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Title: A History of Wood-Engraving
Author: Woodberry, George Edward, 1855-1930
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A History of Wood-Engraving" ***

produced from images available at The Internet Archive)


[Illustration: A HISTORY










Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1882, by


In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

_All rights reserved._


In this book I have attempted to gather and arrange such facts as should
be known to men of cultivation interested in the art of engraving in
wood. I have, therefore, disregarded such matter as seems to belong
rather to descriptive bibliography, and have treated wood-engraving, in
its principal works, as a reflection of the life of men and an
illustration of successive phases of civilization. Where there is much
disputed ground, particularly in the early history of the art, the
writers on whom I have relied are referred to, and those who adopt a
different view are named; but where the facts seemed plain, and are
easily verifiable, reference did not appear necessary.

In conclusion, I have the honor to acknowledge my obligations to the
officers of the Boston Public Library, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts,
and the Harvard College Library, for permission to reproduce several
cuts in their possession; and to Mr. Lindsay Swift, of the Boston Public
Library, for the list of authorities at the end of the volume.
Especially it is my pleasant duty to thank Professor Charles Eliot
Norton, of Harvard University, from whose curious and valuable
collection more than half of these illustrations are derived, both for
them and for suggestion, advice, and criticism, without which, indeed,
the work could not have been written.




_THE ORIGIN OF THE ART_                          13

_THE BLOCK-BOOKS_                                30


_EARLY ITALIAN WOOD-ENGRAVING_                   65


_HANS HOLBEIN_                                  116


_MODERN WOOD-ENGRAVING_                         151

USEFUL TO STUDENTS_                             211

_INDEX_                                         217



1.--From “Epistole di San Hieronymo Volgare.” Ferrara, 1497. (Initial

2.--St. Christopher, 1423. From Ottley’s “Inquiry into the Origin and
Early History of Engraving upon Copper and in Wood”.....22

3.--The Crucifixion. From the Manuscript “Book of Devotion.” 1445.....24

4.--From the “Epistole di San Hieronymo.” 1497. (Initial letter).....30

5.--Elijah Raiseth the Widow’s Son (1 K. xvii.). The Raising of Lazarus
(Jno. xi.). Elisha Raiseth the Widow’s Son (2 K. iv.). From the original
in the possession of Professor Norton, of Cambridge.....34

6.--The Creation of Eve. From the fac-simile of Berjeau.....35

7.--Initial letter. Source unknown.....45

8.--The Grief of Hannah. From the Cologne Bible, 1470-’75.....49

9.--Illustration of Exodus I. From the Cologne Bible, 1470-’75 51

10.--The Fifth Day of Creation. From Schedel’s “Liber Chronicarum.”
Nuremberg, 1493.....54

11.--The Dancing Deaths. From Schedel’s “Liber Chronicarum.” Nuremberg,

12.--Jews Sacrificing a Christian Child. From Schedel’s “Liber
Chronicarum.” Nuremberg, 1493.....58

13.--Marginal Border. From Kerver’s “Psalterium Virginis Mariæ.” 1509.....61

14.--From Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” Venice, 1518 (design, 1497). (Initial

15.--The Creation. From the “Fasciculus Temporum.” Venice, 1484.....68

16.--Leviathan. From the “Ortus Sanitatis.” Venice, 1511.....68

17.--The Stork. From the “Ortus Sanitatis.” Venice, 1511.....69

18.--View of Venice. From the “Fasciculus Temporum.” Venice, 1484.....69

19.--The Contest of Apollo and Pan. From Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” Venice,
1518 (design, 1497).....70

20.--Sirens. From the “Ortus Sanitatis.” Venice, 1511.....71

21.--Pygmy and Cranes. From the “Ortus Sanitatis.” Venice, 1511.....72

22.--The Woman and the Thief. From “Æsop’s Fables.” Venice, 1491
(design, 1481).....73

23.--The Crow and the Peacock. From “Æsop’s Fables.” Venice, 1491
(design, 1481).....75

24.--The Peace of God. From “Epistole di San Hieronymo Volgare.”
Ferrara, 1497.....76

25.--Mary and the Risen Lord. From “Epistole di San Hieronymo Volgare.”
Ferrara, 1497.....77

26.--St. Baruch. From the “Catalogus Sanctorum.” Venice, 1506.....77

27.--Poliphilo by the Stream. From the “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.”
Venice, 1499.....78

28.--Poliphilo and the Nymphs. From the “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.”
Venice, 1499.....79

29.--Ornament. From the “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.” Venice, 1499.....80

30.--Poliphilo meets Polia. From the “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.”
Venice, 1499.....81

31.--Nero Fiddling. From the Ovid of 1510. Venice.....82

32.--The Physician. From the “Fasciculus Medicinæ.” Venice, 1500.....83

33.--Hero and Leander. From the Ovid of 1515. Venice.....85

34.--Dante and Beatrice. From the Dante of 1520. Venice.....86

35.--St. Jerome Commending the Hermit’s Life. From “Epistole di San
Hieronymo.” Ferrara, 1497.....86

36.--St. Francis and the Beggar. From the “Catalogus Sanctorum.” Venice,

37.--The Translation of St. Nicolas. From the “Catalogus Sanctorum.”
Venice, 1506.....87

38.--Romoaldus, the Abbot. From the “Catalogus Sanctorum.” Venice, 1506

39.--From an Italian Alphabet of the 16th Century. (Initial letter).....90

40.--St. John and the Virgin. Vignette to Dürer’s “Apocalypse”.....93

41.--Christ Suffering. Vignette to Dürer’s “Larger Passion”.....94

42.--Christ Mocked. Vignette to Dürer’s “Smaller Passion”.....95

43.--The Descent into Hell. From Dürer’s “Smaller Passion”.....96

44.--The Herald. From “The Triumph of Maximilian”.....100

45.--Tablet. From “The Triumph of Maximilian”.....101

46.--The Car of the Musicians. From “The Triumph of Maximilian”.....102

47.--Three Horsemen. From “The Triumph of Maximilian”.....103

48.--Horseman. From “The Triumph of Maximilian”.....107

49.--Virgin and Child. From a print by Hans Sebald Behaim......113

50.--From the “Epistole di San Hieronymo.” Ferrara, 1497. (Initial

51.--The Nun. From Holbein’s “Images de la Mort.” Lyons, 1547.....123

52.--The Preacher. From Holbein’s “Images de la Mort.” Lyons, 1547.....124

53.--The Ploughman. From Holbein’s “Images de la Mort.” Lyons, 1547.....125

54.--Nathan Rebuking David. From Holbein’s “Icones Historiarum Veteris
Testamenti.” Lyons, 1547.....130

55.--From “Opera Vergiliana,” printed by Sacon. Lyons, 1517. (Initial

56.--St. Christopher. From a Venetian print.....142

57.--St. Sebastian and St. Francis. Portion of a print by Andreani after

58.--The Annunciation. From a print by Francesco da Nanto.....144

59.--Milo of Crotona. From a print by Boldrini after Titian.....145

60.--From the “Comedia di Danthe.” Venice, 1536. (Initial letter).....151

61.--The Peacock. From Bewick’s “British Birds”.....156

62.--The Frightened Mother. From Bewick’s “British Quadrupeds”.....157

63.--The Solitary Cormorant. From Bewick’s “British Birds”.....157

64.--The Snow Cottage.....158

65.--Birth-place of Bewick. His last vignette, portraying his own

66.--The Broken Boat. From Bewick’s “British Birds”.....160

67.--The Church-yard. From Bewick’s “British Birds”.....160

68.--The Sheep-fold. By Blake. From “Virgil’s Pastorals”.....162

69.--The Mark of Storm. By Blake. From “Virgil’s Pastorals”.....162

70.--Cave of Despair. By Branston. From Savage’s “Hints on Decorative

71.--Vignette from “Rogers’s Poems.” London, 1827.....167

72.--Vignette from “Rogers’s Poems.” London, 1827.....167

73.--Death as a Friend. From a print by Professor Norton, of Cambridge.
Engraved by J. Jungtow.....169

74.--Death as a Throttler. From a print by Professor Norton, of
Cambridge. Engraved by Steinbrecher.....170

75.--The Creation. Engraved by J. F. Adams.....172

76.--The Deluge. Engraved by J. F. Adams.....173

77.--Butterflies. Engraved by F. S. King.....175

78.--Spring-time. Engraved by F. S. King.....177

79.--Mount Lafayette (White Mountains). By J. Tinkey.....183

80.--“And silent were the sheep in woolly fold.” Engraved by J. G.

81.--The Old Orchard. Engraved by F. Juengling.....189

82.--Some Art Connoisseurs. Engraved by Robert Hoskin.....191

83.--The Travelling Musicians. Engraved by R. A. Muller.....194

84.--Shipwrecked. Engraved by Frank French.....196

85.--The Tap-room. Engraved by Frank French.....198

86.--Going to Church. Engraved by J. P. Davis.....199

87.--“Nay, Love, ’tis you who stand with almond clusters in your
clasping hand.” Engraved by T. Cole.....201

88.--The Spanish Peasant. Engraved by F. Juengling.....203

89.--James Russell Lowell. Engraved by Thomas Johnson.....205

90.--Arthur Penrhyn Stanley. Engraved by G. Kruell.....207





[Illustration: T FIG. 1.--From “Epistole di San Hieronymo Volgare.”
Ferra 1497.]

The beginning of the art of wood-engraving in Europe, the time when
paper was first laid down upon an engraved wood block and the first rude
print was taken off, is unknown; the name of the inventor and his
country are involved in a double obscurity of ignorance and fable,
darkened still more by national jealousies and vanities; even the
mechanical appliances and processes which led up to and at last resulted
in the new art, can only be conjectured. The art had long lain but just
beyond the border-line of discovery. The principle of making impressions
by means of lines cut in relief upon wood was known to the ancients, who
used engraved wooden stamps to indent figures and letters in soft
substances like wax and clay, and, possibly, to print colors on
surfaces, as had been done from early times in India in the manufacture
of cloth; similar stamps were used in the Middle Ages by notaries and
other public officers to print signatures on documents, by Italian
cloth-makers to impress colors on silk and other fabrics, and by the
illuminators of manuscripts to strike the outlines of initial letters.
This practice may have suggested the new process.

It is more probable that the art began in the workshops of the
goldsmiths, who were so skilled in engraving upon metal that impressions
of much artistic value have been taken from work executed by them in the
twelfth century, showing that they really were engravers obliged to
remain goldsmiths, because the art of printing from metal plates was
unknown.[1] By their knowledge of design and their artistic execution,
at least, if not by their mechanical inventiveness, the goldsmiths were
the lineal ancestors of the great engravers of the Renaissance. Their
art had been continued from Roman times, with fewer interruptions and
hinderances than any other of the fine arts. It was early employed in
the adornment of the altar, the pax, and other articles of the Church
service; already, in St. Bernard’s time, so much attention was given to
workmanship of this kind, and so much wealth lavished upon it, that he
denounced it, with true ascetic spirit, as a decoration of what was soon
to become vile, a waste of what might have been given to the poor, and a
distraction of the spirit from holiness to the admiration of beauty.
“The Church,” he said, “shines with the splendor of her walls, and
among her poor is destitution; she clothes her stones with gold, and
leaves her children naked. * * * Finally, so many things are to be seen,
everywhere such a marvellous variety of different forms, that one may
read more upon the sculptured walls than in the written Scriptures, and
spend the whole day in going about in wonder from one such thing to
another, rather than in meditating upon God’s law.”[2] The art might
have suffered seriously from such uncompromising opposition as St.
Bernard made, had not Suger, the great abbot of St. Denys, taken up its
defence and supported it by his patronage and by his eloquence. “Let
each one have his own opinion,” he writes, “but I confess it is my
conviction that whatever is most precious ought to be devoted above all
to that holiest rite of the Eucharist; if golden lavers, if golden cups,
and if golden bowls were used, by the command of God or of the prophet,
to catch the blood of rams or bullocks or heifers, how much more ought
vases of gold, precious stones, and whatever is dearest among all
creatures, ever to be set forth with full devotion to receive the blood
of Jesus Christ!”[3] By such arguments Suger defended the rightfulness
and value of the goldsmith’s art in the service of the Church. After
his time the employment of the goldsmiths upon church decoration became
so great that they were really the artists of Europe during the two
hundred years previous to the invention of wood-engraving.[4] In the
pursuit of their craft they practised the arts of modelling, casting,
sculpture, engraving, enamelling, and the setting of precious stones;
and in the thirteenth century they made use of all these resources in
the execution of their beautiful works of art made of gold and silver,
richly engraved, and adorned with bass-reliefs and statuettes, and
brilliant with many-colored enamel and with jewels--the reliquaries in
which were kept the innumerable holy relics that then filled Europe, the
famous shrines for the bodies of the saints, about which pilgrims from
every quarter were ever at prayer, and the tombs of the Crusaders, and
of dignitaries of Church or State. They employed their skill, too, for
the lesser glory of the churches, upon the vessels of the Holy
Communion, the crosses, candelabra, and censers, and the ornaments that
incrusted the vestments of the priests. With the increase of luxury and
wealth they found a new field for their invention in contributing to the
magnificence of secular life; in fashioning into strange forms the
ewers, goblets, flagons, and every vessel which adorned the banquet;
and in ornamenting them with fantastic figures, or with scenes from the
chase, or from the history of Charlemagne and Saladin, as well as in
executing those finely wrought decorations with which the silks and
velvets of the nobles were so heavily charged that the old poet, Martial
d’Auvergne, says the lords and knights were “caparisoned in gold-work
and jewels.” Under Charles V. of France (1364) and the great Dukes of
the Low Countries, the jewel-chamber of the prince was his pride in
peace and his treasury in war: it furnished gifts for the bride, the
favorite, and the heir, and for foreign ambassadors and princes; it
afforded pay for retainers before the battle and ransom after it, and in
the days of the great fêtes its treasures gave to the courts of France,
Burgundy, and Flanders a magnificence that has seldom been seen in

Under such fortunate encouragement the goldsmiths of the fourteenth
century reached a knowledge of design and a finish in execution that
justified the claim of their art to the first place among the fine arts,
and made their workshops the apprentice-home of many great masters of
art in Italy as well as in the North. They best understood the value of
art, and were best skilled in artistic processes; they were the only
persons[6] who had by them all the means for taking an impression--the
engraved metal plate, iron tools, burnishers for rubbing off a proof,
blackened oil, and paper which they used for tracing their designs;
they would, too, have been aided in their art, merely as goldsmiths,
could they have tested their engraving from time to time by taking an
impression from it in its various stages. It is not unlikely, therefore,
that the art of taking impressions from engraved work was found out, or
at least was first extensively applied, in their workshops, where it
could hardly have failed to be discovered ultimately, as paper came into
use more generally and for more various purposes. If this were the case,
metal-engraving preceded wood-engraving, but only by a brief space of
time, because, as soon as the idea of the new art was fully grasped,
wood must have been almost immediately employed in preference to metal,
on account of the greater ease and speed of working in wood, and of the
less injury done to the paper in printing from it.

Some support for this view, that the art of printing from engraved metal
plates was discovered by the goldsmiths, and preceded and suggested
wood-engraving, is derived from the peculiar prints in the _manière
criblée_, or the dotted style, of which over three hundred are known.
They were produced by a mixed process of engraving in relief and in
intaglio, usually upon a metal plate, but sometimes upon wood. The
effects are given by dots and lines relieved in white upon a black
ground, assisted by dots and lines relieved in black upon a white
ground. These prints have afforded much material for dispute and
controversy, both as to their process and their date; the mode in which
the metal plates from which they were printed were engraved,
particularly the punching out small holes in the metal, which appear
usually as white dots, and give the name to the prints, is the same as
a mode of ornamental work[7] in metal that had been practised for
centuries in the workshops of the goldsmiths, and on this account they
have been ascribed to the goldsmiths of the great Northern cities.[8]
They appeared certainly as early as 1450, and probably much earlier.[9]
Some of these prints are evidently taken from metal plates not
originally meant to be printed from, for the inscriptions on the prints
as well as the actions of the figures appear reversed, the words reading
backward, and the figures performing actions with the left hand almost
always performed by the right hand.[10] These may be the work of the
first years of the fifteenth century, or they may have been taken long
afterward, in a spirit of curiosity or experiment. The existence of
these early prints, however, undoubtedly from the workshops of the
goldsmiths, and after a mode long practised by them, strengthens the
hypothesis--suggested by their wide acquaintance with artistic processes
and their exclusive possession of all the proper instruments--that they
originated the art of taking impressions on paper from engraved work; at
all events, this seems the least wild, the most consistent, and best
supported conjecture which has been put forth.

There is, however, no lack of more specific accounts of the origin of
wood-engraving. Pliny’s[11] reference to the portraits with which Varro
illustrated his works indicates, in the opinion of some writers, a
momentary, isolated, and premature appearance of the art in his day.
Ottley[12] maintains that the art was introduced into Europe by the
Venetians, who learned it “at a very early period of their intercourse
with the people of Tartary, Thibet, and China;” but of this there is no
satisfactory evidence. Papillon,[13] a French engraver of the last
century, relates that in his youth he saw in the library of a retired
Swiss officer nine woodcuts, illustrative of the deeds of Alexander the
Great, executed with a small knife by “two young and amiable twins,”
Isabella and Alexander Alberico Cunio, Knt., of Ravenna, in their
seventeenth year, and dedicated by them to Pope Honorius IV., in
1284-85; but, as no one else ever saw or heard of them, and there is no
contemporary reference to them, as no single unquestionable fact has
been adduced in direct support of the story, and as Papillon is an
untrustworthy writer, his tale, although accepted by some
authorities,[14] is generally discredited,[15] and was regarded by
Chatto[16] as the hallucination of a distempered mind. Meerman,[17] the
stout defender of the claim of Lawrence Coster to the invention of
printing with movable types, relying on the authority of Junius,[18] who
wrote from tradition more than a century after the facts, makes Coster
the first printer of woodcuts. Some writers accept this story; but in
spite of them, and of the well-developed genealogical tree with which
Meerman provided his hero, and even of Mr. Sotheby’s[19] supposed
discovery of Coster’s portrait, his very existence is doubted. The
charming scene in which the idea of the new art first occurred to
Coster, as he was walking after dinner in his garden, and cutting
letters from beech-tree bark with which to print moral sentences for his
grandchildren--the old man surrounded by the childish group in the
well-ordered Haarlem garden--is probably, after all, little more than a
play of antiquarian fancy. These stories have slight historic weight;
they are, to use M. Renouvier’s simile, “a group of legends about the
cradle of modern art, like those recounted of ancient art, the history
of Craton, of Saurias, or of the daughter of Dibutades, who invented
design by tracing on a wall the silhouette of her lover.”

