Mezzotint is an intaglio printmaking process. Intaglio was invented in Germany in the 15th century. It is a group of processes which use a metal plate (usually copper). These processes include, drypoint, etching, engraving, aquatint and mezzotint. The image is engraved into the surface of the metal by the use of tools or chemicals, that is known as etching. The term mezzotint means to work "in a dark manner." The method of mezzotint involves a tool called a rocker. When it is rocked back and forth over the plate, it creates a stippled texture similar to halftone. The texture creates a tonal effect that is unique to other intaglio processes in the way that it is a softer and more even means of adding shade.
Isaac Beckett was an English printmaker who specialized in mezzotint. Beckett was first apprenticed in London under a calico maker but later on learned the method of mezzotint from a print salesman. A large portion of his work was mezzotint portraits, in total he created about 171 during his career. The portraits he engraved were often based from paintings by Willem Wissing and Godfrey Kneller. Beckett had a successful publishing and printmaking company in Old Bailey, London where he self published his prints. He died at the age of thirty leaving his business to his wife, she however, sold it to another printmaker when she remarried 4 years later. In spite of his short career, Beckett was the first printer to perfect the use of mezzotint. Other than this basic information, not much else is known about Beckett's life because his business and stock was taken over by his pupil John Smith.
Original mezzotint engraving by Isaac Beckett and John Smith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
here are some smashing examples of mezzotint right here on dA: