Martin, John (1789-1854), 'Christ Tempted in the Wilderness', Mezzotint with etching, 1824

'Christ Tempted in the Wilderness', Mezzotint with etching, 1824

Please Note: This item is not for sale.
Printed on laid paper.

Engraved signature within the image, bottom left.

Very rare trial proof, prior to the first state, possibly unique.
and the face of Christ and Satan are completed. Prior to Campbellís earliest known proof. (According to Balston, p.281, the first published state is lettered: Drawn . Engd. & Pubd. By Mr Martin, Allsop Buildings, New Bond Road, 1824).

Christ Tempted in the Wilderness and The Ascent of Elijah are the first two mezzotints to be published by John Martin. They are also thought to have been the first mezzotints, engraved by Martin, on the then new material, soft steel Ė the medium through which this, brilliantly inventive, mezzotint engraver was to gain his fame for posterity. Released as independent prints, both Christ Tempted in the Wilderness and The Ascent of Elijah are now extremely rare. Both pre-date Martinís famous Paradise Lost mezzotints, and it is from these two works, in particular, that Martinís entire, spectacular, mezzotint oeuvre stemmed.


First exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists, in April 1824, Christ Tempted in the Wilderness was included in the first group of mezzotints to be exhibited in Public by Martin and it represents the earliest of John Martinís mezzotints to show his characteristic mature engraving style. Here we see the rich velvety black which a carefully grounded mezzotint plate could produce Ė from this blackness Martin has worked up his image to create a visionary landscape in which highlights glow with a luminosity impossible to achieve through any other engraving methods. What is most notable is Martinís reduced dependence on the etched line in creating this image. Etching is to found re-inforcing the rocks in the foreground of the picture, the remainder being limited to a few light touches upon some details of the trees and to the contours of Satanís back. The majority of the design is created in pure mezzotint; consequently, it has a rich tonal appearance inherent to this technique, rather than the relatively harsh and linear effect of an etching. Indeed, almost all of the etched work was added after the mezzotint had been engraved, as can be seen from a detail of the principal oak tree in an early working proof in one Martinís albums. With the appearance of this print, and its companion piece, Martinís skill as mezzotint engraver appears to have blossomed almost overnight. How Martin acquired such fluency in so difficult a process, and with such apparent speed, is unknown. We do know from his son, Leopold, that he was ďoffered every mechanical assistanceĒ in the production of the large plate of Joshua by, the distinguished mezzotint engraver, Thomas Lupton, but this cannot have been until some time during early 1826 or 1827 as, until that time, his contract with Charles Turner, for the original copper mezzotint of Joshua, was still valid. By then Martin had completed over 50 small mezzotints and was fully conversant in the technique. It would seem that other less competent attempts, similar to CW 22 and CW 23, must have been made, some of which account for the unidentified exhibits shown under his name at the Royal Society of British Artists in 1824. This engraving illustrates the story, which recurs through the New Testament, of how Jesus was tempted by Satan, during his forty days of fasting in the wilderness, to prove that he was the Son of God by using his divine power to turn stones into bread:

ĎThen was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, if thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that precedeth out of the mouth of the lord.Ē
Matthew, Chap. IV, verses 1-4.

Christ Tempted in the Wilderness and its companion plate The Ascent of Elijah, appear to have been engraved on the new soft steel plates, which Martin was to use throughout the rest of his career as an engraver. This view is supported by two particular facts. Firstly, the mezzotint quality conforms exactly with that of the Paradise Lost engravings, which are known to have been on soft steel plates. Secondly, the plate was republished twice by Septimus Prowett, after Martinís initial printing and, although the rarity of this mezzotint today would suggest that a few impressions only were pulled for any of these editions, one would expect some obvious wear to a copper plate which is not evident in later impressions. The title of this engraving has been taken from impressions published by S. Prowett, in 1827 and 1828, as no titled impression with the 1824 publication line has been located.

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Image Size 17.5 x 25.4 cm
Plate Size 22.1 x 31 cm
Sheet Size 25.8 x 36.9 cm
Reference C.W. 24

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