[Illustration: FIG 2.--St. Christopher, 1423. From Ottley’s “Inquiry
into the Origin and Early History of Engraving upon Copper and in

The first fact known with certainty in the history of wood-engraving is,
that in the first quarter of the fifteenth century there were scattered
abroad in Northern Europe rude prints, representing scenes from the
Scriptures and the lives of the saints. These pictures were on single
leaves of paper; the outlines were printed from engraved wood-blocks,
but occasionally, it is believed, from metal plates cut in relief; they
were taken off in a pale, brownish ink by rubbing on the back of the
paper with a burnisher, and sometimes in black ink and with a press;
they were then colored, either by hand or by means of a stencil plate,
in order to make them more attractive to the people. The earliest of
these prints which bears an unquestionable date is the famous St.
Christopher (Fig. 2) of 1423, found by Heinecken,[20] in the middle of
the last century, pasted inside the cover of a manuscript in the library
of the convent of Buxheim, in Suabia. It represents St. Christopher,
according to a favorite legend of the Middle Ages, fording a river with
the infant Christ upon his shoulders; opposite, on the right bank, a
hermit holds a lantern before his cell; on the left a peasant, with a
bag on his back, climbs the steep ascent from his mill to the cottage
high up on the cliff, where no swelling of the stream will reach it. The
attitude of the two heads is expressive, and the folds of the saint’s
robes are well cast about the shoulders; in other respects the cut has
little artistic merit, but the attempt to mark shadows by a greater or
less width of line is noticeable, and the lines in general are much more
varied than is usual in early work. It was printed in black ink, and
with a press. There are two other early prints, the dates of which are
uncertain, but still sufficiently probable to deserve mention--the
warmly controverted Brussels print[21] of 1418, which represents the
Virgin and Child, surrounded by four saints, in an enclosed garden, in
the style of the Van Eycks, and with more artistic merit than the St.
Christopher in design, drawing, and execution; and, secondly, the St.
Sebastian of 1437, at Vienna. The former was discovered in 1844, in a
bad condition, and the latter in 1779; both are taken off in pale ink,
and with a rubber. There are numerous other prints of this kind, which
have been described in detail and have had conjectural dates assigned to
them, fruitful of much antiquarian dispute. One of these (Fig. 3) is
here reproduced for the first time; it was found stitched into a
manuscript of 1445, and is unquestionably as old as the manuscript; it
represents a Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Longinus at the left, and
St. John and, perhaps, the Centurion at the right; in the upper
left-hand corner is an angel with the Veronica, or handkerchief, which
bears the miraculous portrait of the Saviour, and above are a scourge
and a knife; in the original the body of Christ is covered with dots and
scratches in vermillion, to represent blood. It was taken off in black
ink with a press, and is one of the rudest engravings known.[22]

[Illustration: FIG. 3.--The Crucifixion. From the Manuscript “Book of
Devotion.” 1445.]

Valueless as these prints[23] are, for the most part, as works of art,
they are of great interest. They were the first pictures the common
people ever had, and doubtless they were highly prized. Rude as they
were, the poor German peasant or humble artisan of the great industrial
cities cared for them; they had been given to him by the monks, like the
rudely-carved wooden images of earlier times, at the end of some
pilgrimage that he had made for penance or devotion, and were treasured
by him as a precious memento; or some preaching friar, to whom he had
devoutly given a small alms for the building of a church or the
decoration of a shrine, had rewarded his piety with a picture of the
saint whom, so far as he could, he had honored; or he had received them
on some day of festival, when in the streets of the Flemish cities the
Lazarists or other orders of monks had marched in grand procession,
scattering these brilliantly colored prints among the populace. Stuck up
on the low walls of his dwelling, they not only recalled his pious
deeds, they brought home before his eyes in daily sight the reality of
that holy living and holy dying of the Saviour and his martyrs in whose
intercession and prayer his hope of salvation lay. Throughout the
fifteenth and a part of the sixteenth centuries, although the
intellectual life of the higher classes began to be secularized, among
the common people these mediæval sentiments and customs, which gave rise
to the holy prints, continued without change until the Reformation; and
so the workshops of the monks and of the guilds of Augsburg, Nuremberg,
Ulm, Cologne, and the Flemish cities, kept on issuing these saints’
images, as they were called, long after the art had produced refined and
noble works. They remained, in accordance with the true mediæval spirit,
not only without the name of the craftsman, _nomen vero auctoris
humilitate siletur_, but unmarked by any individuality, impersonal as
well as anonymous; there is little to show even the difference in the
time and place of their production, except that their lines in the first
half of the century were more round and flowing, while in the latter
half they were angular, after the manner of the Van Eycks, and that they
vary in the choice and brilliancy of their colors.[24]

At the very beginning, too, wood-engraving was applied to a new
industry, which had sprung up rapidly, to furnish amusement for the camp
and the town--the manufacture of playing-cards. Some writers have
maintained that the art was thus applied before it was employed to make
the holy prints; but there are no playing-cards known to have been
printed before 1423, and it is probable that they were painted by hand
and adorned by the stencil for some time after the first unquestioned
mention of them in 1392.[25] The manufacture of both cards and holy
prints soon became a thriving trade; it is mentioned in Augsburg in
1418, and soon afterward in Nuremberg; and in 1441 the exportation of
these articles into Italy had become so large that the Venetian Senate
passed a decree,[26] which is the earliest document relative to
wood-engraving in Italy, forbidding their importation into Venice,
because the guild engaged in this manufacture in the city was suffering
from the foreign competition. Wood-engraving, being only one process in
the craft of the card-maker and the print-maker, seems to have remained
without a distinct name for a long while after its invention.

In the middle of the fifteenth century, therefore, wood-engraving, the
youngest of the arts of design, after fifty years of obscure and
unnoticed history, held an established position, and was recognized as a
new craft. In art its discovery was the parallel of the invention of
printing in literature; it was a means of multiplying and spreading the
ideas which are expressed by art, of creating a popular appreciation and
knowledge of art, and of bringing beautiful design within the reach of a
larger body of men. It is difficult for a modern mind to realize the
place which pictures filled in mediæval life, before the invention of
printing had brought about that great change which has resulted in
making books almost the sole means of education. It was not merely that
the paintings upon the walls of the churches conveyed more noble
conceptions to the peasant and the artisan than their slow imagination
could build up out of the words of the preacher; like children, they
apprehended through pictures, they thought upon all higher themes in
pictures rather than in words; their ideas were pictorial rather than
verbal; painting was in spiritual matters more truly a language to them
than their own _patois_. They could not reason, they could not easily
understand intellectual statement, they could not imagine vividly, they
could only see. This accounts for the rapid spread of the new art, and
for the popularity and utility of the holy prints which were so widely
employed to convey religious ideas and quicken religious sentiment; in
the production of these wood-engraving appears from the first in its
true vocation as a democratic art in the service of the people; its
influence was one, and by no means the most insignificant, of the great
forces which were to transform mediæval into modern life, to make the
civilization of the heart and the brain no longer the exclusive
possession of a few among the fortunately born, but a common blessing.
Wood-engraving was at once the product of the desire for this change and
of the effort toward it, a mirror of the movement the more valuable
because the art was more intimately connected with the popular life than
any other art of the Renaissance, and a power feeding the impulse from
which it derived its own vitality. In this fact lies the historic
interest of the art to the student of civilization. At first it served
mediæval religion; afterward it took a wider range, and by both its
serious and satirical works afforded valuable aid in the progress of the
Reformation, while it rendered the earliest printed books more
attractive, in which its nobler designs educated the eye in the
perception of beauty. Finally, in the hands of the great engravers--of
Dürer, who, still mastered by the mediæval spirit, employed it to embody
the German Renaissance; of Maximilian’s artists, who recorded in it the
dying picturesqueness and chivalric spirit of the Middle Ages; of
Holbein, who first heralded, by means of it, the intelligence and
sentiment of modern times--it produced its chief monuments, which, for
the most part, will here be dealt with, in order to illustrate its value
as a fine art practised for its own sake, as a trustworthy contemporary
record of popular customs, ideas, and taste, and as an element of
considerable power in the advancement of modern civilization.



[Illustration: D FIG. 4.--From the “Epistole di San Hieronymo.” 1497.]

During the first half of the fifteenth century, in more than one quarter
of Europe, ingenious minds were at work seeking by various experiments
and repeated trials, with more and more success, the great invention of
printing with movable types; even now, after the most searching inquiry,
the time and place of the invention are uncertain. Printing with movable
types, however, was preceded and suggested by printing from engraved
wood-blocks. The holy prints sometimes bore the name of the saint, or a
brief _Ora pro nobis_ or other legend impressed upon the paper; the
wood-engravers who first cut these few letters upon the block, although
ignorant of the vast consequences of their humble work, began that great
movement which was to change the face of civilization. After letters had
once been printed, to multiply the words and lengthen the sentences, to
remove them from the field of the cut to the space below it, to engrave
whole columns of text, and, finally, to reproduce entire manuscripts,
and thus make printed books, were merely questions of manual skill and
patience. Where or when or by whom these block-books, as they are
called, were first engraved and printed is unknown; these questions have
been bones of contention among antiquarians for three hundred years, and
in the dispute much patient research has been expended, and much dusty
knowledge heaped together, only to perplex doubt still farther, and to
multiply baseless conjectures. It is probable that they were produced in
the first half of the fifteenth century, when the men of the
Renaissance, whose aroused curiosity made them alert to seize any new
suggestion, were everywhere seeking for means to overthrow the great
barrier to popular civilization, the rarity of the instruments for
intellectual instruction; they soon saw of what service the new art
might be in this task, through the cheapness and rapidity of its
processes, and they applied it to the printing of words as well as of

The most common manuscripts of the time, which had hitherto been the
cheapest mode of intellectual communication, were especially fitted to
be reproduced by the new art; they were those illustrated abridgments of
Scriptural history or doctrine, called _Biblia Pauperum_, or books of
the poor preachers, which had long been used in popular religious
instruction, in accordance with the mediæval custom of conveying
religious ideas to the illiterate more quickly and vividly through
pictures than was possible by the use of language alone. In the sixth
century Gregory the Great had defended wall-paintings in the churches as
a means of religious instruction for the ignorant population which then
filled the Roman provinces. In a letter to the Bishop of Marseilles, who
had shown indiscreet zeal in destroying the pictures of the saints, he
wrote: “What writing is to those who read, that a picture is to those
who have only eyes; because, however ignorant they are, they see their
duty in a picture, and there, although they have not learned their
letters, they read; wherefore, for the people especially, painting
stands in the place of literature.”[27] In conformity with this opinion
these manuscripts were composed at an early period; they were written
rapidly by the scribes, and illustrated with designs made with the pen,
and rudely colored by the rubricators. They served equally to take the
place of the Bible among the poor clergy--for a complete manuscript of
the Scriptures was far too valuable a treasure to be within their
reach--and to aid the people in understanding what was told them; for,
doubtless, in teaching both young and old the monks showed these
pictures to explain their words, and to make a more lasting impression
upon the memory of their hearers. These designs, it is worth while to
point out, exhibit the immobility of mind in the mediæval communities,
guided, as they were, almost wholly by custom and tradition; the designs
were not original, but were copied from the artistic representations in
the principal churches, where the common people may have seen them, when
upon a pilgrimage or at other times, carved among the bass-reliefs or
glowing in the bright colors of the painted windows. They were copied
without change, the scenes were conceived in the same manner, the
characters were represented after the same conventional type, even in
the details there was slight variation; and as the decorative arts in
the churches were subordinated to architecture, these designs not
infrequently bear the stamp of their original purpose, and are marked by
the characteristics of mural art. They were copied, too, not only by the
scribes from early representations, but they were reproduced by the
great masters of the Renaissance from the manuscripts and block-books
themselves; Dürer, Quentin Matzys, Lukas van Leyden, Martin Schön, and,
in earlier times, Taddeo Gaddi and Orcagna, took their conceptions from
these sources.

