Source: Oxford University Press
1. Before the 15th century
Woodcut and stencil were probably the first printmaking processes to be employed in Europe, although an impression on vellum of a Crucifixion (sold Stuttgart, H. G. Gutekunst, 13 May 1907, lot 33), described as an ‘anonymous 12th-century metalcut’, appears to be a rubbing, made at an unknown date, from a Romanesque metal bookcover, perhaps a damaged champlevé enamel one. The date at which woodcut printing was first used in Europe cannot be precisely determined. In China, banknotes, block-books, devotional images and landscapes had all been printed on paper from wooden blocks for centuries before the method was employed in Europe. Indian techniques of printing textiles with a mordant or resist before dyeing them may also have spread to Europe in antiquity (see Indian subcontinent, §VII, 3(i) and (ii); see also Textile, §III, 1(ii)(b)). The surviving Late Antique fabrics found in Europe were, however, stamped directly with colour. This method was revived in the later Middle Ages, when fabrics were printed imitating expensive Asian textiles. Images of saints and biblical scenes were also printed on fabric. This may have been because paper was more expensive than cloth and often less readily available. Images on cloth could have been used in many ways unsuited to impressions on paper: sewn on to or into garments, and used as bandages, where their main purpose is likely to have been protection through the power of the saints depicted.
The invention of paper in China spread gradually through the Islamic world to reach Egypt and Morocco by AD 1100. The establishment of paper mills in Italy (1276), France (1348) and in the Holy Roman Empire (c. 1390) made it cheaper and more readily available. While this made it more attractive to printers, it had no great advantage over fabric as a support for religious images. The need to print playing cards on a material that could be stiffened easily may have led printers to favour paper. The growing popularity of gaming from the late 14th century soon encouraged mass production of playing cards by stencilling and/or printing. The early packs wore out and were discarded, so that only a few high-quality painted packs have survived. The printing of playing cards and pious images probably developed in parallel, for there are records of printed images of saints made around the last decade of the 14th century.
Style alone cannot provide precise dates and locations for the production of the earliest woodcuts, which are in the International Gothic style, characterized by similarities between the works produced in different geographical areas. The provenance of impressions is probably indicative of where prints were preserved rather than of where they were produced. The earliest apparent references to the technique point to its use in Italy and in Burgundy. However, only three Italian woodcuts exist that have been even tentatively dated to before 1400; the one most likely to be early is the fragmentary Trinity with Saints (s. 749f), which, like the majority of surviving early Italian woodcuts, is in the collection of Jacopo Rubieri (now Ravenna, Bib. Com. Classeuse). In 1393 the Duke of Burgundy paid a carpenter, Jehan Baudet, for producing ‘moles et tables…à la devise de Beaumez’ for the Chartreuse de Champmol, near Dijon; these were probably woodblocks, after designs by the Flemish artist Jean de Beaumetz, for printing images on either fabric or paper. There is documentary evidence for the production of images of saints in Venice (probably by means of woodblocks) from 1396, when St Catherine of Siena (1347–80) was first venerated there. However, no late 14th-century image of St Catherine of Siena has survived. During the investigation into her possible canonization, evidence was presented that a devotee had arranged that an image of her, ‘easy to multiply on pieces of paper, should be shown with her attributes’ and that ‘several thousand of these images have been made, so that no small quantity has been distributed both in Venice itself and in the countries mentioned before [Poland, Germany, Byzantium, Dalmatia and various Italian states] and what is more this is the origin of the fact that today the images of the various saints on their feast days are multiplied on such pieces of paper’. The omission of France and Spain from the above list of countries may be significant, for printed images seem to have met with strong opposition from the guild of imagiers in France and to have been treated as illicit goods, which may have hampered trade in devotional woodcuts there. Playing cards, however, spread rapidly. By 1382 they were so common that at Lille card games were banned as a serious distraction from archery practice. This suggests that cards were already being mass-produced cheaply, by either woodcut or stencils.
2. 15th century.
Early in the century woodcut was the chief printmaking medium, although stencils were also employed. It was used almost entirely to produce playing cards and religious images, including indulgences and New-Year-greetings sheets. The earliest woodcuts were often powerful, imaginative designs, made to be coloured by hand or stencil, which gives them the effect of stained glass. As the blocks deteriorated and they were copied by lesser craftsmen, many woodcuts of mediocre quality resulted. Many early woodcuts were pinned or pasted to walls, cupboard doors, small altars and tombs, carried as personal protection or even printed on bandages in the hope of promoting healing. They soon became torn and dirty, to be discarded and replaced by other images. Only a tiny fraction has survived, usually because they were pasted into books or used as scrap materials in book covers. Most are either unique or extremely rare.
In the second half of the century woodcut was also used for block-books and illustrations in typographical books, alphabets, book plates and bookcovers, and for portraits, maps, song-sheets, broadsheets, almanacs and other printed ephemera. The main centres of production were in the Holy Roman Empire, Italy and the Netherlands; later in the century France also played a significant role. Other countries produced few woodcuts, and these were mostly for book illustrations. The woodcuts that appear to belong to the earliest phase include the splendid large Christ before Herod (Schreiber, no. 265) and the fragmentary double-sided woodblock known as the Bois Protat, with images of the Annunciation and the Crucifixion (s 1h and 1i). It was found, together with some other, completely worm-eaten, blocks, near the abbey of La Ferté-sur-Grosne in Burgundy. This led to an attribution to the Burgundian school for the group. They are powerful images with the long, flowing lines characteristic of the International Gothic, dagged garments, large, expressive hands and angular brow-lines. However, they resemble Bohemian biblical drawings of c. 1390–1430 and may have originated there. The same is true of a small Crucifixion (sold London, Sotheby’s, 1 Dec 1986, lot 50) and an early Flagellation (s 288), usually considered to be French.
(ii) Holy Roman Empire
The date and place of origin of the above works are uncertain, but various others that are broadly similar were probably made in the Salzburg region or Upper Bavaria in the early 15th century. They include Christ Carrying the Cross (s 336m), St Erasmus (s 1410d) and an important group of early 15th-century woodcuts in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich, with scenes from the Life of the Virgin, Crucifixions and saints, including St Dorothy (s 1394) and St Sebastian (s 1677). There are significant holdings of similar woodcuts in Nuremberg (Ger. Nmus.), Graz (Ubib.), Berlin (Altes Mus.) and Paris (Bib. N.). In these early cuts the outlines are thick and flowing, and some of the impressions have the background obscured by a brownish-black tint, leaving the graceful figures in silhouette. They wear softly draped garments with Y- and J-shaped folds, which fall in loops and hairpin bends and crumple gently at the hem. This looping soon became a mannerism, and in some cuts of c. 1420, such as St Dorothy (s 1395), St Christopher (s 1352) and St Wolfgang (s 1733; destr. 1942), it is quite exaggerated. The Lambach Pietà (s 972a) and a larger Pietà with the Instruments of the Passion (Stogdon, no. 1) have equally complex fold patterns. Carved wooden Pietàs were produced in southern Germany and widely exported. The woodcuts are probably based on such carvings, and other prints of figures on plinths, benches or thrones probably also reflect a copy of sculpture. Indeed wood-carving workshops may have produced woodcuts after their own statues.
The existence of early copies, some unrecognized, complicates dating. Two famous Bohemian woodcuts in Vienna (Albertina), the Holy Family and St Jerome (s 637 and 1536), bear signs of being copies of important, lost, early woodcuts: the actions are carried out with the left hand, and there are areas (e.g. in the landscape behind St Jerome) where the cutter has misunderstood the image. These woodcuts are datable to c. 1410–30; the originals would have been earlier, so Bohemia may have been in the forefront of the development of woodcut. Bohemia had been relatively little affected by the Black Death, and the emperor Charles IV’s patronage had led to a flowering of the arts there in the later 14th century. Other early Bohemian woodcuts, the Adoration of the Magi (s 97a), the Throne of Mercy (s 736; destr. 1942) and the Virgin Enthroned (s 1114; destr. 1942), should perhaps be dated to c. 1400–10 or even earlier. The same is true of the Virgin of Lyon (s 1069), often attributed to the French school but very similar to the Virgin Enthroned. They appear to relate to 14th-century Bohemian paintings and to Bohemian manuscripts of the late 14th century and the early 15th.
The first woodcut with a reasonably reliable date is from 1423. This is St Christopher (s 1349) from Buxheim Monastery. (A cut in the Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels, dated perhaps misleadingly 1418 is discussed in §(iii) below.) Five other woodcuts, believed to come from the Upper Rhine area, may be grouped together with it: an Annunciation (s 28) from the same source, a Nativity and an Adoration of the Magi (s 84 and 98) and a double sheet of St Gertrude and St Apollonia (s 1454a and 1234x). They have quite fully developed backgrounds, thinner lines, shading in the folds of the rather angular draperies, and inscriptions that are sometimes on banderoles. This all suggests a designer who was in touch with recent developments in the Netherlands.
The earliest woodcut signature, ierg haspel ze Bibrach, is on a fine image of St Bernard Embraced by the Crucified Christ (s 1271). Nagler quoted a death date of 1430–40 for Jerg Haspel, but his authority for this is unknown. Biberach is in Swabia, an important area for woodcut production. The style of the work is simple and direct, with curved hooks and Y-folds and without over elaborate looped draperies. A similar approach appears in the Maihingen Pietà (s 973) and in St Christopher (s 1350a). These all have the thinner line characteristic of woodcuts of c. 1430–40. The designs of two outstanding woodcuts of this period, an Annunciation and a Visitation (s 25b and 52b), resemble the paintings of the Master of the St Lambrecht Votive Panel. They are still almost without hatching lines but have elaborate and detailed backgrounds, a feature that became increasingly common in the middle decades of the century. Some outstanding examples are the Agony in the Garden, the Last Supper, the Martyrdom of St Sebastian and the Beheading of St John the Baptist (s 184, 166a, 1516, 1676c). A mid-century woodcut of the Mass of St Gregory (s 1471), signed Bastion Ulmer (Sebastian of Ulm, fl 1460), is the first signed print from this important centre of woodcut production; an ‘Ulrich Formschneider’ was recorded there as early as 1398, and eight blockcutters worked there in 1441–7. Woodcuts of the Virgin and Child were always in demand. Particularly striking are a half-length version (s 1023), probably of the 1440s, and another printed in white on green-tinted paper (s 1048b), to form a highly decorative devotional panel.
From the 1430s goldsmiths adapted their chasing techniques to produce copperplate-engravings printed on paper. The higher status of their craft and the finer detail achieved meant that engravings were valued more highly than woodcuts. Nevertheless, woodcuts had many advantages: they were cheap and fairly quick to produce; they could be printed in larger editions, together with type; and designers could delegate the labour of cutting. However, European woodcutters increasingly emulated the linear qualities of engravings, instead of developing woodcut’s potential for printing tone, colour and texture as well as outlines.
During the late 15th century woodcut was developed into a flexible medium for reproducing hatched and cross-hatched line drawings. This took time, and some of the earlier, hatched cuts were aesthetically less pleasing than the unshaded images that had preceded them. As designers and cutters became more expert, techniques improved, and hatching lines ceased to sprout from the outlines like rigid combs. Comparison between the illustrations to the Cologne Bible of 1478–9 (e.g. London, BL, no. IB3837) and the Lübeck Bible of 1494 (e.g. London, BL, no. IC9954) indicate the advances made. The best designers of the 1480s and 1490s, such as Erhard Reuwich, Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, started to employ more flexible, form-following methods of shading, preparing the way for Albrecht Dürer, who transformed the medium between 1496 and 1511. Hans Burgkmair and Mair von landshut also designed some woodcuts in the new manner in the 1490s and made early experiments in printing in colour and on tinted paper.
One innovation that was only sporadically followed up in the 15th century was the use of colour-printing, for instance in initials by Johannes Fust (c. 1400–66) and Peter Schoeffer (c. 1425–1502) in the Psalter published at Mainz in 1457. They were printed, from either wood blocks or metal casts of such blocks, in red or blue and red combined. In 1485 the Augsburg printer Erhard Ratdolt ( fl 1467–1516), working in Venice, produced an edition of the Sphaera mundi, the astronomical treatise written by John Holywood, with diagrams printed in several colours. Venetian printers continued to use colour after Radolt returned to Augsburg in 1486. There he seems to have been involved in the printing of Burgkmair’s work in colour and in the development of chiaroscuro woodcuts, and perhaps also of white-line woodcutting.
(iii) The Netherlands
The small number of surviving woodcuts from the Netherlands (and from France) may be due to the destruction of images by Calvinist iconoclasts, the dispersal of monastic libraries during the French Revolution (1789–95) and the Revolutionary Wars. Both were, however, important centres for illuminated manuscripts, so there may have been opposition to printed images, which would threaten the illuminators’ livelihoods. Most early Netherlandish woodcuts have thin lines and are often printed in brownish ink. The much damaged Virgin and Child in a Hortus Conclusus (s 1160) bears the earliest date found on a woodcut—1418; a better preserved undated copy is in St Gallen (s 1161). Its similarity in linear style and shading to mid-century block-books has led many scholars to see it as a later copy with the date repeated. However, the style reflects the angular fold-structure of paintings c. 1420–40 by the Master of Flémalle and Jan van Eyck, so the date could be authentic. Two sensitively cut early Netherlandish woodcuts are the Man of Sorrows (s 864), in the manner of the Master of Flémalle, and the monumental Prophet and Sibyl (s 2008f). The latter has square-ended and 7-shaped pot-hooks in the drapery folds, like two further Netherlandish woodcuts, the Last Judgement and the Virgin and Child in the Vine Arbour (s 607 and 1168). This drapery style is usually dated to the mid-15th century, but again it may well be earlier.
Two woodcuts with Dutch inscriptions (and so undoubtedly from the Netherlands) are the mid-century Mass of St Gregory (s 1462) in pure outline and the Virgin and Child in a Glory (s 1108) of c. 1460, which has shading on some of the rays of the glory. The Crucifixion (830×535 mm) is a rare example of a very large-format woodcut. Stylistically it resembles the first edition of the Netherlandish Apocalypse block-book in Munich, as does a St George Slaying the Dragon (s 1448). A Grotesque Alphabet (s 1998) in the British Museum, London, has outlines fringed with tapered ‘teeth’, which are characteristic of images in Netherlandish block-books. Other Netherlandish woodcuts of the third quarter of the century have more extensive shading, for instance large images of St John the Baptist and St Christopher (s 1518) and a Virgin Suckling the Child (s 1039b).
(iv) France, Spain and England
No woodcut of before 1450 can definitely be ascribed to the French school. Some crudely cut fragments of friezes of the Passion (s 21c) and the Life of St Catherine (see 1977 exh. cat.) probably date from the mid-15th century, as does the double image of the Trinity and the Adoration of the Relics of St Claude (s 736b and 1080m). A slightly later series of the Apostles, the Credo and the Ten Commandments (s 1759), with French inscriptions, is akin to the Netherlandish Apocalypse block-book in character. However, the faces of the Nine Heroes (s 1945) resemble those in early French playing cards. Also characteristically French are illustrations depicting the activities of Death, such as the Men’s Dance of Death and the Women’s Dance of Death, published by Guy Marchant in 1485–6, and Pierre Le Rouge’s Danse macabre hystoirée (1492). Even more powerful are Robert Gobin’s Dance of Death woodcut illustrations in Les Loups ravissans (Paris, c. 1505), which are slashed into the block in an almost expressionistic manner. The woodcut fragment representing The Prophet Moses and the Erithrean Sibyl (Courboin, no. 150) is a very striking image—presumably from a series of Prophets and Sibyls.
The practice of selling cash-boxes and caskets with devotional images pasted into the lids as protection ensured the survival of a number of late 15th-century French woodcuts (examples, Paris, Bib. N.). These include scenes from the Life of the Virgin and of Christ, and images of saints with characteristic colouring in shades of red, green, brown and purple. Most of them resemble the precise and distinctive illustrations in the Books of Hours that became a speciality of Parisian publishers in the last decades of the century. A Martyrdom of St Erasmus (s 1410) is very similar stylistically. The fragment of an image of King Henry VI Invoked as a Saint (Dodgson, 1915, no. 21), perhaps the most important 15th-century woodcut issued in England, resembles Parisian work, and it was probably commissioned in France. Several late 15th-century woodcuts, including St Bonaventura at Lyon and the Two Saints Roch and the Two Saints John (s IX, 1282x, 1669m and 1518g), may have been cut in Savoy, or in Lyon; the latter was to become an important centre of book illustration. A few single-sheet woodcuts have survived from the south of France, including a large Crucifixion (s 370i), apparently influenced by Neapolitan or Spanish book illustration. In Spain and England woodcut was employed for book illustration, and Spanish books have some very fine white-line borders. Hardly any single-sheet woodcuts are known. In England (a country not otherwise to the forefront of printmaking) the so-called Schoolmaster Printer of St Albans produced the Chroniclis of Englonde (1485) with red initials and the Bokys of Haukyng and Huntynge and Blasyng of Armys (1486), with the arms printed in up to three colours.
Italian imperial size paper was of larger format than papers elsewhere, so large Italian woodcuts such as the following examples could be printed without joins. The Virgin of the Fire (Forlì Cathedral) is revered as the wooduct saved from a fire in 1428; although it is not in the International Gothic style then current in northern Italy, scholars’ doubts about its authenticity are probably unfounded, for the facial features have affinities with early Venetian devotional paintings and with the woodcut of the Trinity with Saints. Two other fine, large images of the Virgin and Child (s 1158 and 1058) are probably of mid-century date. They represent a type of devotional woodcut that provided a cheap substitute for painted images of the Virgin, and one is still pasted on to panel. A Virgin Suckling (s 1041) with delicate Paduan-style swags of fruit is a slightly later example.
There is more evidence of Italian woodcut production of c. 1430–40. In 1430 ‘woodblocks for playing cards and saints’ were in the possession of a card-maker, Antonio da Giovanni di Ser Francesco, at Florence, while in 1440 a Paduan notary drew up a legal instrument according to which Magister Jacobus, a German dyer of skins, was to sell to Magister Cornelio de Flandria woodcuts printed and coloured, ‘as was usually done’, to the value of 20 golden ducats. The prices listed for individual images make it clear that c. 3500 impressions were involved. They were probably Italian, as the subjects correspond closely to those of the surviving Italian woodcuts in Ravenna. In 1441, however, the woodcutters and playing-card makers asked the Venetian Council for protection from foreign imports, which were ruining their trade.
