Heavenly Craft: The Woodcut in Early Printed Books
Sections:  Introduction | 15th Century | 16th Century

Influence of Dürer


This first edition of a commentary on the Passion of Christ is illustrated with twenty-six full-page woodcuts designed by the Swiss artist, Urs Graf. All but three of the woodcuts carry his initials "VG" cut into the block. This woodcut, "The Raising of Lazarus," is one of the more important in this remarkable series. It displays Graf's ability to design a composition combining numerous characters and events on a single woodblock. He organizes the Gospel story in a "Z" pattern that weaves its way through the image and leads the viewer from Jerusalem to the tomb of Lazarus. Graf creates balance in his woodcut design by integrating architectural elements and landscape motifs into this complex narrative image. Graf's scheme for shading is another important element in his style. The parallel lines he uses to model his figures are thinner than the outline contours, giving his forms a complexity that emphasizes physical dimensions. Also, his heads show individual characteristics, and his method of using short accents to further define facial features is a technique reminiscent of the work of Albrecht Dürer.

Passionis Christi unum ex quattuor Euagelistis textum. [Strasbourg: J. Knobloch, 1506?]. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (38)

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Renaissance Influence on Venetian Woodcut Design

Venice, 1501

LucAntonio Giunta's missal is illustrated with eighteen full-page woodcuts devoted to the life of Christ and numerous historiated initials and column cuts depicting Biblical scenes and the lives of the saints. This woodcut, "The Annunciation," recalls the image used in the editions of the Meditations printed in Rome by Stephan Plannck (nos. 9 and 25). The overall composition of the cut, its three architectural columns, the ornamental designs on the kneeler, and the floor pattern are similar in both woodcuts. However, in the 1501 design, the perspective, the complexity of the interior ornamentation, and the modeling of the figures is more highly developed than in the cut used by Plannck. The shading alone varies in the thickness and direction of the parallel lines, which give greater dimensionality to the physical forms and a better sense of perspective in the interior view. This detailed shading technique results in a sensitive rendering of the story of the Annunciation and reflects an important characteristic of Italian Renaissance style that emerged in the late 1490s

Missale Romanum. Venice: L.A. Giunta, November 20, 1501. Page 2. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (39)

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Emerging Classical Style

Venice, 1501

This woodcut demonstrates the unique effect produced by combining the circle and the square as design elements. The image on the left depicts the capture and enslavement of Malchius by the Bedouins. The design is spacious, all the figures are clearly differentiated, and the drama of the forced march is clearly depicted. However, the roundel creates a telescopic effect, leaving the viewer with the impression that he is spying on the caravan as it moves across the landscape. The event becomes timeless, and the woodcut takes on a quality of immediacy that was an important characteristic of Renaissance imagery. The woodcut on the right depicts a series of events from the life of Saint Paul the Hermit. It is enclosed by a monumental border, decorated with classical motifs, an ornamentation that exemplifies the stylistic changes that took place in Venice during the late 1490s. These classical design elements, along with the high-density shading techniques, forecast the emergence of the classical style that dominated Venetian woodcut during the first decades of the sixteenth century. Colored woodcuts were unusual in Italy during the Renaissance period.

[Saint Hieronymus]. Vita di sancti padri vulga[m] historiada. Venice: Otinus de la Luna, July 28, 1501. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (40)

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Variation on Venetian Style

Ferrara, 1503

This rare missal appears to be only book printed at the Carthusian Monastery in Ferrara during the sixteenth century. It is illustrated with a large woodcut of "Saint Christopher and the Christ Child" on the title leaf, a full-page cut of the Crucifixion, and more than 150 initial letters. The missal is rubricated throughout in red ink, and the musical notations and lyrics are printed in black on red staves. The woodcuts have been attributed to an anonymous Ferrarese designer, who demonstrates the influence of Venetian design. This "Crucifixion" is framed by a four-part border in the Venetian style. This highly sculpted background in which the contrast of black and white is so effectively applied is an interesting variation on the solid black with white of the black-ground style that was so popular in Venetian woodcuts. The border gives the woodcut a lightness--almost a feathery quality--that is enhanced by incorporating the new shading techniques of the Venetian style for the modeling of the human form.

Missale secundu[m] ordinem carthusiensium. Ferrara: Carthusian Monastery, April 10, 1503. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (41)

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Most Important Woodcut-Illustrated Book Printed in Pavia


Jacobus Gualla's lives of the saints of the city of Pavia is illustrated with a woodcut portrait of the author and twenty-seven small woodcuts in the Pavian style. The composition of this woodcut figure combines the influences of Milanese portrait painting with the thinly cut, outline border designs of the Ferrarese masters. The portrait is delicately cut with lines of varied thicknesses, resulting in a figure of individual character. The folds of the cloak incorporate curved lines, with loop and angle cuts, highlighted with parallel lines of varied lengths, cut in different directions. The border, cut in outline without shading, is distinguished by the thinness of the line and the clarity of the image. The use of roundels and curved-line designs for flowers and the figures of the putti and satyrs are in the "popular" style of Venetian design. The eyes of the figures in the roundels are quite large, with lids half closed and dark centers. The overall effect is a light, airy border of original character. This border first appeared in Laurentius Rubeis's edition of Francesco Negri's Pullata, printed in Ferrara earlier in 1505.

Jacobus Gualla. Papie sanctuarium. Pavia: Jacobus de Burgofrancho, November 10, 1505. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (42)

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The "Classical" Style of Venetian Woodcut

Venice, 1505

This volume appears to be the first Italian edition of a very popular commentary on the Epistles and Gospels by Guillermus Parisiensis, a mid-thirteenth-century bishop of Paris. Printed by LucAntonio Giunta, it is illustrated with one large woodcut and twenty-three original woodblock designs in a smaller format. "Mary Magdalene and the Other Marys at the Tomb" is typical of the smaller cuts that illustrate the Postilla. This well-organized scene includes very delicately cut figures with thicker contour outlines and thinner parallel lines modeling the figures. The mountain and city view in the background are in proper perspective, and the artist has introduced black space to define denser shaded areas and create contrasts. The woodcut is set within a frame of text, the commentary in the smaller type size and the Gospel story in larger, bolder type. The integration of the image and text is extremely well executed. The double-page spread is a highly satisfying typographical presentation, one of the hallmarks of Giunta's liturgical publications. This is the only copy of the book recorded in an American library.

Guilelmus Parisiensis. Postilla super Epistolas et Euangelia. Venice: Jacobus Pentius de Leuco for LucAntonio Giunta, November 6, 1505. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (43)

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Influence of Mantegna on the Classical Design

Venice, 1507

This later edition of Giunta's Breviary for the Use of Rome includes 8 full-page cuts and 375 small woodcuts of Biblical stories set throughout the text. This woodcut of "The Calling of Peter and Andrew," recreates the moment when Andrew recognized Christ as the Messiah, dedicated himself to Christ, and became the first apostle. Peter, witnessing his brother's commitment, soon followed as a disciple of Christ. The woodcut uses highly developed shading techniques to model the figures and background. The sea is equally well defined by the use of sculptured lines indicating the motion and direction of the water. The forward tilt of the boat and the bend in the knees of the oarsmen contribute to this sense of moving water. The powerful composition, classical costume, recognizable heads of the figures, and the use of a new, shaded style all point to the influence of the artist Andrea Mantegna and his circle on the emerging classical design of the Venetian woodcut at the end of the fifteenth century.

Breviarium Romanum. Venice: LucAntonio Giunta, March 26, 1507. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (44)

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Wheels of Fortune and Games of Chance

Milan, 1508

This 1508 Milan edition of Lorenzo Spirito's Book of Chance is illustrated with numerous full-page woodcuts, four-part border designs, portraits, and images of the signs of the zodiac. Many of the designs are very well done, especially those that appear in the center of the wheels of fortune and in the woodcut borders below the wheels. In this opening, the leopard (left) is cut in a thick outline and modeled with precise curved lines. The leopard's formal pose is particularly appealing because it projects a dignity commensurate with the animal's position in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom. The dolphin (right) is similarly cut and set within a sea of curved lines against a well-defined architectural background. The dolphin's design reflects classical origins. The animal projects an aggressive attitude, suggesting the dolphin's importance as protector of the city of Venice. The well-designed woodcut borders of the hunt (left) and the putti at play (right) are symbols of the vagaries of life, in which good fortune and calamity are equally possible.

Lorenzo Spirito. Libro de la ventura. Milan: Zanoto di Castellione for Fratelli Legnano, August 23, 1508. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (45)

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Exposition on the Art of Calligraphy

Venice, 1514

This first edition of the first Italian writing manual is illustrated with woodcut borders, initial letters, diagrams, and letterforms, accompanied by an instructional text on the art of handwriting by Sigismondo Fanti, a mathematician and astronomer from Ferrara. Fanti published this work so that secretaries, copyists, merchants, and artisans could learn techniques of applying geometry to the construction of letterforms. These woodcuts of the capital letters "D" and "E" are examples of how Fanti used geometric patterns in the design of his letters. The circle and the square, the building blocks of classical architecture and the basis for letter designs that appeared in Luca Pacioli's Divina proportione, published in Venice in 1509, provide a starting point for Fanti. He, however, pushed past the limits of Pacioli's theory of proportion by applying principles of geometry to extend the lines of his letterforms beyond the limits imposed by the proportionality of the circle and the square.

Sigismondo Fanti. Theorica et practica de modo scribendi fabricandique omnes litterarum species. Venice: Giovanni Rosso, December 1, 1514. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (46)

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Italian Translation of Dürer Design

Venice, 1515-16

This rare edition of Alexandro de Paganini's Apocalypse (left below) is illustrated with fifteen full-page woodcuts inspired by Albrecht Dürer's monumental images illustrating the text first printed for Dürer in 1498 and reissued in 1511. This woodcut of "Saint Michael fighting the Dragon" is about a third smaller than Dürer's original (right below) and is cut in reverse. The landscape at the bottom of the cut looks more Italian than German, and the figures in the image are more forward in the frame than they are in the original design. Whereas Dürer used very little cross-hatching to shade his figures, the designer of the Italian woodcut uses cross-hatching to darken his backgrounds, in the classical style. Otherwise the Italian cut follows Dürer's composition closely. The Italian version, though successful in many respects, suffers from an application of uniform lines that fill in space rather than clearly defining it. The Dürer woodcut also reflects the skills of the Nuremberg blockcutter. He translated Dürer's flicks and dashes by exquisitely fine cuts, producing an exciting rendering of Dürer's image.

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Influence of Milanese Portrait Style

Brescia, 1534

This second edition of the story of the martyrdom of Faustino and Jovita, two saints from Brescia put to death in 120 A.D., is illustrated with cuts that show the influence of Milanese portrait style. In this image of Saint Afra with a lion and dragon at her feet, the saint is well proportioned and sensitively portrayed. Particular skill is exhibited in the detailing of her eyes and nose, creating a very distinctive image of the early martyr's face. A cityscape, designed in proper perspective and balance, contributes to the overall effectiveness of the composition. Simply cut with thick contour lines and some shading, the woodcut of Saint Afra was executed by a very skilled hand. The cutter was most likely different from the cutter of the other woodcuts in the book.

Legenda ouero passione de li sancti martyri Faustino e Jouita cavalieri de Christo. Brescia: Damiano and Jacobus Philippum fratres, April 4, 1534. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (48)

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Classical Motifs in Mid-Sixteenth-Century Italian Woodcut Design

Venice, 1556

Tito Scandianese's didactic poem idealizing the sport of hunting was first published in 1556. It is illustrated with fifteen woodcuts in the text and includes woodcut head and tail pieces and foliated and historiated initial letters. In this example, the large cut is a well composed and balanced image, set in classical times and illustrated with classical motifs. The woodcut shows the goddess Minerva listening to Neptune, who gestures toward Arion, as he tells her the story of the creation of the first horse. Athena's costume and the figures of both Neptune and Arion are clearly articulated and expertly modeled by heavy shading. With the exception of the figure of Hermes winging his way across the sky, this woodcut is pleasing in both composition and detail. The large historiated woodcut initial letter was designed to echo the story of Neptune and Demeter and is cut in the same style and is of the same quality as the larger narrative woodcut. This two-page opening is beautifully balanced, demonstrating the sensitive integration of text and image that is the strongest characteristic of the book.

Tito Giovanni Scandianese. Libri della Caccia. Con la traduttione della Sfera di Proclo. Venice: Gabriele Giolito et fratelli, 1556. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (49)

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Woodcut with Intricate Designs

Venice, 1562

All the editions of Orlando Furioso printed by Vicenzo Valgrisi are illustrated with forty-six full-page woodcuts set within a border decorated with putti or grotesques. The "argomento," or theme, that introduces each poem is also set with a classical-style border. The border is followed by a large historiated initial letter and a two-column text set in a small italic typeface, creating a balanced and attractive typographical layout. All the images made for Valgrisi are cut in outline, with thicker lines used for contour and thinner lines and varied patterns of parallel lines for shading. In this image, five separate events are depicted in the block, but, unlike the clear narrative presented in the images created by earlier printers, the designs made for Valgrisi are difficult to decipher. Shaded areas dominate the cuts, and the meaning of the narrative is obscured under the weight of the muddied figures and crowded spaces. Over time, the problem of discerning meaning was compounded by the wearing of the woodblocks because of multiple use. Such wear is apparent here in the border enclosing the large block.

Ludovico Ariosto. Orlando Furioso. Venice: Vicenzo Valgrisi, 1562. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (50)

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First Edition of the Gospels Printed in Arabic

Rome, 1591

This volume is the first edition of the Gospels printed in Arabic. It is illustrated with 149 woodcuts, some of which are signed with the monograms of the Florentine artist Antonio Tempesta and the block cutter Leonardo Parasole. Tempesta was trained by the Flemish artist Joannes Stradanus, whose influence can be seen in his choice of everyday subjects and in his sweeping landscapes. This image of "Jesus at Jacob's Well Talking to the Samaritan Woman" is filled with Netherlandish characteristics, the most important of which is the artist's decision to make the Samaritan woman the focus of the woodcut. The casual setting and attitude of the figures, the flowing garments, the well-defined landscape and the clearly delineated cityscape all demonstrate Tempesta's training and experience. The artist has created a brilliantly crafted woodcut--extremely well balanced in its composition and its well-defined and uncluttered space The perspective sweeps from right to left, taking the viewer through all the elements of the Gospel story in a clear and complete manner. Leonardo Parasole's ability to match in cutting the quality of Tempesta's design lifts the woodcut from the realm of craft into that of fine art.

Evangelium sanctum domini nostri Jesu Christi. Rome: Typographia Medicea, 1591. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (51)

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Woodcut in the Style of a Metalcut

Basel, 1501

Jacob Wolff's edition of Aesop's life and fables is in two parts. Part I contains woodcuts in the medieval style, copied in reverse from original designs that appeared in Ulm in 1476-77. Part II is illustrated with woodcuts designed in the early 1490s that are more fully developed than the ones in Part I and represent the life and customs of the late fifteenth century. "The Bird Catcher" (left) depicts a figure dressed in contemporary costume, from the hat on his head to his britches and knee socks. The woodcut shows a trap and its construction, its placement in a clearing near a stand of trees, and the method used to control the trap by pulling two ropes. "The Ingenious Beavers," (right) illustrates a different contemporary scene, including an allegorical representation of the problem of river management that affected rural life at the time. Each woodcut is carefully executed with thin, closely spaced parallel lines that shade the figures and the landscape. They appear at first glance to shimmer with movement, an effect usually associated with metalcuts.

Aesop. Esopi Appologi siue mythologi cum quibusdam carminum et fabularum additionibus Sebastiani Brant. Basel: Jacobus Wolff de Pforzheim, 1501. Rosenwald Collection. Page 2. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (52)

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Only Known Copy

Paris, 1510

Popular literature of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries is notoriously scarce, and the works of Pierre Gringore, noted for his satire and humorous accounts of domestic relations, are no exception. This edition of Gringore's Castle of Labor includes designs that illustrate domestic life and labor in late medieval France. "The Workroom" (left) is a good example of the half-dozen images that depict working conditions of early modern tradesmen. Cut in outline and highlighted with shading, this interior image is filled with information about the activities and division of responsibilities in an artisan's shop. Tools are displayed, work stations are defined, and the craftsmen's skills at pattern design, burnishing, and assembly are clearly articulated. The workroom is a well-defined interior space. The craftsmen, each given an individual facial expression, are attired in contemporary costume. The black-ground woodcut (right) is from another series of images that represent the battles of virtues over vices, in this case "Sobriety versus Gluttony." The white-on-black style of these cuts, highlighted with dots, shading, decorated columns, and a floral foreground, creates a powerful contrast for representing the combat of good and evil.

Pierre Gringore. Le chasteau de labour. Paris: Jean Tréperel, 1510. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (53)

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Late-Fifteenth-Century Image of Peasants at Work

Paris, 1510

Simon Bougouyn's poem written in the form of a dialogue that describes the education of a prince is illustrated with fifty-two woodcuts. This image of "The Cultivators" is distinguished by finely carved figures placed in a clearly defined rural setting. This image first appeared in Jean Bonhomme's 1484 edition of Ruraulx Prouffitz. Like so many French woodcuts, it captures a contemporary view of everyday life where sowing seeds, tending the young growth, and harvesting the crop comprise the cycle of the growing season and set the pace of life in the countryside. The woodcut contains significant contemporary content, from the style of medieval costume and farm architecture, to the tools of the farmer's trade and the method of controlling root growth of a fruit tree. The 1514 edition of L'espinette du jeune prince are extremely rare, and this is the only copy in an American library.

[Simon Bougouyn]. L'espinette du jeune prince, conquerant le royaulme de bonne renommee. Paris: Michel Le Noir, 1514. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (54)

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Depiction of the Cycle of Life

Paris, 1515

Jean de la Garde's The Heart of Philosophy is a compilation of astrological and hermetic texts, originally printed in 1504. It is illustrated with sixty-two woodcuts and diagrams, including a series of foliated and calligraphic initial letters in various sizes, many decorated with grotesque faces. This woodcut of the "Cycle of Life" is one of the more complex images in the book. In a series of small spaces, the designer and cutter were able to present a complicated message, from the depiction of the zodiac signs in the outer ring to the inner ring, where more elaborate renderings illustrate the seasonal labors of man. The central image of the woman holding flowers against her womb represents fertility. In the lower half of the circle a man is placed in a barren landscape, comforted by fire alone. The clarity of each ring of the woodcut is enhanced by the amount of white space used to delineate the finely cut black lines. This black-on-white effect allows the parallel lines of the landscape and the scant shading of the garments to stand out and gives a dimensionality to the figures, especially those in the central roundel.

Le cuer de philozophie, tr.[aduit] de Latin en Francoys a la requeste de Philippe le bel roy de France. Paris: Jean de la Garde, [1515]. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (55)

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Monumental Design Probably by Vérard's "Chief Designer"

Paris, 1517

This rare edition of the 1517 French Bible contains 215 woodcuts, many originally designed for Antoine Vérard's earlier publications. This large "Adam and Eve in the Garden" was created for his 1498 edition of La Bible historiée, and used to illustrate the opening book of Genesis in all of his folio editions of the Bible. "Adam and Eve" is a complex image that symbolizes the root of human existence and the fall from grace that marked humankind. The circular composition of the woodcut set at the base of the Tree of Life is an effective device connecting the story of the Fall of Adam to future generations of humanity. The bodies of the figures are well proportioned and expertly modeled in pre-Renaissance style, with thick contours and some shading to give definition to the physical form. The heads of the animals in the foreground are well defined and sympathetically carved. The background, alive with activity, is an amalgam of plants, trees, and birds. No line or contour seems to be wasted or lost in the complexity of the image.

