I recently made this rubbing in order to enlarge a maquette I had made. I loved the quality of the pencil mark and was reminded what an interesting technique it was. Looking further into it, I found Encyclopaedia Brittanica had some interesting information about the origins of this rudimentary printmaking process:
"Rubbings probably originated in East Asia, where they served many utilitarian purposes. Japanese fishermen, for example, continue the centuries-old practice of using rubbings to record the size of the various fish that they catch. The earliest known rubbings are Buddhist texts rubbed from wooden blocks in Japan in the 8th century ad. Evidence suggests, however, that rubbing may have been practiced in China as early as the 2nd century ad. There, rubbing (t’a-pen) was used to disseminate Confucian texts carved on large stones. These inscriptions and the rubbings made from them were valued both for their information and for their calligraphy. Even after prints began to be made from woodcuts and stone engravings, rubbings remained the most common method of reproducing Confucian texts. In the Sung dynasty (960–1279), antiquarian research became fashionable, and rubbings were used to make copies of ancient relief carvings."
In modern times Max Ernst probably brought the process into the lexicon of the artist. The following is a passage from the Tate:
"The technique was developed by Max Ernst in drawings made from 1925. Frottage is the French word for rubbing. Ernst was inspired by an ancient wooden floor where the grain of the planks had been accentuated by many years of scrubbing. The patterns of the graining suggested strange images to him. From 1925 he captured these by laying sheets of paper on the floor and then rubbing over them with a soft pencil. The results suggest mysterious forests peopled with bird-like creatures and Ernst published a collection of these drawings in 1926 titled Histoire Naturelle (natural history)."
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