Many of the woodcuts collected by Rubieri have affinities with Venetian and north Italian painting of c. 1430–60, notably that of Michele Giambono, Jacobello del Fiore, Antonio Vivarini and Gentile da Fabriano. A striking Martyrdom of St Sebastian relates closely to a Venetian miniature of 1436 attributed to Cortese. The foliated ogee arches of the frames surrounding St Philip Benizzi (s 1651) and St Bartholomew (s 1267), and the elaborate thrones on which other saints are seated, probably indicate a mid-15th century date for many of the designs, though there has been a tendency to date them later. The gentle images of female saints, especially the two versions of St Claire of Assisi in Ravenna (Bib. Com. Classeuse; s 1380) and Washington, DC (N.G.A.; s IX, 1756), and the St Catherine of Siena in Basle (s 1345), resemble early paintings of the Virgin by Jacopo Bellini.
Mendicant friars and other orders made use of woodcuts in their teaching and preaching activities. Images of Franciscan and Dominican saints and of St Augustine feature prominently among the surviving Italian woodcuts of c. 1450–80. Groups exist that are clearly connected in style, such as the Augustinian and Dominican saints in Ravenna (Bib. Com. Classeuse) and Washington, DC (N.G.A.); and the pairs of Lombard woodcuts of Franciscan saints in Ravenna (Bib. Com. Classeuse; s 1423 and 1987 exh. cat., no. 17) and Washington, DC (N.G.A.).
The finest 15th-century Italian single-sheet woodcuts are comparable in quality to the superb book illustrations made in Venice and Florence in the last decades of the century. One outstanding woodcut of St Anthony of Padua (s 1233) is clearly related to the intarsia reliquary cabinets of 1472–7 by Lorenzo Canozi and Christoforo Canozi in the basilica of S Antonio in Padua. Similar skills were required for the production of woodcuts and intarsia, and the woodcut was probably both designed by the Canozi and executed in their workshop. Though somewhat stiffly cut, a Venetian woodcut of the Naval Battle of Zonchio (1499) foreshadows 16th-century narrative woodcuts.
Italian woodcuts often have very decorative borders. Two fine, large late 15th-century Lombard woodcuts of Christ Carrying the Cross and the Man of Sorrows (s 919 and 855) based on designs in the manner of Andrea Solario or Gian Francesco de’ Maineri have elaborate white-line scroll frames. A Florentine woodcut of the Flagellation (Hind, ii, pp. 449–50) of much the same period, which has a comparable border, is related stylistically to the work of Filippino Lippi. As in many Florentine book illustrations, white-line work was also used for the ground on which the figures are standing. Another high-quality Florentine devotional work, in the style of Raffaellino del Garbo, is the Virgin and Child with St John (s 1137).
3. 16th century.
(i) Holy Roman Empire
The most influential of all 16th-century woodcut designers was the Nuremberg artist Albrecht Dürer. He would have learnt the art of woodcut during his apprenticeship with the painter Michael Wolgemut, who designed illustrations for the publications of Dürer’s godfather, Anton Koberger. Dürer was also influenced by the outstanding woodcuts for the Dance of Death (1489) and the Bible (1494) published in Lübeck. He demanded equally high standards from the cutter responsible for the blocks for his own early publications. These show a marked improvement in cutting over those that he designed for other publishers during his journeyman years. Dürer’s woodcut production had begun c. 1492. His early masterpieces of c. 1496–8 include the Apocalypse series, Samson and the Lion and the Knight and the Landsknecht (all Hollstein: Ger., nos 163–178, 107 and 265). He would have seen Venetian woodcuts on his first visit to Italy in 1494–5, but he did not adopt the Venetian outline style. The woodcuts that he published on his return have the outlines and areas of emphasis cut into the surface of the block so that they are printed under strong pressure. The shading lines, which follow and define the forms, are cut into curved planes which are carved down from the surface; they are printed under weaker pressure, giving greater variety of line. Parallel and crosshatched tonal shading is usually restricted to skies and deeply shadowed areas. Tonal shading is much more extensive in the woodcuts produced after his second visit to Italy in 1505–7, as may be seen by comparing the early blocks for the Large Woodcut Passion cycle and the Life of the Virgin (c. 1503–5 and 1510–11; Hollstein: Ger., nos 188–207) with those added in 1510–11. The simpler, linear patterns of the later cuts created designs that were serene and less restless; what was lost in vigour of line was gained in tonal consistency and balance. The influence of Venetian art undoubtedly contributed to Dürer’s change from a linear to a tonal approach, but his drawings on green prepared paper, made in 1503–4 before his second visit to Venice, already indicate his interest in chiaroscuro effects.
The reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I coincided with and encouraged a revival of German art. However, the Emperor, lacking the money to organize and build all his grandiose artistic and architectural projects, often had to be satisfied with publishing them as woodcut designs. Dürer’s late woodcuts include the portrait of Maximilian I (1518–19; Hollstein: Ger., no. 255), his Small Triumphal Chariot (c. 1518; Hollstein: Ger., no. 252) and the overall design of the huge, composite Triumphal Arch (3409×2922 mm, 1515–17; Hollstein: Ger., no. 251), for which he also produced some blocks (Hollstein: Ger., nos 251–2, 255). Other designers from Dürer’s circle involved in work for the Emperor include Hans Schäufelein, Hans Springinklee and Wolf Traut. Schäufelein later produced a nine-sheet Triumphal Procession of the Emperor Charles V (1537; Dodgson, ii, pp. 49, 220). The Triumphal Arch Erected for Charles V’s Entry into Nuremberg in 1541 was also recorded probably by Peter Flötner (Hollstein: Ger., no. 27), a Swiss artist who also made fine white-line ornament woodcuts, broadsheets and designs for beds and architectural details.
Augsburg was the leading centre for the development of the colour woodcut, with the publisher Erhard Ratdolt apparently playing a major role. He had earlier published colour woodcuts in Venice. The woodcut by Lucas Cranach I of St George (1507–8; Hollstein: Ger., no. 81), which was printed on blue, prepared paper in black and adhesive dusted with gold to imitate manuscript illumination, was sent from Saxony to the imperial court at Augsburg. It appears to have inspired the earliest proofs of Burgkmair’s Maximilian I on Horseback and St George (both 1508; Hollstein: Ger., nos 253 and 323). They were printed on tinted paper in black and in an adhesive, on to which gold, silver or a mixture of the two was dusted. Ratdolt was probably responsible for this early use of metallic pigments for prints in Augsburg and may also have cut the additional blocks that transformed them into chiaroscuro woodcuts. These were to become more popular than polychrome woodcuts. The latter technique was, however, employed by Burgkmair and Weiditz for heraldic woodcuts and also by Altdorfer.
In the 1490s Hans Burgkmair the elder had produced illustrations for the Augsburg publisher Erhard Ratdolt, including a colour-printed Crucifixion (Hollstein: Ger., no. 46). He was much influenced by Dürer’s woodcuts, and after his visit to Italy (1507), Italian motifs are evident in his work. Burgkmair and another Augsburg designer, Leonard Beck, played a very important part in Maximilian I’s books and woodcut projects, including the illustrations to Melchior Pfinzing’s Der Theuerdanck (1511–17; Hollstein: Ger., nos 416–30) and to Marx Treitzsaurwein’s Der Weisskunig (pubd 1775). Burgkmair designed the Genealogy of the Emperor Maximilian I (1509–12; Hollstein: Ger., nos 324–415) and Beck the Saints Connected with the House of Habsburg (1510–22; Hollstein: Ger., no. 12). Burgkmair also designed many blocks for Treitzsaurwein’s Triumphal Procession of Maximilian I (c. 1516–18, pubd 1526; Hollstein: Ger., nos 552–618), on which he collaborated with Albrecht Altdorfer, Hans Springinklee and others. Hieronymus Andreae (d 1556) and Jost de Negker directed the cutting of the blocks for the imperial projects, and these collaborative publications led to a rapid spread of tonal shading and of improved cutting techniques in the Holy Roman Empire. The names of some of the other cutters are known; they include Hans Frank (Lützelburger; before 1495–1526), Cornelis Liefrinck I (c. 1480–c.1545), Alexis Lindt ( fl c. 1500–25), Wolfgang Resch (c. 1480–after 1537), Clause Seman, Hans Taberth and Jan de Bom (all fl c. 1510–17). The Emperor’s death in 1519 delayed the publication of several of his woodcut projects and led to the dispersal of the teams of woodcutters to other parts of Europe.
In 1524–7 Burgkmair designed four large and dramatic woodcuts representing the Fall of Man (959×663 mm), the Agony in the Garden (970×663 mm), the Crucifixion (959×671 mm) and the Mater Dolorosa (954×670 mm; Hollstein: Ger., nos 1, 40, 48 and 79). Published in the imperial city of Augsburg, they represent a powerful reaffirmation of traditional religious imagery at a time when Lutheranism was gaining ground. The woodcut by Hans Weiditz (ii) of the Emperor Maximilian Hearing Mass probably dates from c. 1519; his most striking single cut is a twelve-part Bird’s-eye View of Augsburg (1521; Geisberg, nos 1524, 1530–41). The son of a sculptor in wood, he was a caricaturist and an illustrator of great sensitivity who worked in both Augsburg and Strasbourg.