La premier [-second] volume de la bible en francoiz. Paris: Antoine Vérard, October 19, 1517. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (56)

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Woodcut in Second Quarter of the Sixteenth Century

Paris, 1530-31

This is the second edition of Raoul de Presles's French translation of Saint Augustine's City of God. This original full-page woodcut of "God Enthroned" is an excellent example of a woodcut from the second quarter of the sixteenth century. The border, decorated with a leaf-and- branch motif and grotesques, is cut in a simple outline with a few flicks and parallel lines to heighten the forms. This simple pattern lacks the detail of the complex border structures that evolved from the manuscript tradition of the medieval period. The central panel of the woodcut, with God on the throne surrounded by the symbols of the four Evangelists and a choir of angels, is well designed but its composition is formulaic. The image in the upper right, where the angel holds the banner of Matthew, is likewise well designed and executed. However, the presentation of the overall composition is flat and devoid of many of the artistic impulses that characterize French woodcuts from earlier in the century.

Saint Augustine. La Cité de Dieu. Paris: Nicolas Savetier for Jean Petit, April 22, 1530, June 7, 1531. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (57)

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Book on War

Paris, 1532

This later edition of Christian Wechel's printing of De re militari, sometimes listed under the title Scriptores re militaris, is illustrated with 119 full-page woodcuts depicting the art of war, the machinery of war, and some fantastic concepts for underwater assault. These two full-page woodcuts are typical of the images that complement these texts. Their designs purposefully depict the methods of war and provide significant content for the viewer. They show military machinery, inventions, assault tactics, weapons, and costumes of various orders of the military. The thick lines used for contours and shading and the liberal use of white space resemble the techniques of the late medieval style and demonstrate that these images are copies of much earlier designs. The woodcutter is not innovative in this 1532 edition but instead shows his ability to translate earlier designs in an efficient and predictable manner. Many mid-sixteenth-century woodcuts followed this formula, especially as more scientific and technical texts demanded clear and precise images

Flavius Renatus Vegetius. De re militari libri quatour. Paris: Christian Wechel, August 23, 1532. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (58)

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Important Source of Historical Information

This well-illustrated French language edition of the Comedies of the Roman playwright Terence contains a large woodcut and 155 half-page cuts, originally used in the 1493 edition of Terence printed in Lyon by Jean Treschel. This large woodcut shows a late medieval theater, complete with an interior view and a street scene in front of the theater where courtesans ply their trade. The interior view shows the stage with a lone musician to represent the orchestra, box seats, and three tiers of seats filled with theatergoers of various classes. The costumes are medieval in style, and their design demonstrates skill at creating contour, shading, and motion, especially in the figures in the foreground. Some of the facial characteristics are repetitive but the designer varies the figures by emphasizing an individual's eye or nose and differentiating them by adding beards and varying hairstyles or headdresses. The architectural component of the composition is equally well executed and demonstrates the designer's ability to use perspective as a tool. The designs demonstrate northern European characteristics and may be of German or Dutch origin.

Publius Terentius Afer. <em>[Comoedia.] Le grant therēce en francoys tāt En Rime que en Prose</em>. Paris: Guillaume de Bossozel for Guillaume le Bret, 1539. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (59)Enlarge

Publius Terentius Afer. [Comoedia.] Le grant therēce en francoys tāt En Rime que en Prose. Paris: Guillaume de Bossozel for Guillaume le Bret, 1539. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (59)

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A Masterpiece by Geoffrey Tory

Paris, 1542

This copy of Mallard's 1542 printing of this Tory Book of Hours is the only copy in an America library. It is illustrated with eighteen large woodcuts, five small woodcut, woodcut borders and initial letters after designs by Geoffrey Tory and first used in 1529. A few of the woodcuts are highlighted with light watercolor, now dulled by cleaning. The artistic rendering of the borders and the pair of woodcuts of the "Annunciation," are defined by an exceptional clarity of line, the precise use of shading, and by a skill at translation that transforms a well-known image into a tiny masterpiece. Tory created at least three other pairs of images of the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary for his various editions of the Book of Hours. But in this rendering the compositional structure, the physical representation of the figures, and the beauty of the two portraits, present refinements that are only hinted at in his other designs. Here, Tory combines characteristics of Renaissance painting learned during his tours of Italy at the beginning of the century with the French manuscript tradition of animated borders decorating missals and prayer books.