Of the block-books which reproduced these and similar manuscripts
several have been preserved, and some of them have been reproduced in
fac-simile, and minutely described. Among the most important of these,
the _Biblia Pauperum_,[28] or Poor Preachers’ Bible, of which copies of
several editions exist, deserves to be first mentioned. It is a small
folio, containing forty pages, printed upon one side only, with the pale
brownish ink used in most early prints, and by means of a rubber. The
pages are arranged so that they can be pasted back to back; each page is
divided into five compartments, separated by the pillars and mouldings
of an architectural design, which immediately recall the divisions of a
church window; in the centre is depicted some scene (Fig. 5) from the
Gospels, and on either side are placed scenes from the Old Testament
history illustrative or typical of that commemorated in the central
design; both above and below are two half-length representations of
holy men. Various texts are interspersed in the field, and Latin verses
are written below the central compartments. It will be seen that the
designs not only served to illustrate the preacher’s lesson, but
suggested his subject, and indicated and directed the course of his
sermon: they taught him before they taught the people.


FIG. 5.--From the original in the possession of Professor Norton, of

[Illustration: FIG. 6.--The Creation of Eve. From the fac-simile of

But, before commenting on this volume, it will be useful to describe
first the much more interesting and more famous _Speculum Humanæ
Salvationis_,[29] or Mirror of Human Salvation, an examination of which
will throw light on the history of the art. It is a small folio, and
contains sixty-three pages, printed upon one side, of which fifty-eight
are surmounted by two designs enclosed in an architectural border, which
are illustrative or symbolical of the life of Christ or of the Virgin;
the designs (Fig. 6) are printed in pale ink by means of a rubber. The
text is not engraved on the block or placed in the field of the cut, but
is printed from movable metallic type in black ink with a press, and
occupies the lower two-thirds of the page, in double columns. The book
is, therefore, a product of the two arts of wood-engraving and
typography in combination. There are four early editions known, two in
Latin, and two in Dutch, all without the name of the printer, or the
date or place of publication. They are printed on paper of the same
manufacture, with woodcuts from the same blocks, and in the same
typographical manner, excepting that one of the Latin editions contains
twenty pages in which the text is printed from engraved wood-blocks in
pale brownish ink, and with a rubber, like the designs. These four
editions, therefore, were issued in the same country.

This curious book has been the subject of more dispute than any other of
the block-books, because it offers more tangible facts to the
investigator. The type is of a peculiar kind, distinctly different from
that used by the early German printers, and the same in character with
that used in other early books undoubtedly issued in the Low Countries.
The language of the Dutch editions is the pure dialect of North Holland
in the first part of the fifteenth century; the costumes, the short
jackets, the high, broad-brimmed hats, sometimes with flowing ribbons,
the close-fitting hose and low shoes of the men, the head-dresses and
skirts of the women, are of the same period in the Netherlands, and even
in the physiognomy of the faces Flemish features have been seen. The
designs, too, are in the manner of the great Flemish school, renowned as
the best in Europe outside Italy, which was founded by Van Eyck, the
discoverer of the art of painting in oil, and which was marked by a
realism altogether new and easily distinguished; the backgrounds are
filled with architecture of the same time and country. The _Speculum_,
therefore, was produced in the Low Countries; it must have been printed
there before 1483, and probably was printed some time before 1454. The
_Biblia Pauperum_ has so much in common with the _Speculum_ in the
style of its art, its costumes, and its general character, that,
although of earlier date, it may be unhesitatingly ascribed to the same

The internal evidence, however, only enforces the probabilities
springing from the social condition of the Netherlands, then the most
highly civilized country north of the Alps. Its industries, in the hands
of the great guilds of Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Louvain, Antwerp, and
Liege, were the busiest in Europe. Its commerce was fast upon the
lagging sails of Venice. The “Lancashire of the Middle Ages,” as it has
been fitly called, sent its manufactures abroad wherever the paths of
the sea had been made open, and received the world’s wealth in return.
The magnificence of its Court was the wonder of foreigners, and the
prosperity of its people their admiration. The confusion of mediæval
life, it is true, was still there--fierce temper in the artisans,
blood-thirstiness in the soldiery, everywhere the pitilessness of
military force, wielded by a proud and selfish caste, as Froissart and
Philippe de Comyns plainly recount; but there, nevertheless--although
the brutal sack of Liege was yet to take place--modern life was
beginning; merchant-life, supported by trade, citizen-life, made
possible by the high organization of the great guilds, had begun,
although the merchant and the citizen must still wear the sword; art,
under the guidance of the Van Eycks, was passing out of mediæval
conventionalism, out of the monastery and the monkish tradition, to deal
no longer with lank, meagre, martyr-like bodies, to care no more for the
moral lesson in contempt of artistic beauty, to come face to face with
nature and humanity as they really were before men’s eyes; and modern
intellectual life, too--faint and feeble, no doubt--was nevertheless
beginning to show signs of its presence there, where in after-times
great thinkers were to find a harbor of refuge, and the most heroic
struggle of freedom was to be fought out against Spain and Rome. This
comparatively high state of civilization, the activity of men’s minds,
the variety of mechanical pursuits, the excellence of the goldsmiths’
art, the number and character of the early prints undoubtedly issued
there, the mention of incorporated guilds of printers at Antwerp as
early as 1417, and again in 1440, and at Bruges in 1454, make it
probable that the invention of wood-engraving was due to the
Netherlands, and perhaps the invention of typography also. Whether this
were the case or not, it is certain that the artists of the Netherlands
carried the art of engraving in wood to its highest point of excellence
during its first period.

Antiquarians have not been contented to show that the best of the
block-books came from the Netherlands; they have attempted to discover
the names of the composer of the _Speculum_, the engraver of its
designs, and its printer. But their conjectures[30] are so doubtful that
it is unnecessary to examine them, with the exception of the ascription
of the printing of the _Speculum_ to the Brothers of the Common
Lot.[31] This brotherhood was one of the many orders which arose at that
time in the Netherlands, given to mysticism and enthusiasm, that
resulted in real licentiousness; or to piety and reform, that prepared
the way for the Reformation. Its members were devoted to the spread of
knowledge, and were engaged in copying manuscripts and founding public
schools in the cities. After the invention of printing, they set up the
first presses in Brussels and Louvain, and published many books, always,
however, without their name as publishers. They practised the art of
wood-engraving, and doubtless some of the early holy prints were from
their workshops; sometimes they inserted woodcuts in their manuscripts,
as in the _Spirituale Pomerium_, or Spiritual Garden, of Henri van den
Bogaerde, the head of the retreat at Groenendael, where the painter
Diedrick Bouts occasionally sought retirement, and where he may have
aided the Brothers with his knowledge of design. It is quite possible
that this brotherhood, so favorably placed, produced the _Speculum_ and
others of the block-books, and that they were aided by the painters of
the time whose style of design they followed; but, as Renouvier remarks
in rejecting this account, the monks were not the only persons too
little desirous of notoriety to print their names, and although they
took part in early engraving and printing, a far more important part was
taken by the great civil corporations. In either case, whether the monks
or the secular engravers designed these woodcuts, they were probably
aided at times by the painters, who at that period did not restrict
themselves to the higher branches of art, but frequently put their skill
to very humble tasks.

The character of the design is very easily seen; the lines are simple,
often graceful and well-arranged; there is but little attempt at marking
shadows; there is less stiffness in the forms, and the draperies follow
the lines of the forms better than in either earlier or later work of a
similar kind, and there is also much less unconscious caricature and
grimace. A whole series needs to be looked at before one can appreciate
the interest which these designs have in indicating the subjects on
which imagination and thought were then exercised, and the modes in
which they were exercised. Symbolism and mysticism pervade the whole.
All nature and history seem to have existed only to prefigure the life
of the Saviour: imagination and thought hover about him, and take color,
shape, and light only from that central form; the stories of the Old
Testament, the histories of David, Samson, and Jonah, the massacres,
victories, and miracles there recorded, foreshadow, as it were in
parables, the narrative of the Gospels; the temple, the altar, and the
ark of the covenant, all the furnishings and observances of the Jewish
ritual, reveal occult meanings; the garden of Solomon’s Song, and the
sentiment of the Bridegroom and the Bride who wander in it, are
interpreted, sometimes in graceful or even poetic feeling, under the
inspiration of mystical devotion; old kings of pagan Athens are
transformed into witnesses of Christ, and, with the Sibyl of Rome,
attest spiritual truth. This book and others like it are mirrors of the
ecclesiastical mind; they picture the principal intellectual life of the
Middle Ages; they show the sources of that deep feeling in the earlier
Dutch artists which gave dignity and sweetness to their works. Even in
the rudeness of these books, in the texts as well as in the designs,
there is a _naïveté_, an openness and freshness of nature, a confidence
in limited experience and contracted vision, which make the sight of
these cuts as charming as conversation with one who had never heard of
America or dreamed of Luther, and who would have found modern life a
puzzle and an offence. The author of the _Speculum_ laments the evils
which fell upon man in consequence of Adam’s sin, and recounts them:
blindness, deafness, lameness, floods, fire, pestilence, wild beasts,
and lawsuits (in such order he arranges them); and he ends the long list
with this last and heaviest evil, that men should presume to ask “why
God willed to create man, whose fall he foresaw; why he willed to create
the angels, whose ruin he foreknew; wherefore he hardened the heart of
Pharaoh, and softened the heart of Mary Magdalene unto repentance;
wherefore he made Peter contrite, who had denied him thrice, but allowed
Judas to despair in his sin; wherefore he gave grace to one thief, and
cared not to give grace to his companion.” What modern man can fully
realize the mental condition of this poet, who thus weeps over the
temptation to ask these questions, as the supreme and direst curse which
Divine vengeance allows to overtake the perverse children of this world?