The highly expressive woodcuts produced by Lucas Cranach I in Bavaria or Austria, before his appointment to the Saxon court in 1505, include the dramatic Crucifixion (1502) and a further Crucifixion and Christ on the Mount of Olives (c. 1502; all Hollstein: Ger., nos 25–6 and 24). His Venus and Cupid (1506; Hollstein: Ger., no 105) shows the influences of Dürer and Jacopo de’ Barbari in the tectonic, three-dimensional rendering of the nude. However, in general Cranach preferred to let his figures merge into the landscape, as in the Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1509), St George Slaying the Dragon (c. 1512), the Judgement of Paris (1508) and the Boar-hunt (c. 1507; Hollstein: Ger., nos 7, 82, 104 and 113). His tournament and hunting woodcuts vividly evoke the life of the Saxon court. Cranach was greatly affected by the Reformation, because the Saxon electors supported Luther, and many of his later woodcuts were illustrations to the Old Testament. With his son Lucas Cranach II and Hans Brosamer, he produced Lutheran propaganda and many portraits of Lutheran theologians, the Saxon ruling house and other supporters of the Protestant cause.
Albrecht Altdorfer was an engraver and etcher, as well as a woodcut designer. Even in woodcut he tended to work on a small scale, creating finely graduated crosshatched shadows requiring very precise cutting, notably in his tiny illustrations to the Passion (1515; Hollstein: Ger., nos 1–40). His lyrical landscape style may be seen in two woodcuts of St Christopher (1513 and c. 1515–20), and also in St George (1511) and the Judgement of Paris (1511; Hollstein: Ger., nos 56–8 and 75). Altdorfer’s figures, like Cranach’s, often seem to merge into their settings. The first state of his Beautiful Virgin of Regensburg (c. 1519–20; Hollstein: Ger., no. 52) was printed in colour from six blocks c. 1519–20. During the same period Michael Ostendorfer made woodcuts of the Pilgrimage Church of the Beautiful Virgin of Regensburg (1520) and of Hans Hieber’s design for the proposed New Church of the Beautiful Virgin (c. 1521; Hollstein: Ger., nos 6–7). He later produced the Hunting Party in Lors Forest (1543; Hollstein: Ger., no. 10) and many fine book illustrations. The landscape of the Danube Valley featured in the woodcuts of Wolfgang Huber, Georg Lemberger and other members of the Danube school. Huber was unusual in illuminating many of his landscapes from behind with the sun’s rays casting shadows towards the foreground, as in the ‘Large’ Crucifixion, St Christopher and St George (all c. 1520; Hollstein: Ger., nos 5, 9 and 10).
hans Baldung spent some time in Dürer’s workshop and was much influenced by the latter’s early woodcuts; however, his wiry, energetic line is more abstract. He often adopted a Mannerist approach to Dürer prototypes, twisting them into something less classical and tectonic and more selfconsciously linear. When Baldung was working at Strasbourg after c. 1511, his style became broader and more emotive, perhaps under the influence of Grünewald, and he developed clearer, more rational shading patterns. Unlike Dürer, who in his later work reduced tonal contrasts and hatched much of the block, Baldung made more use of areas of white-line work and isolated, wiry, black outlines. Notable woodcuts of 1511–16 are the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Lamentation, Christ Carried to Heaven by Angels, St Christopher, St Jerome, St Sebastian and the Fates (Hollstein: Ger., nos 6–7, 53, 56, 116, 121, 128 and 236). The Reformation affected Strasbourg profoundly; after 1520 Baldung’s graphic work consisted chiefly of portraits and of secular subjects, such as the series of Wild Horses in a Wood (1534) and the Bewitched Groom (1544; Hollstein: Ger., nos 238–40 and 237), which are drawn with very fine lines and tonal hatching.
The younger Nuremberg artists and engravers Barthel Beham, Hans Sebald Beham and Georg Pencz also designed woodcuts. Although Dürer’s influence is clear early in their careers, it diminished following their banishment from Nuremberg for ‘godlessness’, the Italian journeys of Pencz and Barthel Beham, and the latter’s move to work for the Wittelsbach court at Munich. There were no great patrons of woodcut there, but a series of planets and some large woodcuts of battles and banquets by Sebald Beham, Schäufelein, Jörg Breu (ii) and Heinrich Vogtherr (i) appear to have been influenced by the Wittelsbach taste for Italianate subjects and stories of Classical or Old Testament heroes and heroines. They probably reflect the subject-matter of lost secular mural decorations.
One of the most interesting woodcut designers of the mid-16th century was Matthias Gerung from Nördlingen. His anti-Catholic allegories and apocalyptic images produced mostly in the 1540s sometimes draw on the work of Dürer but usually approach the subject in new ways. Heinrich Aldegrever of Soest was primarily an engraver, but from 1528–36 he made nine woodcuts, including two in circular format, and some portraits of Anabaptist leaders. Anton Woensam’s designs are mostly on a small scale and rather tightly drawn. However, his most striking woodcut is a nine-sheet panoramic View of Cologne (1531; Geisberg, nos 1, 562–70), where he worked. Ambrosius Holbein and Hans Holbein the younger were accomplished and prolific designers of woodcut book illustrations for publishers in Basle and Lyon. These were mostly in a miniature format, probably inspired by Altdorfer, expertly cut by Hans Lützelburger and Veit Specklin. The Swiss painter Niklaus Manuel Deutsch designed a set of ten Wise and Foolish Virgins (1518, Hollstein: Ger., nos 1–10), where even the wise virgins have the allure of temptresses. Urs Graf was more prolific; his most striking plates are Two Mercenaries, a Woman and Death (1524) and the white-line woodcuts: the series of 16 Standard-bearers of the Swiss Confederacy (1521) and the Satyr’s Family (1520; Hollstein: Ger., nos 28, 29–44 and 47). White-line had previously been used for the borders of woodcuts and for the designs of textiles depicted in them. It had also been employed for illustrations to two works by Oswald Pelbart, including his Pomerium de Sanctis Pelbarti ordims Santi Francisci (Augsburg, c. 1502), and for the tone-blocks of chiaroscuro woodcuts.
The next generation of woodcut designers tried to refine the medium by imitating engraved lines as closely as possible. Anton Möller (i) and Melchior Lorch emulated swelling-line engravings; the latter’s Dead Father and his Three Sons (1551; Hollstein: Ger., no. 14) and the woodcuts based on his Turkish studies, such as the Turkish Burial Ground (1575, pubd. 1619; Hollstein: Ger., no. 59), are outstanding. Virgil Solis and the Swiss artists Jost Amman and Tobias Stimmer employed a very fine and precise technique and often set their subjects within elaborate Mannerist borders. Solis’s landscape and hunting scenes are among his finest prints. Amman’s most striking woodcuts are the Great Tournament in Vienna and the eight-block Adulterer’s Bridge of King Artus (Andresen, nos 69 and 73). His famous series of illustrations to Hans Sachs’s Eygentliche Beschreibung aller Stände auff Erden … aller Künsten, Handwercken und Händeln… (Frankfurt am Main, 1568; Andresen, no. 231) includes depictions of various stages of woodcut production. Stimmer is known for his publications in the 1570s on the astronomical clock of Strasbourg cathedral (1984 exh. cat., no. 23), which he had decorated, and for his broadsheets and book illustrations.
(ii) The Netherlands
In the mid-15th century German woodcuts had been much influenced by Netherlandish art. The publication of Dürer’s woodcuts reversed this position and inspired a generation of Netherlandish artists. The design and the line-work of Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen’s (c. 1470–1533) earliest signed woodcuts of the Life of the Virgin (1507; Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., nos 83–9) indicate that he was already familiar with proof impressions of Dürer’s Life of the Virgin. He liked elaborate frames, such as those for his Round Passion (1511–14; Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., nos 67–78), which incorporated Old Testament prefigurations, and he produced a 14-block equestrian procession of the Counts and Countesses of Holland (1518; Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., nos 146–59). His grandson Cornelis Anthonisz. was also a designer of woodcuts, including a 12-block Bird’s-eye View of Amsterdam (1544; Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., no. 46). His other works were mainly biblical, satirical and allegorical scenes and portraits.
Lucas van Leyden was well established as an engraver by c. 1512, when he made his first six woodcut designs, of the Power of Women (Washington, 1983 exh. cat., nos 33–9). He was influenced by the restrained tonal range of Dürer’s later woodcuts, but he lit his scenes brightly from the side. The series was clearly a success, because some years later (c. 1516–19) he produced a similar one with elaborate borders (Washington, 1983 exh. cat., nos 59–66). His friezes of the Twelve Kings of Israel and Nine Heroes (both 1515–17; Washington, 1983 exh. cat., nos 53 and 54) express the love of pageantry and processions characteristic of the period. Jost de Negker had cut some designs after different artists in Antwerp by 1508, before moving to Augsburg. It was, however, either Dürer’s visit to the Netherlands in 1520, or the arrival of the Bavarian printmaker Nicolas Hogenberg (c. 1500–1539) in 1522, that led to a woodcut revival there. The artists involved were Hogenberg himself, Frans Crabbe, Jan Gossart, Jan Wellens de Cock, Jan Swart and Dirk Vellert. The subjects included biblical and mythological scenes and genre works, such as Jan Swart’s Turkish Riders (1526; Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., 8–12) and Dirk Vellert’s Protestant Schoolroom (1526; Washington, 1983 exh. cat., no. 140). In style most of these woodcuts show a combination of influences from Dürer, Lucas van Leyden and the Antwerp Mannerists.
