Daniel Hopfer (circa 1470, Kaufbeuren – 1536, Augsburg) is widely believed to have been the first to use etching in printmaking, at the end of the fifteenth century. He also worked in woodcut.
The son of Bartholomäus Hopfer, a painter, and his wife Anna Sendlerin, Daniel moved to Augsburg early in his life, and acquired citizenship there in 1493. In 1497 he married Justina Grimm, sister of the Augsburg publisher, physician and druggist Sigismund Grimm. The couple had three sons, Jörg, Hieronymus and Lambert, the last two of who carried on their father's profession of etching, Hieronymus in Nuremberg and Lambert in Augsburg. Daniel was trained as an armour etcher. There are only two proven examples of his own work on armour: a shield dated 1536, now in the Real Armeria, Madrid and a sword in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. An Augsburg horse armour in the German Historical Museum, Berlin, dating from between 1512 and 1515, is decorated with motifs from Hopfer's etchings and woodcuts, although there is no evidence that Hopfer himself worked on it.
The etching of metal with acid was known in Europe from at least 1400, but the elaborate decoration of armour, in Germany anyway, was an art probably imported from Italy at the end of the fifteenth century. Although the first extant dated etchings are the three by Albrecht Dürer of 1515, and despite the fact that none of his works are dated, stylistic evidence suggests that Daniel Hopfer was using this technology as early as 1500.
The Hopfers prospered in Augsburg, and by 1505 Daniel owned a house in the city centre. He sat on the committee of the Augsburg guild of smiths, which at this time included painters and etchers, probably because these crafts were uniquely connected in the town, one of Europe's principal manufacturers of arms and armour.
Daniel died in Augsburg in 1536. His achievement was widely recognized during his time, and in 1590 he was posthumously named as the inventor of the art of etching in the imperial patent of nobility bestowed upon his grandson Georg.