impressive engravings of this period is La palude (The Marsh, cat. 70), 2001, where a marshy region can be glimpsed in a bird's-eye view. Thin reeds bunched together form a kind of carpet that extends itself deeply into the etching. With one hundred thousand uniform lines, commas and dots, Livio Ceschin has succeeded in reproducing an infinite number of these plants, both forming a whole and expressing each plant's individual characteristics. He is able to show how the light models the reeds and how the wind blows through them. Never is there an impression of monotony. On the contrary, the continuous repetition of the plants inspires a feeling of infinite quiet and timelessness, which makes this etching so special.
A logical continuation of this print is L'attesa (The Wait, cat. 71), which was inspired by the photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1953 and which Ceschin dedicated to the great French photographer. He modified the original model, using solely a section of the photograph by portraying only one of the fishermen sitting on the riverbank. In addition, he stretched the height by elaborating the brake of reeds on the bottom part in more detail, thereby increasing the contrast between the forms of vegetation in the different parts of the image. In the foreground the leaves acquire more importance and a life of their own, which makes the fisherman look almost lost and forlorn. The writing on the bottom margin reproduces a phrase by Cartier-Bresson, repeated in fragments, that states that photography would be devoid of meaning if it were not born from total participation and followed by reflection on the intimate reasons and instinctive intentions of the photographer. Photography, according to Cartier-Bresson, involves effort and reflection, never relaxation.
After the winter engravings of 1996-97, Livio Ceschin continued with individual works on this theme, but only in 2003-04 did he begin to interpret it in a new manner. In contrast to the engravings created before that time, he no longer chose panoramas, but glimpses of scenes from lower viewpoints, which show undergrowth or trees emerging from a blanket of snow (cat. 80-81).
He also succeeded in rendering the vegetation in such a diverse way that the branches and leaves seem truly to reach out toward the observer, who can actually feel the frosty air coming from the dark interstices among the firs. The snow is no longer a surface, but a bodily form that generates crystals, lies in different layers piled up on top of each other, ices over, melts or begins to become slush. The artist observes the consistency of the snow, as well as the different plants that penetrate the very element that covers them. In the foreground the snow becomes wet and full of holes. The artist achieved this effect with grey spots, using the aquatint technique. Unlike the earlier winter images where the sky was hidden by the fog, here there is also the light of the sun, which gives the effect of modelling the forms much more clearly.
If in the etching Ai margini del dirupo… (At the Edge of the Precipice…, cat. 84) all the elements of the image are brought together and directed into an oblique line toward the right margin, and the engraving …Più non sento il freddo dell'inverno (…I No Longer Feel the Cold of Winter, cat. 85), where all the details are subordinated to a unifying complex effect, one can notice a change in the later engravings, produced in 2004. In …Nei giorni delle grandi nevicate (…During the Days of the Great Snowfalls, cat. 89), one can see, for example, how the forms harden, stand out from one each other, and how the trees become more rigid with contorted branches pointing in different directions. Each individual element isolates itself from the others and takes on its own tension as well as a peculiar brittleness. One can observe how the shadows cross the snow in taut stripes, as they eat into it. This stylistic change seems connected to the fact that in 2004 Livio Ceschin turned 42, once again seven years older. In his works one can now observe that objects are not only experienced in their weight and substance, but there is also a feeling for the forces and energies that act within the natural forms. If one were to juxtapose Stradina d'inverno (Small Road in Winter, cat. 45) with …Nei giorni delle grandi nevicate, one would note that in the engraving made seven years later the forms are felt more strongly. The individual elements are endowed with their own characteristics, and the space is more clearly and more amply conceived.
The experience of nature is felt more immediately in these later engravings, as one can also see clearly in Luci nel sottobosco (Lights in the Undergrowth, cat. 91) of 2004. The artist took the engraving Riflessi nel sottobosco (Reflections in the Undergrowth, cat. 35), executed in 1995, to re-work it in this new vein. In the engraving's second state he increased the spatial effect by adding other trees to the foreground. By elaborating the bark of the dark trunks differently, he provided them with a more marked tactile presence.
This new sensitivity to nature can be seen in the expansion of his multiple repertoire of individual forms, as in the monumental engraving Nei segreti recinti dell'acqua il ramo (In the Recesses of the Water, the Branch, cat. 95), but also in very unifying, closed-off views in which a special mood dominates the landscape. The engraving Barche stanche a riva (Worn-out Boats Ashore, cat. 96), 2005, shows a lagoon, empty and deserted, without any kind of vegetation. The strip of coast develops into a completely flat perspective, passes without transition from the sandy beach to a slightly rippled section of the sea, and ends with a piece of land that is also rather inarticulate. Only the anchored boats in the foreground, with their wooden hulls, stand out decisively from the uniformity of the sea landscape. The artist has integrated a geographic map into the foreground with a coastal strip, which seems to imitate the arched shape of the sandy beach. In addition to the calm and silence that characterizes this engraving, there is a sensation of pervasive sultry heat giving the observer a feeling of inertia and fatigue. Later, Ceschin trimmed this plate, cutting it all the way up to the left part with the boat, perhaps because the impression was too oppressive for him.
In the engraving L'umido del legno che marcisce al sole (The Damp Wood Rotting in the Sun, cat. 105), 2007, the artist represents a marshy coastal strip, still wet from the sea, which already has receded. A row of anchored and abandoned boats is left to decay. The wood of the planks has expanded and rots relentlessly under the burning rays of the sun. In comparison to earlier etchings of an analogous theme, such as Barche isolate (Isolated Boats, cat. 31) and Barca arenata (Stranded Boat, cat. 82), it is evident how the artist observed the details with clarity and also sobriety, and gave them volume.
In the afternoon of our visit to his studio, we saw Livio Ceschin working on a large engraving. A common strip of grass with a pair of rampant plants was coming to life. The edges of the drawing were already transferred onto the plate, and various details were already finished, so that in many places the copper lit up in the newly uncovered parts of the varnish. I am impatient to see this engraving finished. And I am very curious to see the future works of the artist, how his vision of nature will change, and which new facets he will give to nature's variety of individual forms.