A large (425×366 mm) two-block woodcut of the Deluge published in Venice (c. 1524) has been attributed to Jan van Scorel; however the design of a six-block frieze of a Lion-hunt cut by Jan Ewoutsz. Muller and measuring 2040×276 mm is now given to Lambert Sustris (1995 exh. cat.), not to van Scorel. Van Scorel’s pupil Maarten van Heemskerck, who also went to Italy, usually had his designs engraved. However, c. 1548 he designed the Story of Tobias, the Story of the Prodigal Son, and Christ and the Adulteress for the woodcutter Dirck Volkertsz. (all Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., nos 183–8, 356–9, 372). Pieter Coecke van Aelst’s series of Les Moeurs et fachons de faire de Turcs (Antwerp, 1553; Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., no. 4) has the rich elaboration of tapestry designs. He employed the regular shading patterns developed in Germany in the 1530s and 1540s. His pupil Pieter Bruegel I designed primarily for engravers. His only woodcut, Urson and Valentin (1566; Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., no. 215), was unsympathetically cut; the line-work is too regular and the white areas hard-edged. This may explain the failure to complete the cutting of its pendant, the Wedding of Mopsus and Nisa, known through a nearly complete autograph drawing (1566) by Bruegel on the surviving woodblock (New York, Met). The design was published as an engraving in 1570. A number of Goltzius’s small woodcut designs of landscapes and figures (Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., nos 362–3, 366, 375–6, 378–81) produced in the late 1590s and later were printed in black on blue paper (for illustration see Wieringen, cornelis claesz. van), and also in chiaroscuro, probably at a later date.
Venetian book illustration of the 15th century was of superb quality, but the development of the 16th-century Venetian woodcut owed more to German prototypes than to the native outline style. The city views in Hartmann Schedel’s Weltchronik (Nuremberg, 1493) and Bernhard von Breydenbach’s Peregrinationes in Terram Sanctam (Mainz, 1486) and Dürer’s early woodcuts had a marked influence. Woodcut copies by Johannes of Frankfurt (am Main) and Jacob of Strasbourg of such Italian engravings as Antonio Pollaiuolo’s Battle of the Ten Nudes (c. 1470–75) and Andrea Mantegna’s Triumphs of Caesar, which imitated their diagonal, ‘broad-manner’ shading, may also have played a role. Three large woodcuts designed by Jacopo de’ Barbari, the Battle of Naked Men and Satyrs (385×539 mm), the Triumph of Chastity over Lust (291×1300 mm, 1500; both Passavant) and the Bird’s-eye View of Venice (1390×2820 mm) initiated a series of large woodcuts designed by Venetian artists. The View of Venice was published in 1500 by the Nuremberg merchant Anton Kolb; the other two images may be slightly earlier.
The first woodcut design by Titian, the Triumph of Christianity (385×2663 mm, c. 1510–11; 1976–7 exh. cat., no. 1), was a monumental frieze printed from ten blocks. This was followed by the superb Submersion of Pharaoh’s Host , which he seems to have produced to further his ambition to succeed Giovanni Bellini as chief painter to the Venetian State. It was first published (c. 1514–15) by Bernardino Benalius, whose cutter brilliantly reproduced Titian’s drawing style. The principal period for monumental woodcut in Venice was 1510–25, and apart from Titian, Giulio Campagnola and Domenico Campagnola, Pellegrino da San Daniele and Girolamo Penacchi da Treviso (c. 1450–c. 1496) all made designs. Fine early impressions of these woodcuts are extremely rare or non-existent, because their size meant they were better suited to wall decoration than to the portfolio.
Titian continued to design woodcuts, including several fine landscapes. His later works were smaller in format, more precise and less exuberant in line; they were mostly cut by Giovanni Britto. The dense mesh of black crosshatched and dotted areas in some of Domenico Campagnola’s early woodcuts, such as the Sacra conversazione (1517) and Vision of St Augustine (c. 1517; 1976–7 exh. cat., nos 18–19), approaches white-line work in technique. He was an engraver, so he may possibly have cut some experimental blocks himself. However, his large Adoration of the Magi (c. 1517; 1976–7 exh. cat., no. 17) was cut by Lucantonio degli Uberti, and one of his landscapes of the 1530s is signed by Niccolò Boldrini, who also worked after Pordenone and Titian. Andrea Schiavone and Giuseppe Salviati made small-scale designs in the mid-16th century, and Cesare Vecellio’s eight-block Procession of the Doge (1976–7 exh. cat., no. 89) dates from c. 1555–60. Venetian woodcut book illustrations continued to be of the highest quality. They include anatomical, architectural, musical and mythological works.
The Veronese artists Paolo Farinati and Giuseppe Scolari also practised in the medium. Farinati’s design for St Roch with an Angel (undescribed) is in black-line in a simplified version of his drawing style. Scolari used broad sweeps of black- and white-line for his powerful woodcuts, which provide the only indication of the style of his celebrated lost chiaroscuro frescoes. He cut his own blocks in an experimental fashion and did not hesitate to plug and recut large sections to improve the design. The Lombard painter and engraver Master I.B. with the Bird (Giovanni Battista Palumba; fl Rome, 1500–25) also designed 11 woodcuts in the first decade of the 15th century. His Calvary is influenced by Milanese book illustration, but Venus, Mars and Vulcan and Apollo and Daphne (Byam Shaw, nos 17, 24 and 26) are closer to Lombardo-Venetian sculpture. The Three Graces, the Rape of Ganymede and the Kalydonian Boar Hunt (Byam Shaw, nos 22–3, 21) combine Florentine and Roman influences. Only in his late woodcut of St Jerome (Byam Shaw, no. 19), however, did he employ tonal modelling. In Milan woodcut was largely confined to book illustration and records of triumphal entries. The same was true of Florence, where engraving was the dominant graphic medium. However, the Sienese painter Domenico Beccafumi was a distinguished chiaroscuro woodcutter, whose work in monochrome woodcut consists of a set of ten illustrations on the Alchemical Properties of Metals (1530s; Passavant, nos 10–19). Their flamelike, flickering line lends credence to Giorgio Vasari’s claim that Beccafumi cut his own blocks, which was unusual. In Genoa the breaks and overlappings that give tension and energy to the outlines in Luca Cambiaso’s drawings were ably reproduced by the Monogrammist G. G. N. ( fl late 16th century–early 17th) in Venus on a Dolphin (Musper, pl. 209) and by an anonymous cutter in the Rape of the Sabine Woman (Hyatt Mayor, no. 400).
Relatively few French 16th-century single-sheet woodcuts have been preserved, so their history is far less well known than that of intaglio prints and book illustrations. A large woodcut of c. 1500, the Passion of Christ (c. 500×352 mm) after the Master of the Très Petites Heures d’Anne de Bretagne (1993–4 exh. cat.), resembles contemporary Parisian woodcuts and book illustrations in technique, though it has been coloured and gilded to give the impression of an illumination. An anonymous Allegory of the Old and New Testaments, tentatively dated before 1530, is Mannerist in design and more sophisticated in cutting (1994–5 exh. cat.). Three large decorative woodcuts for the wall survive: The Cock: Good Advice, The Peacock: Bad Advice and The Sparrow: Bad Advice (c. 1535–40; 1994–5 exh. cat.).
Gabriel Salmon ( fl c. 1513–32), a painter who worked for the court of Lorrain at Nancy, is best known for his woodcut Twelve Labours of Hercules (c. 1528; 1994–5 exh. cat.), influenced both by German and by Italian art. His close-set, curved shading lines may be an attempt to imitate engraved lines in woodcut.
From the 1520s onwards, Venetian influence is obvious on Parisian outline book illustrations; at Lyons the miniaturist style of Hans Holbein II was more popular. Around 1550 six young woodcut artists—Germain Hoyau (c. 1515–83), Alain de Mathonière (c. 1533–75), Clément Boussy ( fl c. 1547–50), François de Gourmont (c. 1537–before 1598), Bonnemère (?Marin Bonnemer, fl c. 1568–71), and Fauler ( fl c. 1550)—established themselves in the Rue de Montorgueil, Paris. They and their descendants were joined by numerous other woodcutters, including Mathurin Nicolas, Nicolas Lefèvre and François Desprez, who were active in the 1560s. Publishers flourished there, producing woodcuts and engravings for the French market and for export. They made maps and genre and caricature woodcuts, such as the Old Woman and the Young Suitor and When It Comes to a Merry Song (both 1560s) and a group of woodcuts representing Ten Musicians and an Embroideress (c. 1570; 1994–5 exh. cat.), which inspired Tobias Stimmer’s Nine Muses and a Fool (c. 1575; 1984 exh. cat.). They are perhaps best known for scenes from the Old and New Testaments, lives of the saints and mythological subjects after designs adapted from the school of Fontainebleau and Jean Cousin I. These were sold plain or stencil-coloured using the same hues as for late 15th-century woodcuts; many have borders reminiscent of tapestries. French woodcuts with similar Mannerist borders include the Histoire fort plaisante de la Vie pastorale, a set of eight plates (Courboin, nos 223–230), and the Twelve Months adapted from engravings by Etienne Delaune (1985 exh. cat.).