Horæ in laudem beatissimę virginis Mariæ ad usum Romanum. Paris: Olivier Mallard, 1542. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (60)

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Painterly in Composition, Correct in Anatomical Rendering

Paris, 1545

This first edition of Estienne's monumental work on the human body is illustrated with fifty-six full-page woodcuts attributed to the workshop of Geoffrey Tory and numerous smaller cuts and initials. The two full-page woodcuts of the female form are characteristic of the Renaissance woodcut during the middle of the sixteenth century in combining an emphasis on the artistic rendering of the human body with an exactitude demanded by modern scientific investigation. The sensual, almost erotic poses of the female figures highlight the influence of Italian Renaissance style on French design of the period. The woodcuts are painterly in their conception and suggest a sensitivity to portraiture. The shading and cross-hatching that defines these figures is highly detailed, and, along with the white space that illuminates the muscles of the legs and torso, the image beams with color and tone in the manner of an engraved print.

Charles Estienne. De dissectione partium corporis humani libri tres. Paris: Simon de Colines, 1545. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (61)

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Bernard Salomon and the Mannerist Style

Lyon, 1557

This edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses is illustrated with 176 woodcut designs by Bernard Salomon. These woodcut images depict the "Creation of Man" and the "Golden Age." The designs are fully realized in a small space and illustrate clearly defined figures created by freely drawn contour lines and heavy shading. The focus of each, the laying of hands by the Creator on the left and the Tree of Life on the right, are surrounded with classical references, as are all of the woodcuts Salomon designed to illustrate Ovid's world view. One of the most distinctive design elements visible in these two pages is the ornamental border that Salomon designed for this book. The parade of actors and grotesques illustrated at the top and bottom of the border on the right and the use of decorative motifs of the candelabra and the vase on the left are certainly French in character and tradition, but the style is new. Overblown ornamentation, exaggerated heads, hanging crabs and fish, and the jeweled quality of the interlocking pieces represent a formalization of the Renaissance style and reflect an aspect of the developing school of Mannerism.

Ovid. La metamorphose figurée. Lyon: Jan de Tournes, 1557. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (62)

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Poor Use of Perspective and Proportionality

Antwerp, ca. 1505

This is the first edition of Govaert Bac's printing of this collection of works by Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Theophrastus. The image that is illustrated here, "The Writer Offering His Book to the Prince," is a common motif, used all over Europe by artists offering their work to a patron. This one was first used by Bac for his edition of Albertus Magnus's Liber aggregationis, printed in 1498. This cut offers an important reminder of the difficulty both designers and woodcutters faced in creating perspective before Renaissance techniques revolutionized the art form. In this woodcut, all the architectural elements of the interior are askew. The bookshelves, the circular window, the ceiling arch, and the windows to the right are all hastily cut without attention to detail. The woodcutter attempted to create proper relationships but was simply not able to successfully calculate the proportional space effectively. Yet if one looks at the floor design it moves gracefully from front to back, and the lines of the two central figures are drawn and shaded in an adequate manner, though their facial features are not well delineated.

Aristotle. Quaestiones naturales. Antwerp: Govaert Bac, ca. 1505. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (63)

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Netherlandish Design from Block Book Tradition

Antwerp, ca. 1510

Henrick Eckert's printing of the first edition of Henricus van Santen's rare little devotional work is illustrated with a medieval design of the risen Christ reaching into the mouth of hell and offering salvation to the repentant, represented by Adam and Eve. The large opening of the mouth is well crafted, with piercing eyes and a large bulbous nose, and fills nearly half the space of the block. This motif is copied with variations from the block book tradition, especially the woodcut visions of hell that appear in editions of the Apocalypse. The image also displays a few of the stylistic advancements that Netherlandish woodcuts were undergoing at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The introduction of an architectural element in the background, the limited use of white space, and the distinctive facial characteristics of Christ and the figures of the saved are sixteenth century artistic elements that enhance this well-known medieval image. The addition of the rat running out of the mouth of hell adds a playful touch.

Henricus van Santen. Die collacē vander eewaerdigē. Antwerp: Henrick Eckert van Homberch, ca. 1510. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (64)

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Remarkable Portrait of St. Stephen

John of Hoveden's poem recounting the life of Christ is illustrated with a stunning portrait of Saint Stephen holding the palm of martyrdom and a stone, the instrument of his death. This remarkable work of originality and craftsmanship is designed and cut with such delicacy that it appears to be cut on metal. The design of the sleeves of the tunic, the blouse, and the folds at the neckline are rendered with the style and grace of a painter. The white oval of Saint Stephen's face with its deep brows and contoured mouth and chin contrasts beautifully with the black and white lines of hair that seems to be woven and perfectly set in place. The architectural background and the starry space behind the saint is cut in white on black and introduces a dreamy quality to the portrait. All these effects are heightened by the applied red wash that decorates the costume and lends a dramatic touch a wonderful woodcut portrait. Bound with Hoveden's poem is a calendar of feast days, illustrated with a woodcut cut in outline of Saint Francis receiving the stigmata.