Vienna, August 2008


[1] In the treatment of the plate with dry-point, the lines are engraved directly in the metal with the point. The metal does not come off,  or it does so only partially; it lingers on the edges of the furrow, forming burrs. When the plate is prepared for printing, the ink not only penetrates the etched lines, but also adheres to these burrs. If one does not wish this effect, the burrs can be eliminated or reduced with a burnisher.
[2] In this he approaches the engravings of the Treviso artist Giovanni Barbisan (1914-88), for example in the etching Vigneto (Vineyard, 1955). Barbisan was often the reference point of Livio Ceschin's work.
[3] Rigoni Stern fought as a non-commissioned officer in the Alpini regiment at the eastern front in Russia, on the German side, against the Red Army, and, unlike thousands of his comrades, he survived the retreat from the Don River. He later related his memories about these events in his first book, Il sergente nella neve (The Sergeant in the Snow).
[4] Windsor Castle, Royal Library. See Canaletto. Disegni - Dipinti - Incisioni (Canaletto. Drawings - Paintings - Engravings), curated by A. Bettagno, Neri Pozza Editore, Vicenza 1982, cat. 32.
[5] See Canaletto… cit., cat. 30 (L'isola di Sant'Elena e la Certosa [Sant'Elena Island and the Charterhouse]).
[6] Konrad Oberhuber, "Späte Römische Jahre", in E. Knab, E. Mitsch and K. Oberhuber, Raphael. Die Zeichnungen, with the collaboration of Silvia Ferino Pagden, Urachhaus, Stuttgart 1983, pp. 113-144, and Konrad Oberhuber, Raffael. Das malerische Werk, Prestel, Munich - London - New York 1999, pp. 14-15 et al.
[7] See Konrad Oberhuber, "Späte Römische…" cit., p. 118.

The engravings of Livio Ceschin
by
Achim Gnann
Curator of the
Italian Art section of the Albertina, Vienna

Italian Version