A better illustration of the sentiment and grace sometimes to be found
in the block-books is the _Historia Virginis Mariæ ex Cantico
Canticorum_, or History of the Virgin, as it is prefigured in the Song
of Solomon. This volume is the finest in design of all the block-books.
In it the Bride, the Bridegroom, three attendant maidens, and an angel
are grouped in successive scenes, illustrating the mystical meaning of
some verse of the Song. The artistic feeling displayed in the
arrangement of the figures is such that the designs have been attributed
directly to Roger Van der Weyden, the greatest of Van Eyck’s pupils.
This book, like the _Biblia Pauperum_ and the _Speculum_, came from the
engravers and the printers of the Netherlands; but it shows progress in
art beyond those works, more elegance and vivacity of line, more ability
to render feeling expressively, and especially more delight in nature
and carefulness in delineating natural objects.

In spite of these three chief monuments of the art of block-printing in
the Netherlands, the claim of that country to the invention of the
block-books is not undisputed. The _Historia Johannis Evangelistæ
ejusque Visiones Apocalypticæ_, or the Apocalypse of St. John, much
ruder in drawing and in execution, is the oldest block-book according to
most writers, and especially those who maintain the claims of Germany to
the honor of the invention. This volume has been ascribed by Chatto to
Upper Germany, where some Greek artist may have designed it; but with
more probability, by Passavant, to Lower Germany, and especially to
Cologne, on account of the coloring, which is in the Cologne manner. The
volume bears a surer sign of early work than mere rudeness of execution:
it is hieratic rather than artistic in character; the artist is
concerned more with enforcing the religious lesson than with designing
pleasant scenes. But although for this reason a very early date
(1440-1460) must be assigned to the book, the question of the origin of
the art of block-printing remains unsettled, even if it be granted that
the volume is of German workmanship. Some evidence must be shown that
the Netherlands imported the art from Cologne or some other German city,
and this is lacking; indeed, the absence in early Flemish work of any
trace of influence from the school of art which flourished at Cologne
before the Van Eycks painted in the Netherlands, is strong negative
evidence against such a supposition. On the other hand, it must be
remembered that Germany produced the St. Christopher, and many other
early prints. In some of the German block-books Heinecken recognized the
modes of the German card-makers; but this may be explained otherwise
than by supposing that the card-makers invented the art of
block-printing. On the whole, the rudeness of early German block-books
must be held to be a result of the unskilfulness and tastelessness of
German workmen, rather than an indication that the art was discovered by
them. The engraving of the Apocalypse, like all other German work, will
bear no comparison with the Netherland engraving, either in refinement,
vivacity, or skill.

The other block-books, many of which are in themselves interesting and
curious, do not elucidate the history of the art, and therefore need not
be discussed. It is sufficient to say that they are less valuable than
those which have been described, and far ruder in design and execution.
Some of them throw light upon the time. The _Ars Memorandi_, a series of
designs meant to assist the memory in recalling the chapters of the
Apocalypse, is a very curious monument of an age when such a device was
useful; and the _Ars Moriendi_, or Art of Dying, in which were depicted
frightful and eager devils about a dying man’s couch, is a book which
may stir our laughter, but was full of a different meaning for the poor
sinner to whose bedside the pious monks carried it to bring him to
repentance, by showing him designs of such horrible suggestion,
enforced, no doubt, by exhortations hardly more humane. These books were
all reproduced many times. This Art of Dying, for example, appeared in
Latin, Flemish, German, Italian, French, and English, with similar
designs, although there were variations in the text. Once popular, they
have long since lost their attraction; few care for the ideas or the
pictures preserved in them; the bibliophile collects them, because they
are rare, costly, and curious; the scholar consults them, because they
reveal the unprofitableness of mediæval thought, the needs and
characteristics of the class that could prize them, the poverty of the
civilization of which they are the monuments, and because they disclose
glimpses of actual human life as it then was, with its humors, its
burdens, and its imaginations. The world has forgotten them; but they
hold in the history of civilization an honorable place, for by means of
them wood-engraving led the way to the invention of printing, and
thereby performed its greatest service to mankind.



[Illustration: I FIG 7.--Source of this letter unknown.]

In 1454 the art of printing in movable types and with a press had been
perfected in Germany; soon afterward the art of block-printing, although
it continued to be practised until the end of the century, began to fall
into decay, and the ancient block-books, in which the text had been
subsidiary to the colored engravings, speedily gave place to the modern
printed book, in which the engravings were subsidiary to the text. This
change did not come about without a struggle between the rival arts. In
all the great cities of Germany and the Low Countries, the
block-printers and wood-engravers had long been organized into strong
and compact guilds, enforcing their rights with strict jealousy, and
privileged from the first to make use of movable types and the press;
the new printers, on the other hand, were comparatively few in number,
disunited and scattered, accustomed to go from one town to another, and
every attempt by them to insert woodcuts into their books was looked
upon and resented as an encroachment on the art of the block-printers
and the wood-engravers. At first the new printers closely imitated the
manuscripts of their time. They used woodcuts to take the place of the
miniatures with which the manuscripts were embellished. They copied
directly the handwriting of the scribes in the forms of their type, and
were thus led to the use of ornamental initial letters like those which
had long been designed by the scribes and illuminated by the
rubricators; such are the beautiful initial letters in the Psalter of
Faust and Scheffer, published at Mayence in 1457, which are the earliest
wood-engravings in a dated book, and are designed and executed with a
skill which has rarely been surpassed. It was by such attempts that the
new printers incurred the hostility of the wood-engravers, which was
soon actively shown. Even as late as 1477, the guild at Augsburg, which
was then the most numerous and best-skilled in Germany, opposed the
admission of Gunther Zainer, who had just set up a printing-press there,
to the rights of citizenship, and he owed his freedom from molestation
to the interference of the friendly abbot, Melchior de Stamham. The
guild succeeded in obtaining an ordinance forbidding Zainer to insert
woodcuts or initials engraved on wood into his books--a prohibition
which remained in force until he came to an understanding with them, by
agreeing to use only such woodcuts and initials as should be engraved by
them. In this, or similar ways, as in every displacement of labor by
mechanical improvements, after a short struggle the cheaper and more
rapid art prevailed; the wood-engravers gave up to the printers the
principal part in the making of books, and became their servants.

The new printers were most active in the great German cities--Cologne,
Mayence, Nuremberg, Ulm, Augsburg, Strasburg, and Basle--and from the
presses of these cities the greatest number of books with woodcuts were
issued. This is one reason why the mastering influence from this time in
Northern wood-engraving was German; why German taste, German rudeness,
coarseness, and crudity became the main characteristics of
wood-engraving in the latter half of the fifteenth century. The Germans
had been, from the first, artisans rather than artists. They had
produced many anonymous prints and block-books, but they had never
attained to the power and elegance of the Flemish school. Now the
quality of their work became even less excellent; for decline had set
in, and the increasing popularity of the new art of copperplate-engraving
combined with the unfavorable influences resulting from printing, which
required cheap and rapid processes, to degrade the art still lower. The
illustrations in the new books had ordinarily little art-value: they
were often grotesque, stiff, ignorant in design, and careless or
inexpert in execution; but they had nevertheless their use and their

The German influence was made more powerful, too, by other causes than
the foremost part taken by Germany in printing. The Low Countries,
hitherto so civilized and prosperous, the home and cradle of early
Northern art, the influence of which had spread abroad and become the
most powerful even over the German painters themselves, were now
involved in the turbulence and disaster of the great wars of Charles the
Bold. They not only lost their honorable place at the head of Northern
civilization, but on the marriage of their Duchess, Mary of Burgundy,
the daughter of Charles the Bold, to the Emperor Maximilian, they
yielded in great part to the German influence, and became more nearly
allied in character and spirit to the German cities, as they had before
been more akin to France. The woodcuts in the books of the Netherlands,
where printing was introduced by German workmen, share in the rudeness
of German art; in proportion as their previous performance had been more
excellent, the decline of the art among them seems more great. There
are, occasionally, traces of the old power of design and execution in
their later work; but from the time that books began to be printed
Germany took the lead in wood-engraving.

The German free cities were then animated with the new spirit which was
to mould the great age of Germany, and result in Dürer and Luther. The
growing weakness of the Empire had fostered independence and
self-reliance in the citizens, while the increase of commerce, both on
the north to the German Ocean, and on the south through Venice, had
introduced the wants of a higher civilization, and afforded the means to
satisfy them. Local pride, which showed itself in the rivalries and
public works of the cities, made their enterprise and industry more
active, and gave an added impulse to the rapid transformation of
military and feudal into commercial and democratic life. In these
cities, where the body of men interested in knowledge and with the means
of acquiring it, became every year more numerous, the new presses sent
forth books of all kinds--the religious and ascetic writings of the
clergy, mediæval histories, chronicles and romances, travels, voyages,
botanical, military, and scientific works, and sometimes the writings of
classic authors; although, in distinction from Italy, Germany was at
first devoted to the reproduction of mediæval rather than Greek and
Latin literature. The books in Latin, the learned tongue, were usually
without woodcuts; but those in the vulgar tongues, then becoming true
languages, the development and fixing of which are one of the great
debts of the modern world to printing, were copiously illustrated, in
order to make them attractive to the popular taste.

[Illustration: FIG. 8.--The Grief of Hannah. From the Cologne Bible,

[Illustration: FIG. 9.--Illustration of Exodus I. From the Cologne
Bible, 1470-’75.]