Joannes Houden. Carmē rithmicū de passiōe Dňo. Ghent: Peter de Keysere, [1516]: Bound with: Calendarium fratrum minorum. Toulouse,: J. Colomies, ca 1550. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (65)

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Italian Influence on Flemish Style

Antwerp, 1537

This first edition of Guilielmus de Branteghem's compilation of stories from the New Testament is illustrated with woodcuts designed by Lieven de Witte, a painter, architect, and designer of woodcuts and stained glass. "Christ with His Doubting Brothers in Galilee," the woodcut used for the opening of John:7, illustrates De Witte's skill at creating a fully realized composition that combines a highly detailed background with the central passage of John's Gospel story. This woodcut captures a world in motion around Christ as he preaches to those who are about to judge him. This picture of a world rich in landscape and architectural detail portrays a city on the sea and evokes the lives of its inhabitants. On the right are two border blocks representing the "Soul of Lazarus" and the "Chains of Hell." The lower block is an image of some originality. It its design, with a contorted, oversized figure dominating the space and a fan of fire splayed in the background, almost presages the work of the eighteenth-century artist William Blake. The grotesque figures pulling at the chains are as muscular as the central figure, and the positions they hold reveal a sensitive understanding of the human form in motion.

Guilielmus de Branteghem. Jesu Christi vita, iuxta quatuor Evangelistarum narrationes. Antwerp: Matthaeus Cromme for Adriaen Kempe de Bouchout, December 24, 1537. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (66)

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Artistic Possibilities of Engraving

Antwerp, [1572]

This edition of stories of the life of Christ is one of two books with engravings that Rosenwald purchased at the Dyson Perrins sale. It contains seventy-two engraved plates, with designs by Pierre van der Borcht IV and Crispin van den Broeck. The image of the "Virgin and Elizabeth" captures the emotional meeting of the two women and focuses on their rush to embrace. The design is enhanced by the heavily shaded garments and the detailed view of the city in which their meeting takes place. Though the subject is classical, the view resembles a mid-sixteenth-century townscape and reflects the Dutch and Flemish tendency to use contemporary content to embellish their pictorial narratives. This plate is a wonderful example of how engraving images on metal offers the artist the opportunity to create details and tones not possible when working with wood. The enormous amount of detail, the richness of the tones and colors, and the ability to create very fine lines to emphasize a form or a facial feature drew sixteenth artists to the intaglio process. Engraving on copper plates remained the dominant medium of book illustration for three centuries.

Benedictus Arias Montanus. Humanae salutis monumenta. Antwerp: Christopher Plantin, [1572]. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (67)

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Impact of the Intaglio Process on the Woodcut

Antwerp, 1586

The first edition of Nicolay's travels to Turkey is illustrated with sixty full-page woodcuts designed by the author. Nicolay's designs concentrate on the dress of various Turkish, Armenian, Greek, and North African peoples. The "Turkish Mother and Her Children" is typical of the quality of his designs. The figures are well proportioned and spaced so that the costumes of the mother and children could be fully developed. The costumes of the young girl and boy demonstrate the high quality of the woodcut during the last quarter of the sixteenth century. The complex floral patterns are delicately cut and highlighted with an over layer of parallel lines that bring texture to the garments. This technique, along with the amount of cross-hatching used by the cutter, resembles the intaglio process and suggests that the woodcutter is applying methods developed on copper to embellish his woodblock. By 1576, when this block was made, the intaglio process was beginning to supersede the woodcut as the preferred method for creating images. This example shows the high degree of skill of the block cutter who executed this very detailed image.

Nicholas de Nicolay. Discours et histoire véritable des navigations, pérégrinations et voyages, faicts en la Turquie. Antwerp: Arnould Coninx, 1586. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (68)

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Stylized Initial Letter

Salamanca, 1506

Monumenta ordinis minorum contains documents, rules, and privileges regulating the Franciscan Order in Salamanca, Spain. This woodcut of the initial letter "S" is a variation on similarly styled letters used by Pedro Brun and Juan Gentil in Seville in the 1490s. They differ in that the two segments of the letter "S" are in the form of fish meeting at the center of the initial, rather than half-round designs cut in outline without embellishment. This highly stylized letter form is cut in black ground and decorated with acanthus leaves that mimic the shape of the fish. The deep black of the contours and central ovals are set against the translucent white of the vellum, creating a richness in the image that illuminates the finely cut lines and shading of the fish scales. As do some other Spanish woodcuts of the period, this distinctive image reflects the influences of Arabic patterns and designs.