The Wars of Religion (1562–98) led to the publication of many woodcuts. Parisian examples include the anonymous Protestant polemic The Great Cooking-pot Overturned (c. 1562), and woodcuts of the Assassination of the Duc de Guise and Cardinal de Guise, leaders of the Catholic league, and Frere Clement’s Assassination of King Henry III (reg 1574–89), who had ordered their murder (c. 1588; see 1994–5 exh. cat.). Nicolas Castellin made 40 designs for his Premier volume contenant quarante tableaux ou histoires diverses qui sont mémorables touchant les guerres, massacres et troubles advenus en France en ces dernières années, published in Protestant Geneva in 1570. Jean Perrissin (before 1546–1617) and Jacques Tortorel ( fl 1568–75)—both from Lyon—were responsible for reproducing the battles and scenes of martyrdom in woodcut and engraving, together with Jean Granthomme ( fl c. 1570).
4. 17th and 18th centuries.
(i) Italy and Spain
In Bologna, Giovanni Battista Coriolano made crisply cut monochrome woodcuts after Alessandro Tiarini and Guercino (b. 1–2). The Galleria Estense in Modena has a very large collection of woodblocks for popular woodcuts published by the firm of the Soliani; it includes blocks cut in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Pedro Diaz Morante’s writing-book Nuevo sistema de aprender a escribir (Madrid, 1623–31), with blocks attributed to Andrian Boon, contains the finest 17th-century Spanish woodcuts. Publishers of popular woodcuts in the 17th and 18th centuries include the Abadal family in Moyá, Catalonia and Manresa, Guasp in Palma de Mallorca, Baltasar Talamantes in Valencia, Carreras in Girona, Pierre Porche in Reus, and Pfifferer and Estivel in Barcelona.
(ii) The Netherlands
Christoffel Jegher’s large woodcuts such as Susanna and the Elders (for illustration see Jegher, (1)), Hercules Fighting Fury and Discord (603×358 mm) and the Garden of Love (455×660 mm; Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., nos 1, 15 and 17) capture more successfully than engravings the inherent energy in Rubens’s designs. Jegher’s use of swelling-line and of white-line in the shadows suits the scale of the prints. The technique resembles that of Giuseppe Scolari, whose woodcuts Rubens would have known. Christoffel’s son Jan Christoffel Jegher (1618–67) and Peter Kints ( fl 1610–40) made woodcuts after the tapestry designer Anthonis Sallaert. Those by Kints have extensive areas of black shadow in the elaborately looped draperies (Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., nos 1–92, 201–7, 486).
Christoffel van Sichem I was the most gifted of a family of four artists of the same name who helped keep woodcut book illustration alive in the northern Netherlands in the 17th century. In his best works, a View of Amsterdam and some Fantasy Portraits after designs by Hendrick Goltzius and Jacob Matham (Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., nos 137, 134–6), he employed a swelling-line technique imitating their engraved line. His son Christoffel van Sichem II also worked after Goltzius and may have cut the woodcuts after designs by Werner van den Valkert, which were normally printed in chiaroscuro; one of them, Charon (Strauss, 1973, no. 156), was also printed in pure line. His son Christoffel van Sichem III worked together with him, and the latter’s son Christoffel van Sichem IV was a precocious woodcutter who was only 12 when he made a series of landscapes after Esaias van de Velde. Three interesting Haarlem school woodcuts were printed—like those of Goltzius—both in black on blue paper and in chiaroscuro. They are a Marine with Merchantmen (c. 1605–20) after Cornelis Claesz. van Wieringen, St Paul the Hermit Fed by Ravens (c. 1612–14), probably designed by Willem Buytewech, and an Arcadian Landscape (c. 1612–15), apparently after Esaias or Jan van de Velde. Of much the same date is Moses van Uyttenbroeck’s Elijah Fed by Ravens (all 1992–3 exh. cat.). Jan Lievens’s debt to Christoffel Jegher is clearly seen in Cain and Abel (Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., no. 99). He also owed something to Goltzius, but he soon developed an entirely personal style in his rare woodcut designs. He employed both white- and black-line, including swelling-line, and used a variety of wedges and patches of wood to indicate the textures of bushes and trees in Landscape and the facets of garments and faces in Venetian Nobleman and Man Wearing a Black Coat (Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., nos 100, 102–3). Dirk de Bray’s Christ on the Cross (c. 1671), the portrait of Salomon de Bray (1664) and The Months (c. 1674; Hollstein: Dut. & Flem., nos 25, 122 and 48–80), some after designs by his father Salomon and his brother Jan de Bray, are the most accomplished Dutch woodcuts of the end of the century. Their lines are delicate and spontaneous, quite free from cutting formulae. Woodcut was also used for the numerous children’s and folk prints produced in the 17th and 18th centuries by publishers such as Jan Loots and his family. Many broadsheets were also made in the Netherlands, some of them in woodcut, including satires on the South Sea Bubble and other bubble schemes of the 1720s, for example the Tournament of the Shareholders (Stephens, ii, no. 1633).
After his return from Paris to Münden in 1630, Ludolph Büsinck made a number of monochrome woodcuts of figures, including peasants, beggars and swaggering cavaliers, after his own designs but in the manner of Jacques Callot and Georges Lallemand (all c. 1632–6; Hollstein: Ger., nos 25–35). Augsburg was the main centre for popular German woodcuts, and Marx Anton Hannas’ old-fashioned religious images in swelling-line technique were produced there. A similar technique was used by Abraham von Weerdt ( fl c. 1636–c. 1680) working in Nuremberg for his illustrations to the Bible and Ovid and for a woodcut depicting a Printer’s Workshop. In addition, there were secular broadsheets, such as the Ten Ages of Life (c. 1660), the Tree of Love, the Conversation between Humanity and Death (both c. 1700), the Child Eater and the Bogeyman (Brückner, nos 81, 89, 90, 100, 113, 114). Decorative papers with miniature designs for lining, binding and decorating were also a speciality. Some attractive small-scale work, similar to wood-engraving but still on plank wood, was done in Germany in the later 18th century by Johann Georg Unger (1715–88) and his son Johann Friedrich Gottlieb Unger (1753/5–1804).
Woodcut was still the medium used for popular broadsheets, ballads, chapbooks, devotional prints and playing cards. The wood-engraver Thomas Bewick recorded that in the first half of the 18th century, popular woodcuts were to be seen ‘in every farmhouse, cottage and hovel’. They were produced in very large numbers, for decorating homes, taverns, barbers’ shops and schoolrooms. They were sold cheaply and replaced when they deteriorated, so few have survived. Aiming to reach this market, William Hogarth published woodcut copies cut by John Bell of two of his Four Stages of Cruelty (1750; Paulson, nos 189–90). They are notable for their use of black- and white-line for expressive purposes.
Woodblocks had long been used in the production of wallpaper, and in England coloured ‘paper hangings’ or wallpapers were being produced using woodcut and stencils by 1700. In 1754 John Baptist Jackson published An Essay on the Invention of Engraving and Printing in Chiaroscuro (London) about his method of producing multicoloured, printed wallpaper; it was illustrated with eight colour woodcuts (Kainen, nos 51–8). He also made six Heroic Landscapes after gouaches by Marco Ricci, printed in colour from up to five blocks (Kainen, nos 38–43). His wallpapers were notable for small framed views or scenes set within Rococo surrounds (London, V&A).
Popular religious images, broadsheets, board-games and other ephemera continued to be made in the woodcut medium, including many of the popular, stencil-coloured ‘Imagerie populaire’ woodcuts, with text and image cut into the same block. The colours were typically blue, yellow, red and either pink, light grey or brown. In the 18th century bales of prints containing huge numbers of impressions (c. 40,000–50,000) were sent to agents around France by publishers such as Jean-Baptiste Letourmy ( fl 1775–1854), who was based in Orléans . However, publication of popular woodcuts at Orléans went back to 1648. Other publishing centres in the 18th century were Avignon, Cambrai, Chartres, Epinal, Montbéliard and Strasbourg. The trade was interrupted by the French Revolution, only to resume with renewed vigour in the 19th century.
Book publishers preferred to use engraved illustrations when they did not need to print image and text together. They still used woodcuts for head- and tailpieces—notably the vignettes for an edition of the Fables (1755–9) of La Fontaine by Jean-Baptiste Papillon, the 18th-century apologist for woodcut. Publishers found metalcuts more durable and the newly developed wood-engraving technique more precise, however, so woodcut was used less even for this purpose. Woodcut-printed wallpaper was being exported from France by the 1680s, and Jean-Baptiste Papillon and his son Jean-Michel Papillon were important manufacturers in the first half of the 18th century, while Jean-Baptiste Réveillon and other manufacturers made tremendous technical advances in the second half.
In the 1780s and 1790s there were a growing number of figurative designs to be used as overdoors and panels on walls. These included classical and allegorical figures, architectural compositions, flower pieces and landscapes, and they paved the way for the great panoramic friezes characteristic of the early 19th century. These were the largest and most ambitious figurative woodcuts ever made, and they were, technically, the most complex woodcut images produced in Europe before Japanese techniques became known in the late 19th century. They included exotic landscapes, marines, battle scenes, hunts and scenes from classical mythology, sometimes designed by well-known painters. In 1800 woodcut was being used for many of the same purposes for which it was employed in the 16th century—for devotional and popular images, book illustrations and wall decoration. However, the complexity of prints for the wall had greatly increased, and they were now printed in a wide variety of colours.