The great book, on which the printers exercised most care, was the
Bible. Many editions were published; but the most important of these, in
respect to the history of wood-engraving, was the Cologne Bible (Figs.
8, 9), which appeared before 1475, both because its one hundred and nine
designs were, probably, after the block-books, the earliest series of
engraved illustrations of Scripture, and were widely copied, and also
because they show an extension of the sphere of thought and increased
intellectual activity. The designers of these cuts relied less upon
tradition, displayed more original feeling, and showed greater variety
and vivacity in their treatment, than the artists who had engraved the
_Biblia Pauperum_. The latter volume contained, as has been seen, nearly
the last impression of century-old pictorial types in the mediæval
conventional manner; the Cologne Bible defined conceptions of Scriptural
scenes anew, and these conceptions became conventional, and re-appeared
for generations in other illustrated Bibles in all parts of Europe; not,
however, because of an immobility of mind characteristic of the
community, as in earlier times, but partly because the printers
preserved and exchanged old wood-blocks, so that the same designs from
the same blocks appeared in widely distant cities, and partly because it
was less costly for them to employ an inferior workman to copy the old
cut, with slight variations, than to have an artist of original
inventive power to design a wholly new series. Thus the Nuremberg Bible
of 1482 is illustrated from the same blocks as the Cologne Bible, and
the cuts in the Strasburg Bible of 1485 are poor copies of the same
designs. From the marginal border which encloses the first page of the
Cologne Bible it appears that wood-engraving was already looked on, not
only as a means of illustrating what was said in the text, but as a
means of decoration merely. Here, among the foliage and flowers, are
seen running animals, and in the midst the hunter, the jongleur, the
musician, the lover, the lady, and the fool--an indication of delight in
nature and in the variety of human life, which, simply because it is not
directly connected with the text, is the more significant of that freer
range of sympathy and thought characteristic of the age. Afterward these
decorative borders, often in a satiric and not infrequently in a gross
vein, wholly disconnected with the text, and sometimes at strange
variance with its spirit, are not uncommon. The engravings that follow
this frontispiece represent the customary Scriptural scenes, and the
series closes with two striking designs of the Last Judgment and of
Hell. In the former angels are hurling pope, emperor, cardinal, bishop,
and king into hell, and in the latter their bodies lie face to face with
the souls marked with the seal of God--a satire not unexampled before
this time, and indeed hardly bolder than hitherto, but of a spirit which
showed that Luther was already born. “It is no small honor for our
wood-engravers,” says Renouvier, “to have expressed public opinion with
such hardihood, and to have shown themselves the advanced sentinels of a
revolution.” The engraving in this Bible tells its own story without
need of comment; but, heavy and rude as much of it is, it surpasses
other German work of the same period; and it must not be forgotten that
the awkwardness of the drawing was much obscured by the colors which
were afterward laid on the designs by hand. It is only by accident or
negligence that woodcuts were left uncolored in early German books, for
the conception of a complete picture simply in black and white was a
comparatively late acquisition in art, and did not guide the practice of
wood-engravers until the last decade of the century, when, indeed, it
effected a revolution in the art.

Of the many other illustrated Bibles which appeared during the last
quarter of the fifteenth century, the one published at Augsburg, about
1475, and attributed to Gunther Zainer, alone has a peculiar interest.
All but two of its seventy-three woodcuts are combined with large
initial letters, occupying the width of a column, for which they serve
as a background, and by which they are framed in; these are the oldest
initial letters in this style, and are original in design, full of
animation and vigor, and rank with the best work of the early Augsburg
wood-engravers. It is not unlikely that these novel and attractive
letters were the very ones of which the Augsburg guild complained in the
action that they brought against Zainer in 1477. Afterward the German
printers gave much attention to ornamented capitals, both in this style,
which reached its most perfect examples in Holbein’s alphabets, and in
the Italian mode, in which the design was relieved in white upon a black

Next to the Bibles, the early chronicles and histories are of most
interest for the study of wood-engraving. They are records of legendary
and real events, intermingled with much extraneous matter which seemed
to their authors curious or startling. They usually begin with the
Creation, and come down through sacred into early legendary and secular
history, recounting miracles, martyrdoms, sieges, tales of wonder and
superstition, omens, anecdotes of the great princes, and the like. Each
of them dwells especially upon whatever glorifies the saints, or touches
the patriotism, of their respective countries. They are filled with
woodcuts in illustration of their narrative, beginning with scenes from
Genesis. Thus the Chronicle of Saxony, published at Mayence in 1492,
contains representations of the fall of the angels, the ark of Noah,
Romulus founding Rome, the arrival of the Franks and the Saxons, the
deeds of Charlemagne, the overthrow of paganism, the famous emperors,
Otho burning a sorcerer, Frederick Barbarossa, and the Emperor
Maximilian. The Chronicle of Cologne, published in 1492, is similarly
illustrated with views of the great cathedral, with representations of
the Three Kings, the refusal of the five Rhine cities to pay impost, and
like scenes.

[Illustration: FIG. 10.--The Fifth Day of Creation. From Schedel’s
“Liber Chronicarum.” Nuremberg, 1493.]

The most important of the chronicles, in respect to wood-engraving, is
the Chronicle of Nuremberg (Figs. 10, 11, 12), published in that city in
1493. It contains over two thousand cuts which are attributed to William
Pleydenwurff and Michael Wohlgemuth, the latter the master of Albert
Dürer; they are rude and often grotesque, possessing an antiquarian
rather than an artistic interest; many of them are repeated several
times, a portrait serving indifferently for one prophet or another, a
view of houses upon a hill representing equally well a city in Asia or
in Italy, just as in many other early books--for example, in the History
of the Kings of Hungary--a battle-piece does for any conflict, or a man
on a throne for any king. The representations were typical rather than
individual. In some of the designs there is, doubtless, a careful
truthfulness, as in the view of Nuremberg, and perhaps in some of the
portraits. The larger cuts show considerable vigor and boldness of
conception, but none of them are so good as the illustrations, also
attributed to Wohlgemuth, in the _Schatzbehalter_, published in the
same city in 1491. The distinction of the Nuremberg chronicle does not
consist in any superiority of design which can be claimed for it in
comparison with other books of the same sort, but in the fact that here
were printed, for the first time, woodcuts simply in black and white,
which were looked on as complete without the aid of the colorist, and
were in all essential points entirely similar to modern works. This
change was brought about by the introduction of cross-hatching, or lines
crossing each other at different intervals and different angles, but
usually obliquely, by means of which blacks and grays of various
intensity, or what is technically called color, were obtained. This was
a process already in use in copperplate-engraving. In that art--the
reverse of wood-engraving since the lines which are to give the
impression on paper are incised into the metal instead of being left
raised as in the wood-block--the engraver grooved out the crossing lines
with the same facility and in the same way as the draughtsman draws them
in a pen-and-ink sketch, the depth of color obtained depending in both
cases on the relative closeness and fineness of the hatchings. In
engraving in wood the task was much more difficult, and required greater
nicety of skill, for, as in this case the crossing lines must be left in
relief, the engraver was obliged to gouge out the minute diamond spaces
between them. At first this was, probably, thought beyond the power of
the workmen. The earliest woodcut in which these cross-hatchings appear
is the frontispiece to Breydenbach’s Travels, published at Mayence in
1486, which is, perhaps, the finest wood-engraving of its time. In the
Nuremberg chronicle this process was first extensively employed to
obtain color, and thus this volume marks the beginning of that great
school in wood-engraving which seeks its effects in black lines.

[Illustration: FIG. 11.--The Dancing Deaths. From Schedel’s “Liber
Chronicarum.” Nuremberg, 1493.]

To describe the hundreds of illustrated books which the German printers
published before the end of the century belongs to the bibliographer.
Should any one turn to them, he would find in the cuts that they contain
much diversity in character, but little in merit; he would meet at
Bamberg, in the works printed by Pfister, whose Book of Fables,
published 1461, is the first dated volume with woodcuts of figures,
designs so rude that they are generally believed to have been hacked out
by apprentices wholly destitute of training in the craft; he would
notice in the books of Cologne the greater self-restraint and sense of
proportion, in those of Augsburg the greater variety, vivacity, and
vigor, in those of Nuremberg the greater exaggeration and grotesqueness.
In the publications of some cities he would come upon the burning
questions of that generation: the siege of Rhodes by the Turks, the wars
of Charles the Bold against Switzerland, the martyrdom of John Huss;
elsewhere he would see naïve conceptions of mediæval romance and
chivalry, and not infrequently, as in the Boccaccio of Ulm, grossnesses
not to be described; at Strasburg he would hardly recognize Horace and
Virgil with their Teutonic features and barbaric garb; while at Mayence
botanical works, which strangely mingle science, medicine, and
superstition, would excite his wonder, and at Ulm military works would
picture the forgotten engines of mediæval warfare; in the Netherlands,
too, he would discern little difference in literature or in design;
everywhere he would find the unevenness of Gothic taste--one moment
creating works with a certain boldness and grandeur of conception, the
next moment falling into the inane and the ludicrous; everywhere German
realism making each person appear as if born in a Rhine city, and each
event as if taking place within its walls; everywhere, too, an
ever-widening interest in the affairs of past times and distant
countries, in the thought and life of the generations that were gone, in
the pursuits of the living, and the multiform problems of that age of
the Reformation then coming on. It is impossible to turn from this wide
survey without a recognition of the large share which wood-engraving, as
the suggester and servant of printing, had in the progress made toward
civilization in the North during that century. Woltmann does not
over-state the fact when he says: “Wood-engraving and
copperplate-engraving were not alone of use in the advance of art; they
form an epoch in the entire life of mind and culture. The idea embodied
and multiplied in pictures became, like that embodied in the printed
word, the herald of every intellectual movement.”

[Illustration: FIG. 12.--Jews Sacrificing a Christian Child. From
Schedel’s “Liber Chronicarum.” Nuremberg, 1493.]

