Cadmus fighting the Dragon

Artist: Léon Davent (French, active 1540–56)

Artist: after Francesco Primaticcio (Italian, Bologna 1504/5–1570 Paris)

Date: ca. 1540–45

Medium: Etching

Dimensions: Sheet: 9 13/16 in. × 12 in. (25 × 30.5 cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1949

Accession Number: 49.97.570


Léon Davent, of whom little more is known than his name and that he made more than 200 prints (most of which record designs produced by artists who worked at the palace of Fontainebleau) began his printmaking career as an engraver. Although he soon turned to etching, apparently delighting in the freedom of movement this medium allowed, his hatching exhibits a certain evenness and control that must be the legacy of his early training in engraving. In this etching, we can see the pleasure the artist took in creating linear pattern, whether the squiggly lines that indicate the rough bark of the tree or the sinuous curves that reinforce the twisting of the dragon's neck. This print also provides an excellent example of Davent's preference for an all-over gray tone, from which a few lighter areas stand out, giving subtle relief to the forms. This is achieved firstly by covering almost the entire surface of the plate, including the sky, with a close-knit web of lines. Davent also left most of the plate rough—or even, in the case of this print, deliberately roughened it—so that it would hold a film of ink. Only a few areas are polished smooth, hold little ink, and read as highlights.