5. 19th century
At the beginning of the 19th century the woodcut in the West was in decline as a medium for independent prints but continued to be used for ephemera, such as trade cards, posters and playbills, for wallpaper designs and for illustrating cheap books, ballad sheets and broadsheets (and broadsides). However, its role as an illustrative medium was superseded by Wood-engraving, due mainly to the influence of Thomas Bewick and contemporary practitioners of the wood-engraving technique. In Britain the finer detail produced by wood-engraving was preferred by illustrators and publishers, and woodcut continued to be used only where a cruder or more naive effect was particularly required. Most of the early 19th-century broadsheets, or ‘catchpenny prints’ as they were known in England, were produced by wood-engraving since it allowed printers to use simpler relief and type presses while achieving the finer tonal and linear details previously obtained only by etching or engraving. Broadsheets, with their religious, moral or topical subject-matter, flourished in Britain until the 1860s , when they were replaced by mass-circulation graphic newspapers.
The cheap, popular prints of Europe were still produced predominantly in woodcut at the beginning of the century. In France, the imagerie populaire emanated from the provincial towns, the subject-matter being primarily religious, although a political, topical or moral content also occurred. The style of these prints was naive, the religious prints often resembling those in medieval incunabula, for which the woodcut was ideally suited. The publication of imagerie populaire had ceased in most centres by 1850, except at Epinal, where the highly popular hand- or stencil-coloured images originally published by Jean-Charles Pellerin (1756–1836) were issued until the end of the century. Even here, however, the woodcut technique was superseded gradually by the introduction of wood-engraving in 1835 and lithography in the 1850s.
In Germany, as well as occurring in broadsheets and popular prints, the woodcut was used by some artists—notably Caspar David Friedrich and the comic illustrator Wilhelm Busch—for illustrative prints. The woodcut continued as the most commonly used medium for the cheap popular prints of eastern Europe and Scandinavia, especially in areas in which particular forms of folk art prevailed. In North America, although wood-engraving had become the dominant illustrative and reproductive process by the 1830s, woodcuts continued to illustrate broadsheets and also almanacs, which had begun in the early 18th century and culminated in the Davy Crockett series of 1830–50.
The woodcut retained its role as an important technique for the application of colour in printmaking. Earlier 18th-century innovations in the use of the colour woodcut were continued into the 19th century by george Baxter. In 1835 he patented the Baxter process, which involved the overprinting of a print, produced by an intaglio method, with several woodblocks, each inked in a separate colour. In this way be built up the appearance of a highly coloured miniature painting. In 1849 he sold the licence to, among others, J. M. Kronheim (1810–96), who also produced large quantities of highly coloured illustrative prints until the latter part of the century.
Although most of the 19th century was essentially a period of decline for the medium of woodcut, in the last decade of the century illustrative and independent artists alike began a reassessment of its artistic potential. In Britain, William Morris brought new concepts to the illustration and decoration of the printed page. He began to use woodcut for the medievalist decorations in many of his own Kelmscott Press publications of the 1890s. These flowing Gothic borders and initials were often cut by Morris himself, although he still used experienced wood-engravers to provide the reproductions of the drawings he used as illustrations. His use of the woodcut was basically retrospective, and a more innovative approach stylistically was to be seen in the woodcuts produced by the illustrators of the Arts and Crafts Movement in their periodical the Hobby Horse (1886–92) and by Lucien Pissarro for the books of his own Eragny Press, founded in 1896, where he used colour woodcut to create prints in four or five bright colours, including, unusually, gold. The use of woodblocks for colour printing had continued throughout the century with varying degrees of expertise. One of the most original and influential printers and publishers of children’s books from the 1870s was Edmund Evans, who used woodblocks to produce flat tints of delicate colour over wood-engraved designs by illustrators such as Kate Greenaway.
The crude form of the popular woodcut reappeared in Britain in the 1880s, when the publisher Andrew White Tuer (1838–1900) reprinted the chapbooks of Joseph Crawhall with his archaic text and naive, hand-coloured woodcuts. However, the most creative use of the woodcut in Britain was by William Nicholson and edward gordon Craig. Nicholson produced colour woodcuts for London Types (London, 1898), An Almanac of Twelve Sports (London, 1895), An Alphabet (London, 1897) and Twelve Portraits (London, 1896), which included the famous portrait of Queen Victoria in old age, christened at the time ‘the animated tea-cosy’. This image, with its large, flat areas of subdued colour, exemplified Nicholson’s original, vigorous and direct cutting of the woodblock. Generally, his de luxe editions were printed from the original woodblocks, while other editions contained images that had been transferred into lithographs. His prints were also indicative of a new approach to the woodcut, in which imaginative designs were conceived in terms of the medium. His pupil Craig demonstrated a similar bold and direct approach to the woodcuts he produced of theatrical subject-matter.
Colour woodcut printmaking was stimulated by the great numbers of Japanese woodcuts flowing into most countries of Europe from the middle of the century. The initial influence of these prints was one of style and composition, and artists responded to these aspects with enthusiasm. However, with the general revival of interest in original printmaking at the end of the century, the technique itself was investigated. Most European 19th-century colour woodcut printmakers used an oil-based ink, but a few artists began to experiment with the subtle effects of the Japanese manner by brushing a water-based ink on to their colour blocks. John Dickson Batten (1860–1932) produced several prints in this Japanese manner in Britain in the late 1890s, as did Henri Rivière and Auguste Lepère in France.
It was in France at the end of the century that the creative potential of woodcut was exploited by artists seeking new vehicles for contemporary expression. The medium was promoted by periodicals such as L’Ymagier, founded by Remy de Gourmont and Alfred Jarry, which included woodcut illustrations in their issues. In 1888 Emile Bernard founded the periodical Le Bois, for which he provided his own roughly carved cuts in the flat, simplified style he had developed at Pont-Aven. The Swiss artist félix Vallotton, a member of the group of painters known as the Nabis, combined in his designs dynamic effects of large, unbroken areas of black and white with the cut-off motifs and unusual angles of Japanese prints.
It was, however, Paul Gauguin who revealed the expressive strength that lay within the matrix of the woodblock. Gauguin was greatly influenced by both Japanese prints and the naivety of European popular prints. His initial essays in printmaking in 1889 were in zincograph (lithographs using zinc plates), but after his first period in Tahiti he was introduced to the woodcut, possibly by Alfred Jarry, and responded immediately to the ‘primitive’ properties of the medium. Instead of cutting the block with traditional tools, he used coarse carpenters’ gouges to carve out his designs, also filing down areas of the block with glass paper and wire brushes and incising into it with sharp points. The glyptic as well as the surface qualities of the block were thereby exploited in a new way. Gauguin’s first woodcuts were produced in 1894, probably as an accompaniment to his manuscript known as Noa Noa , although they were never issued in that form. He also experimented with colour and continued with his innovative use of the medium until the end of the century, executing further single cuts and another series for the monthly periodical Le Sourire.
Gauguin’s woodcuts can be regarded as the precursors of the expressive 20th-century woodcut, and most certainly they also influenced the other major exponent of the medium in the late 19th century, the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Munch was working in Paris in 1896, and it was then that he took up woodcut. He contributed to the further development of the medium by his artistic exploitation of the wood itself, scraping down the surface to reveal the grain, which he used as an integral part of the design. He also devised new ways of printing in colour by using special saws to divide his block into sections, inking them separately in different colours and then reassembling them for printing. For the rest of Europe and America, the woodcut continued in the 19th century to be utilized, for the most part, as a cruder form of wood-engraving or for colour printing. It was not until the 20th century that the work of Vallotton, Gauguin and Munch inspired the creative and expressive use of the woodcut and brought about the recognition of the medium as an independent art form.
6. 20th century.
(i) Revival: pre-World War II
In the first three decades of the 20th century in regional centres in Europe and the USA earlier woodcut traditions continued. Under the influence of Art Nouveau the decorative style flourished in Vienna, Munich, Dresden, Paris and elsewhere, through such artists as W. List, Carl Moll and Emil Orlik; both woodcut and linocut were media ideally suited to long sinewy contours and flat passages of colour. In the USA similar works of great quality were produced by A. W. Dow (1857–1922), Gustave Baumann (1881–1971) and others. In England the work of William Morris might be seen to be continued in that of Eric Gill, whose involvement with biblical and other book illustrations was a sign of the continuing link between the woodcut and the book since the great biblical works of the 16th century. Along with other artists, particularly in Britain, where wood-engraving enjoyed a great revival in the first decades of the century, Gill transferred freely between the woodcut and wood-engraving. In the 20th century artists who adopted the medium of woodcut still worked to the examples of Gauguin and Munch. Munch, who continued to work in the medium until his death (1944), combined a long, sinewy cutting style with a flat perspective, bold use of colour and extensive use of the wood grain to produce powerful images of Melancholy (see 1983 MOMA exh. cat., no. 72) and Angst (see 1983 MOMA exh. cat., p. iv) reinforced by the qualities of the medium itself and hence often stronger than his work on canvas or in any other medium.