As typography spread from Germany through the other countries of Europe,
the art of wood-engraving accompanied it. The first books printed in the
French language appeared about 1475, at Bruges, where the Dukes of
Burgundy had long favored the vulgar tongue, and had collected many
manuscripts written in it in their great library, then one of the finest
in Europe. The first French city to issue French books from its presses
was Lyons, which had learned the arts of printing and of wood-engraving
from Basle, Geneva, and Nuremberg, in consequence of their close
commercial relations. If a few doubtful and scattered examples of early
work be excepted, it was in these Lyonese books that French
wood-engraving first appeared. From the beginning of printing in France,
Lyons was the chief seat of popular literature, and the centre of the
industry of printing books in the vulgar tongue, as Paris was the chief
seat of the literature of the learned, both in Latin and French, and
devoted itself to reproducing religious and scientific works.[32] At the
close of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries the
Lyonese presses issued the largest number of first editions of the
popular romances, which were sought, not merely by French purchasers,
but throughout Europe. These books were meant for the middle class, who
were unable to buy the costly manuscripts, illuminated with splendid
miniatures, in which literature had previously been locked up. They were
not considered valuable enough to be preserved with care, and have
consequently become scarce; but they were published in great numbers,
and exerted an influence in the spread of literary knowledge and taste
which can hardly be over-estimated. Woodcuts were first inserted in them
about 1476; but for twenty years after this wood-engraving was practised
rather as a trade than an art, and its products have no more artistic
merit than similar works in Germany. In 1493 an edition of Terence, in
which the earlier rudeness gave way to some skill in design, showed the
first signs of promise of the excellence which the Lyonese art was to
attain in the sixteenth century.

In Paris, the German printers, who had been invited to the city by a
prior of the Sorbonne, had issued Latin works for ten years before
wood-engraving began to be practised. After 1483, however, Jean Du Pré,
Guyot Marchand, Pierre Le Rouge, Pierre Le Caron, Antoine Verard, and
other early printers applied themselves zealously to the publication of
volumes of devotion, history, poetry, and romance, in which they made
use of wood-engraving. The figure of the author frequently appears upon
the first page, where he offers his book to the king or princess before
whom he kneels; and here and there may be read sentiments like the
following, which is taken from an early work of Verard’s, where they are
inserted in fragmentary verses among the woodcuts: “Every good, loyal,
and gallant Catholic who begins any work of imagery ought, first, to
invoke in all his labor the Divine power by the blessed name of Jesus,
who illumines every human heart and understanding; this is in every deed
a fair beginning.”[33] The religious books, especially the _Livres
d’Heures_ (Fig. 13), were filled with the finest examples of the
Parisian art, which sought to imitate the beautiful miniatures for which
Paris had been famous from even before the time when Dante praised them.
In consequence of this effort the woodcut in simple line served
frequently only as a rough draft, to be filled in and finished by the
colorist, who, indeed, sometimes wholly disregarded it and overlaid it
with a new design. Before long, however, the wood-engravers succeeded in
making cuts which, so far from needing color, were only injured by the
addition of it; but these were considered less valuable than the
illuminated designs, and the wood-engravers were hampered in the
practice of their art by the miniaturists, who, like the guilds at
Augsburg and other German towns, complained of the new mode of
illustration as a ruinous encroachment on their craft.

[Illustration: FIG. 13.--Marginal Border. From Kerver’s “Psalterium
Virginis Mariæ.” 1509.]

Whether with or without color, the engravings in the _Livres d’Heures_
are beautiful. Each page is enclosed in an ornamental border made up of
small cuts, which are repeated in new arrangements on succeeding leaves;
here and there a large cut, usually representing some Scriptural scene,
is introduced in the upper portion of the page, and the text fills the
vacant spaces. Not infrequently the taste displayed is Gallic rather
than pious, and delights in profane legends and burlesque fancies which
one would not expect to meet in a prayer-book. These volumes were so
highly prized by foreign nations for the beauty of their workmanship,
that they were printed in Flemish, English, and Italian. Those which
were issued by Verard, Vostre, Pigouchet, and Kerver were the best
products of the early French art.[34] The secular works which contain
woodcuts are hardly worthy of mention, excepting Guyot Marchand’s La
Danse Macabre, first published in 1485, which is a series of twenty-five
spirited and graceful designs, marked by French vivacity and liveliness
of fancy. In all early French work the peculiar genius of the people is
not so easily distinguishable as in this example, but it is usually
present, and gives a national characteristic to the art, notwithstanding
the indubitable influences of the German archaic school in the earlier
time, and of the Italian school in the first years of the sixteenth

French wood-engraving is remarkable, in respect to its technique, for
the introduction of _criblée_, or dotted work, which has previously[35]
been described, into the backgrounds on which the designs are relieved.
This mode of engraving is probably a survival from the goldsmiths’ work
of the first part of the fifteenth century, and it is not unlikely that,
as Renouvier suggests, these _criblée_ grounds were meant to represent
the gold grounds on which both miniatures and early paintings were
relieved. From an examination of the peculiarities of these engravings,
some authors[36] have been led to maintain that they were taken off
from metal plates cut in relief, and nearly all writers are ready to
admit that this was sometimes, but not always, the case. The question is
unsettled; but it is probable that wood was sometimes employed, and it
would be impossible to determine with certainty what share in these
prints belongs to wood-engraving and metal-engraving respectively. In
general, French wood-engraving, in its best early examples at Paris, was
characterized by greater fineness and elegance of line, and by more
feeling for artistic effects, than was the case with German
book-illustration; but the Parisian chronicles, histories, botanical
works, and the like, possessed no greater merit than similar
publications at Lyons or in the German cities, and their influence upon
the middle classes in furthering the advance of education and taste was
probably much less.

England was far behind the other nations of Europe in its appreciation
of art, and wood-engraving throve there as feebly as did the other arts
of design. The first English book with woodcuts was Caxton’s Game and
Playe of the Chesse, published about 1476, the first edition of which
was issued two years earlier, without illustrations. It is supposed by
some writers that Caxton imported the blocks from which these cuts were
printed, as he did the type for his text; and it is certain that in
later years wood-blocks and metal-plates were brought over from the
Continent for illustrating English books. It is not improbable that the
art was practised by Englishmen as a part of the printer’s craft, and
that there were no professional wood-engravers for many years; indeed,
Chatto doubts whether the art was practised separately even so late as
Holbein’s time. The cuts in Caxton’s works, and in those of the later
printers, Wynkyn de Worde and Richard Pynson, were altogether rude and
uninteresting in design. If the honor of them belongs to foreign rather
than English workmen, no great hurt is done to English pride.



[Illustration: P FIG. 14.--From Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” Venice, 1518
(design, 1497).]

Previous to the time of Dürer wood-engraving in the North, as has been
seen, was little more than a trade, and has its main interest to the
scholar as an agent of civilization; in Italy it first became a fine
art, a mode of beautiful expression. The Italians, set in the midst of
natural loveliness and among the ruins of ancient art, had never wholly
lost the sense of beauty; they may have paid but slight attention to
what was about them, but they lived life-long in the daily sight of fair
scenes and beautiful forms, which impressed their senses and moulded
their nature, so that, when with the revival of letters they felt the
native impulses of humanity toward the higher life stirring once more in
their hearts, they found themselves endued with powers of perception and
appreciation beyond any other people in the world. These powers were not
the peculiar possession of a well-born class; the centuries had bred
them unobserved into the nature of the race, into the physical
constitution of the whole people. The artisan, no less than the prince,
took delight in the dawn of art, and welcomed it with equal worship. Nor
was this artistic instinct the only common acquisition; the enthusiasm
for letters was likewise widely shared, so that some of the best
manuscripts of the classics have come down to modern times from the
hands of humble Florentine workmen. Italy, indeed, was the first country
where democratic civilization had place; here the contempt of the
Northern lord for the peasant and the mechanic had never been
wide-spread, partly because mercantile life was early held to be
honorable, and partly because of peculiar social conditions. The long,
uninterrupted intercourse with the remains of Roman civilization in the
unbarbarized East, the contact with Saracenic civilization in the South,
the culture of the court of the Two Sicilies, and the invariably
levelling influence of commerce, had made Italy the most cosmopolitan of
European countries; the sharp and warlike rivalry of small, but
intensely patriotic, states, and the necessity they lay under of
utilizing for their own preservation whatever individual energy might
arise among them, perhaps most of all the powerful example of the
omnipresent Church in which the son of a swineherd might take the Papal
Throne, had contributed to make it comparatively easy to pass from lower
to higher social ranks; the aristocratic structure of society remained,
but the distinction of classes was obscured, and the excellence of the
individual’s faculties, the energy and scope of his powers, were
recognized as the real dignities which were worthy of respect. In this
recognition of the individual, and this common taste for art and
letters, lay the conditions of new and vigorous intellectual life; they
resulted in the great age of Italy. It was this in the main that made
possible the popular fervor for the things of the mind in the Italian
Renaissance, to which nothing else in the world’s history is comparable
but the popular enthusiasm of the modern Revolution for liberty. Dante
gave his country a native language, the Humanists gave it the literature
of Rome, the Hellenists the literature of Greece; poets sang and artists
painted with a loftiness and dignity of imagination, a sweetness and
delicacy of sentiment, an energy and reach of thought, a music of verse
and harmony of line and color, still unsurpassed. The gifts which these
men brought were not for a few, but for the many who shared in this
mastering, absorbing interest in the things of the mind, in beauty and
wisdom, which was the vital spirit of the Italian Renaissance.

[Illustration: FIG. 15.--The Creation. From the “Fasciculus Temporum.”
Venice, 1484.]

