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Storytelling in Miniature

Peregrino da Cesena
Italian, active 1490–1520

Sacrifice to Mars

Niello engraving
2 7/16 x 2 1/2 in.
Gift of Winthrop H. Perry, 1921.14

The earliest known Italian engravings are niello prints; impressions made on paper from small, incised silver plaques. The plaques were generally produced to decorate furnishings and liturgical objects. The engraver would often coat the plaque with ink and transfer the design onto paper to approximate how the finished metal piece would look once the grooves were inlaid with a dark metallic compound (niello) and then fired in a kiln. The heat causes the compound to fuse, creating a black, glass-like surface with silver details. The prints, originally used to check work in progress, became an end in themselves. Peregrino da Cesena was one of the artists who engraved metal plates in the same style as the niello plaques specifically in order to create printed images.

The image shows a group of classical figures about to sacrifice a bull before an altar to Mars, the Roman god of war.