Antonio del Rincon, Antonio de Medina, and Francisco de Ledesma. Monumenta ordinis minorum. Salamanca: Juan de Porras, July 1506. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (70)

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Northern European Influence on Early Spanish Printing

Saragossa, 1506

This rare Saragossa edition of Guillermus Parisiensis's commentaries on the life of Christ is illustrated with sixty-six woodcuts. The small woodcut "Jesus Presented at the Temple" is cut in simple outline with some parallel lines used for shading. The simplicity of its design and the uniformity with which the figures are rendered reflects a northern style based on medieval models. The contours of the image are clearly cut, and the garments of the high priest and Mary are well defined, but this image lacks the detail, flourish, and individual characteristics that appear in many Spanish woodcuts of the same period. In addition to reflecting its origins, the quality of the image suggests that its purpose was as a marker to the text rather than as an artistic element meant to enhance the narrative.

Guillermus Parisiensis. Postilla sive expositio epistolarum et evangeliorum. Saragossa: Georg Coci, 1506. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (71)

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Printed by one of Spain's Most Important Early Printers

Logroño, 1517

This is the first edition of one of the masterpieces of early Spanish printing, a work that chronicles the reign of Juan II (1406-54). The image is a monumental rendering of the king, with portraits of his family designed as part of the border. The care taken in depicting the horse and rider in motion suggests a skilled designer and cutter at work. Although the proportion of the rider to the horse is not quite right, the anatomy of the horse is well rendered, and the depiction of reins, harness, saddle and stirrups indicates a knowledge of equestrian equipment. Equally well executed are the king's facial features and his posture on the horse, as well as the rendering of his crown, gloves, and armor. The various costumes worn by his family provide significant information on the dress of the Spanish court in the early sixteenth century. The placement of the illustration opposite the two-column text printed in red and black, embellished with a woodcut initial letter showing Juan II on his throne, creates a well balanced and pleasing typographical arrangement.

Cronica del serenissimo Rey Don Juan II. Logroño: Arnao Guillen de Brocar, October 10, 1517. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (72)

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Rare Edition of Aesop Printed by Jacob Cromberger of Seville

Seville, 1521

This volume is the only known copy of Jacob Cromberger's 1521 edition of Aesop. It is illustrated with 192 woodcuts, woodcut initial letters, and woodcut scrolls that appear in the margins. These illustrations of Fables 9 through 12 from Book I provide a good example of the woodcuts that appear throughout the volume. All are simply designed narratives, cut with thick contour lines and repetitive parallel lines for shading but with little embellishment in the form of background or borders. The dominant use of white space for background and the flat white of the architectural structures recall the late medieval style of German woodcuts. The lack of detail suggests the work of a local cutter working from earlier designs. Fable 12, "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse," at the bottom of the right-hand page, shows a familiar image of the steward entering his larder. While the figure of the steward and the architectural design of the larder are adequate, the interior of the larder and the figures of the two mice are very poorly designed and cut, suggesting the work of an inexperienced hand.

Aesopus. Libro del sabio y clarissimo fabulador Ysopo historiado y annotado. Seville: Jacob Cromberger, 1521. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (73)

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Image of “Mary of the Apocalypse”

Toledo, 1526

This image of "Mary of the Apocalypse" is based on the vision recorded by Saint John in Revelation 12:1, a passage that took on great significance as the cult of the Virgin Mary emerged during the late medieval period. In the revelation, a woman holding a child in her left arm appears to Saint John. She is wearing a crown surrounded by twelve stars and is standing on a crescent moon with the sun at her back. The rays of the sun burst forth to create a circle of light around the woman and child. The cutting in this woodcut of "Mary of the Apocalypse" is very well executed. The motifs described by Saint John of the crown, stars, moon, and sun are clearly defined. The most striking aspect of the woodcut, however, is the precise and expressive facial characteristics given to the two figures. These details, combined with the sensitively formed hands of the Virgin and her flowing gown, highlighted with parallel lines and cross-hatching, reveal the hand of a highly capable cutter, skilled at translating the details of an intricate drawing into wood. This first edition of The Life of the Virgin printed in Catalan was translated by Juan de Molina from the Valencian dialect.

Miguel Pérez. La Vida y excellencias y milagros dela sacratissima Virgen Maria. Toledo: Miguel de Equia, November 29, 1526. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (74)

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Woodcuts Showing a Young Man's Education

Seville, 1526

Alfonso de la Torre wrote this allegorical work about the nature of knowledge and a liberal education in the 1440s, and the first printed edition was published in Barcelona in 1484. This edition, printed by Jacob Cromberger and his son Juan, is illustrated with 118 woodcuts and numerous black-ground and fine-line initial letters. The woodcuts trace the progress of a young man's education and illustrate the academy where a young boy is taught lessons in the mysteries of the natural world. The remaining series of woodcuts illustrate the lessons the boy may learn in music, rhetoric, and astronomy. Each illustration is cut with thick contours and highlighted with heavy shading. These woodcuts are not distinguished by skillful cutting but by their detailed designs, backgrounds, architectural settings, interiors, and costumes. This copy is one of two in the United States.

Alfonso de la Torre. Visión delectable dela philosophia et artes liberales. Seville: Jacob and Juan Cromberger, 1526. Rosenwald Collection. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (75)

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Sections:  Introduction | 15th Century | 16th Century