In France the Fauves led the way: André Derain, Raoul Dufy, Henri Matisse and Maurice de Vlaminck all adopted the medium in the first few years of the century; working mainly in single colours (in contrast to their paintings), they began to cut with bold and irregular strokes to produce primitive-looking images in the new tradition. Matisse explored the nude, before abandoning woodcut for his greater capabilities with etching and lithography. Vlaminck’s large number of woodcuts (105) include the Head of a Woman of c. 1906 (see 1983 MOMA exh. cat., no. 11), which exudes a mood of simplicity and contemplation similar in nature to the Pont-Aven school. Derain and Dufy developed away from the roughly hewn woodcuts of the early Fauve works to more harmonious and regular cutting. Dufy’s Fishing (c. 1908; Castleman, no. 10) is reminiscent of the spirit of Divisionist painting, in that each stroke or cut is an object in the print. At the same time Aristide Maillol was prolific in the medium, producing woodcut illustrations for the reproduction of high-quality books, such as Longus’ Daphnis et Chloe and Virgil’s Georgics.
The activity of woodcut production by the leading avant-garde artists over the next decades owed a great deal to the work of leading and inspirational publishers and patrons, such as Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Ambroise Vollard and Tériade in France and Graf Harry Kessler (d 1937) in Germany, who actively sought out the finest contemporary artists and writers for combined projects to be produced to the highest quality to meet (and often exceed) the demand for de luxe editions of livres d’artistes from a learned and wealthy public. Such high-quality book production continued mainly until the late 1950s; after World War II they included less avant-garde works by Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró and others.
In Germany, under the influence of the paintings of Vincent van Gogh and the Fauves and the prints of Munch, and inspired by the early German workshops of Lucas Cranach I, Albrecht Dürer and others, the artists of Die Brücke (first in Dresden, then in Berlin) brought about the most significant revival of the woodcut as an avant-garde expressive in the 20th century. Rejecting (and rejected by) the formal academies and Secession group (Lovis Corinth, Max Liebermann, Max Slevogt and others), whose leading artists produced sumptuous and painterly etchings and lithographs during the 19th-century printmaking revival, the artists of Die Brücke set up the Neue Secession, an exhibition group, and, while also working in other printmaking media, adopted the woodcut as their most powerful means of expression. They quickly abandoned a decorative fin-de-siècle style (c. 1906), and, combining European influences with African motifs and forms known to them from the recent discoveries of European explorers and exhibits in the ethnographic collections in Dresden, they worked aggressively on the woodblocks to produce sharp angles, broad diagonals and roughly hewn, shaded patches. Each of the four leading artists of Die Brücke (Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff) all created primitive nudes of haunting beauty or savagery, startling and intense portraits, and vivid and dynamic landscapes and townscapes.
Kirchner is probably best known for his psychologically intense Berlin street scenes of 1914, although his large woodcut portrait heads of 1916 and his later Swiss landscapes, among others, are also of great significance. Immediately after the tragedies of World War I, Pechstein and Schmidt-Rottluff triggered a powerful rebirth of the woodcut as a medium for religious devotion with their monumental portfolios of the Lord’s Prayer (Pechstein, 1921; e.g. Give Us our Daily Bread, Gordon, pl. 11) and Nine Woodcuts (Rottluff; see Schiefler).
The artists of Die Brücke worked mainly in the traditional black and white but also produced startling effects with colours boldly applied in monotypal fashion to the blocks. Emil Nolde, active on the north German coast, produced numerous woodcuts, The Prophet (1912; see 1983 MOMA exh. cat., p. v) being one of the most dramatic examples. Ernst Barlach combined imagery from harsh German peasant life, biblical sources and mysticism to express the relationship between a higher being and Man. His series Metamorphic Creations of God (1920; Castleman, no. 22) and the illustrations to Goethe’s Walpurgisnacht (Berlin, 1923) are most characteristic of this type. In Dresden, Conrad Felixmüller’s woodcuts treated subjects from his immediate circle and from the working classes in the city and surrounding country, and in Berlin the work of Käthe Kollwitz (including Death with a Woman in his Lap, 1921, Bread, 1922, the Great War series, 1922–3, and others) championed the struggle of the proletariat and glorified the individual in the face of poverty and starvation. The stark contrast of richly inked passages of black against white, which she achieved with a restrained use of line, intensifies her provocative cry for the cause of the poor.
In southern Germany, around Munich, in the early part of the century the most progressive work was being pursued by the artists of the Blaue Reiter. Franz Marc and Heinrich Campendonck explored lyrical themes of nature and creation, intertwining multitudes of curved and flowing lines and contrasting passages of black and white, resulting in semi-abstract compositions. Vasily Kandinsky’s work developed from his delicate early part-Jugendstil, part-Russian folk style, with such woodcuts as a Woman with a Fan (1903), subtly printed in colour on fine Japanese paper (he also employed the linocut to create similar works at the time), through to his finest abstractions, where the medium was ideal for contrasting colour planes. It was also used to great effect in his influential book Klänge (Munich, 1913) and in later works, including the most effective plates in the Kleine Welter portfolio (1922).
At the Bauhaus, Lyonel Feininger created some of the finest woodcuts, in which he made use of the angular and geometric elements of Cubism, which he incorporated into his city and marine subjects. Other Bauhaus artists, including Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy, also exploited the woodcut effectively in their geometric abstractions. Max Beckmann and Otto Dix made only a few explorations into the medium before their styles took them away from a primitive means of expression, but Dix’s Nine Woodcuts (1919–21) present dramatic visions of German life after World War I. The woodcut flourished all over Germany until World War II in an explosion of printmaking activity that included the production of numbers of fine portfolios, such as German Graphics of the Present (Leipzig, 1920) and Ganymede (Munich, 1919–25), and the inclusion of original woodcuts in literary publications, such as Der Zweemann (Hannover, 1919–26) and Genius (Leipzig, 1919–21) and Socialist political pamphlets including Revolution (Munich, 1913) and Die Aktion (Berlin, 1911–32), in which woodcut was considered as a medium worthy of proletarian political art.
Belgian Expressionism followed lines similar to its counterpart in Germany, with the work of Jozef Cantré, Frans Masereel and others. Edgard Tytgat also produced highly individual colour woodcuts in a folk style. Of the Dada artists, Hans Arp made most extensive use of the medium for its planar qualities in representing his biomorphic forms, although the screenprint later served him well for similar reasons. Marcel Janco also made use of the medium in a limited number of works. In Britain Edward Wadsworth was responsible for some of the purest examples of Vorticist abstraction in woodcuts in 1917–19. Flat planes, cut sharply and in intricate pattern, bear striking results (e.g. Dry Docked for Scaling and Painting, 1918, and Dazzle-Ship in Dry Dock, 1918).
In Japan, the traditional home of the woodcut, there was little development in the first three decades of the century. While progressive Japanese painters had become strongly influenced by Western styles, the woodcut was still firmly bound up with the complex relationship between artist and artisans in the community. K. Yamamoto and Kōshirō Onchi were among the first to look to European woodcut for inspiration. In the late 1920s U. Hiratsuka was one of the first to adopt the Western technique of cutting directly on to the block. His student Shikō Munakata is generally considered the most influential Japanese artist of the century. He became associated with the Mingei movement (a return to rural craftsmanship), and in combining Buddhist figures, Japanese legends and other traditional images in his subjects, he handcut (with a directness akin to the German Expressionists) the blocks, which when printed maintained the character of the wood.
In the 1930s and 1940s artists in Mexico and South America also made use of the woodcut as a form of proletarian expression to protest about social conditions. These artists included David Alfaro Siqueiros and Antonio Frasconi. Diego Rivera also worked to great effect with the woodblock. In the USA Leonard Baskin was also attracted to the possibilities of political expression through the medium and became a leading exponent of the woodcut.
(ii) Post-war developments
In the decades following World War II, while some of the more mature artists continued to work in the medium, either for high-quality livres d’artistes or, as in the case of the artists formerly of Die Brücke, to produce less dynamic work in their earlier styles, others often exploited different media (particularly the screenprint) to create their images: the mainly younger artists involved in the printmaking booms of the 1960s and 1970s in Paris and across Germany frequently made use of lithography and etching. The artists associated with such movements as Pop, Op and kinetic art in London and New York worked extensively with the lithograph and screenprint. Those making somewhat rare use of woodcut in the 1960s included Donald Judd and Frank Stella. Helen Frankenthaler’s abstract woodcut compositions from the 1970s onwards, which were printed on oriental papers, convey an impression of stained canvas. Charles Summer’s compositions were imbued with the philosophy of Zen Buddhism.
In Germany, Ewald Mataré’s woodcuts may be viewed as providing a transition from the work of the German Expressionists to that of such late 20th-century artists as A. R. Penck and H. A. P. Grieshaber (1909–81). The brutally cut blocks of Georg Baselitz reflect a return to the more traditional media during the 1980s. In Britain this was demonstrated in the work of Michael Rothenstein (b 1908). In the USA in the 1980s, after limited work in the medium in the 1970s, even such leading Pop artists as Jim Dine and Roy Lichtenstein produced major woodcut images . Other artists who employed it include Susan Rothenburg and Francesco Clemente, who explored another stage of tradition by using skilled East Asian woodblock cutters to produce extremely delicate representations of his images. Friedensreich Hundertwasser used Japanese woodcutters in Austria to produce major works alongside his screenprints.
From Grove Art Online