[Illustration: FIG. 16.--Leviathan. From the “Ortus Sanitatis.” Venice,

Thus it happened that when the German printers brought over the Alps the
art which was to do so much toward civilizing the North, they found in
Italy a civilization already culminated, hastening on, indeed, to a
swift decline; they found the people already in possession of the
manuscripts which they came to reproduce and multiply, and the princes,
like Frederick of Urbino,[37] “ashamed to own a printed book” among
their splendid collections, where every art seemed to vie in making
beautiful their volumes of vellum and velvet. Wood-engraving, too, which
here as elsewhere accompanied printing, could be of no use in spreading
ideas and preparing the way for a popular knowledge and appreciation of
art; it was to receive rather than bestow benefits; it was to be made a
fine art before it could perform any real service. The printers,
however, proved the utility of their art, and were soon busily employed
in all the Italian cities in reproducing the precious manuscripts with
which Italy was stored; and from the first they called wood-engraving to
their aid. It is true that the earliest Italian woodcuts--which were,
however, Germanic in design and execution--were as rude as those of the
Northern workshops. They appeared for the first time in an edition of
Cardinal Turrecremata’s Meditations, published at Rome by Ulric Hahn, in
1467. In Venice, although without much doubt the art had been practised
there by the makers of cards and prints long before, woodcuts were first
introduced by the German printers. The accompanying cuts are fair
examples of their work (Figs. 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21), and at the same
time interesting reflections of popular fable. The views of Venice are
examples of the very common attempts to represent the actual appearance
of the great cities, which possess sometimes an historic value. This
Germanic work is but slightly different from that already noticed; but
as soon as the art became naturalized, and was practised by the Italian
engravers, it was characterized at once by beauty of design. There is
something more than promise in an edition of Æsop’s Fables, published at
Verona in 1481, as may be seen from these examples (Figs. 22, 23),
taken from a Venetian reprint of 1491. An Ovid, printed at Venice in
1497, is adorned with several excellent woodcuts, such as this of The
Contest of Apollo and Pan (Fig. 19); and there are other works of
similar merit belonging to the same period. The finest example of
Italian wood-engraving before it reached its highest perfection in the
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, or Dream of Poliphilo, is a volume which
contains the epistles of St. Jerome, and a description of cloistral
life. This is adorned with a large number of small woodcuts of simple
beauty, marked by grace and feeling, and full of reminiscences of moods
and sentiments which have long ceased to hold a place in human hearts
(Figs. 24, 25, 26). Here is pictured the religious life; the monk’s cell
is barely furnished, but it is seldom without shelves of books and a
window opening upon a distant prospect; the teacher expounds to his
pupils the great volume on the desk before him; the priest administers
consolation to the dying and the bereaved, and encourages the feeble of
spirit and the sinful; the preacher discourses to his brethren and the
crowding people the Blessed Word; the nuns of the sisterhood perform
their daily offices of religion, the panel of the confessional slides
back for them, they wash the feet of the poor, they sit at table
together; all the pieties of their life, which knew no close human
relation, which knew only God and mankind, are depicted; and now and
then there is a thought, too, of the worldly life outside--here the
beautiful youths stop to gaze at the convent gates barred against them.
There are other cuts, also, of landscape, towers, and cities. The great
themes of religion are not forgotten--the Resurrection and the Judgment
unfold their secrets of justice and of the life eternal. In all the
religious spirit prevails, and gives to the whole series a simple and
sweet charm. One may look at them long, and be content to look many
times thereafter.

[Illustration: FIG. 17.--The Stork. From the “Ortus Sanitatis.” Venice,

[Illustration: FIG. 18.--View of Venice. From the “Fasciculus Temporum.”
Venice, 1484.]

[Illustration: FIG. 19.--The Contest of Apollo and Pan. From Ovid’s
“Metamorphoses.” Venice, 1518 (design, 1497).]

[Illustration: FIG. 20.--Sirens. From the “Ortus Sanitatis.” Venice,

[Illustration: FIG. 21.--Pygmy and Cranes. From the “Ortus Sanitatis.”
Venice, 1511.]

[Illustration: FIG. 22.--The Woman and the Thief. From “Æsop’s Fables.”
Venice, 1491 (design, 1481).]

[Illustration: FIG. 23.--The Crow and the Peacock. From “Æsop’s Fables.”
Venice, 1491 (design, 1481).]

This volume of St. Jerome was, however, only a worthy forerunner of the
Dream of Poliphilo, in which Italian wood-engraving, quickened by the
spirit of the Renaissance, displayed its most beautiful creations. It
was written by a Venetian monk, Francesco Columna, in 1467, and was
first printed by Aldus, in 1499. It is a mystical work, composed in
Italian, strangely mingled with Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic, and
its theme, which is the praise of beauty and of love, is obscured by
abstruse knowledge and by much varied learning. It recalls Dante’s poem
in some ways. The Renaissance Dominican, too, was a lover with a human
Beatrice, of whom his dream is the memorial and the glory; like Dante,
he seems to symbolize, under the beauty and guardianship of his gracious
lady, a body of truth and a theory of life; and, as in Dante’s poem
Beatrice typified Divine Wisdom and theology, his Polia stood for the
new gospel of this world’s joy, for the loveliness of universal nature
and the perfection of ancient art; in adoring her he worships them, and
in celebrating her, as alike his goal and his guide through the mazes of
his changing dream, he exalts the virtue and the hope that lay in the
Renaissance ideal of life. There is, perhaps, no volume where the
exuberant vigor of that age is more clearly shown, or where the
objects for which that age was impassioned are more glowingly described.
This romantic and fantastic rhapsody mirrors every aspect of nature and
art in which the Italians then took delight--peaceful landscape, where
rivers flow by flower-starred banks and through bird-haunted woods;
noble architecture and exquisite sculpture, the music of soft
instruments, the ruins of antiquity, the legends of old mythology, the
motions of the dance, the elegance of the banquet, splendor of apparel,
courtesy of manners, even the manuscript, with its covers of purple
velvet sown with Eastern pearls--everything which was cared for and
sought in that time, when the gloom of asceticism lifted and disclosed
the wide prospect of the world lying, as it were, in the loveliness of
daybreak. Poliphilo wanders through fields and groves bright with this
morning beauty, voyages down streams and loiters in gardens that are
filled with gladness; he is graciously regaled in the palace, he attends
the sacrifice in the temple, where his eyes are charmed by every
exquisite ornament of art; he encounters in his progress triumphal
processions, as they wind along through the pleasant country,
bewildering the fancy with their lavish magnificence as of an Arabian
dream; chariots that are wrought out of entire precious stones, carved
with bass-reliefs from Grecian fables, and drawn by half-human centaurs
or strange animals,--elephants, panthers, unicorns, in trappings of silk
and jewels, pass before him, bearing exalted in their midst sculptured
figures, Europa and the Bull, Leda and the Swan, Danaë in the shower of
gold, and, last and most wonderful, a vase, beautifully engraved and
adorned, out of which springs a golden vine, with leaves of Persian
selenite and grapes of Oriental amethyst; and about all are groups of
attendant nymphs, fauns, satyrs, mænads, and lovely women, crowned with
flowers, with instruments of music in their hands, chanting the praise
of Valor and of Pleasure; again, he lingers among ancient ruins and
remembers their perished glory, and falls into reflection, like that of
the traveller whom he describes, “among those venerable monuments which
still make Rome the queen of cities; where he sees,” thinks Poliphilo,
“the hand of Time, which punishes the excess of pride; and, seeking then
on the steps of the amphitheatre the heads of the legions and that
conquering eagle, that Senate whose decrees made and unmade the kings of
the world, those profound historians, those eloquent orators, he finds
there only a rabble of beggars, to whom an ignorant and ofttimes lying
hermit preaches, only altars without honor and saints without a
believer; the artist reigns alone in that vast enclosure; pencil in
hand, rich with memories, he sees the whole of Rome, her pomp and her
glory, in one mutilated block which a fragment of bass-relief adorns.”
Inspired by these thoughts, Poliphilo delays among like relics of the
past, and reads on shattered tombs the brief inscriptions which tell the
history of the lost lovers who lie beneath, while the pagan burden of
their sorrow, and the pagan calm of the “adieu” with which each
inscription ends, fill him with tender sentiment. So his dream drifts on
through ever-shifting scenes of beauty and ever-dying moments of delight
to the hour of awakening. These scenes and these moments, which
Francesco Columna called out of his imagination, are pictured in the one
hundred and ninety-two designs (Figs. 27, 28, 29, 30) which adorn his
book; here in simple outline are the gardens, groves, and streams, the
noble buildings, the bath, the palace and the temple, the feast, the
allegory of life, the thronging triumphs, the sacrifices, the ruins, the
tombs, the lover and his beloved, the priestess and the goddess, cupids,
bacchanals, and nymphs--a profusion of loveliness, joy, and revel; here,
too, among the others, are some dramatic scenes: the lion and the
lovers, Poliphilo fainting before Polia, and his revival at the touch of
her lips; altogether, they are a precious memorial of the Renaissance
spirit, reflecting alike its passion for the new learning, passing into
useless and pedantic knowledge, and its ecstacy of the senses passing
into voluptuous delight.

[Illustration: FIG. 24.--The Peace of God. From “Epistole di San
Hieronymo Volgare.” Ferrara, 1497.]

[Illustration: FIG. 25.--Mary and the Risen Lord. From “Epistole di San
Hieronymo Volgare.” Ferrara, 1497.]

[Illustration: FIG. 26.--St. Baruch. From the “Catalogus Sanctorum.”
Venice, 1506.]

[Illustration: FIG. 27.--Poliphilo by the Stream. From the
“Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.” Venice, 1499.]

[Illustration: FIG. 28.--Poliphilo and the Nymphs. From the
“Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.” Venice, 1499.]

[Illustration: FIG. 29--Ornament. From the “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.”
Venice, 1499.]

These designs, of which the few that can be given afford only a slight
idea, so various are they in beauty and feeling, have been attributed to
many illustrious masters, Giovanni Bellini and Raphael among others; but
perhaps the conjecture which assigns them to Benedetto Montagna is the
most probable. They show what remarkable artistic taste there was even
in the inferior masters of Italy. “They are,” says Professor Sydney
Colvin,[38] “without their like in the history of wood-cutting; they
breathe the spirit of that delightful moment when the utmost of
imaginative _naïveté_ is combined with all that is needed of artistic
accomplishment, and in their simplicity are in the best instances of a
noble composition, a masculine firmness, a delicate vigor and graceful
tenderness in the midst of luxurious or even licentious fancy, which
cannot be too much admired. They have that union of force and energy
with a sober sweetness, beneath a last vestige of the primitive, which
in the northern schools of Italy betokens the concurrent influence of
the school of Mantegna and the school of Bellini.” Italy never afterward
produced so noble a monument of the art as this work of its early days.

[Illustration: FIG. 30.--Poliphilo meets Polia. From the
“Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.” Venice, 1499.]

[Illustration: FIG. 31.--Nero Fiddling. From the Ovid of 1510. Venice.]

[Illustration: FIG. 32.--The Physician. From the “Fasciculus Medicinæ.”
Venice, 1500.]

[Illustration: FIG. 33.--Hero and Leander. From the Ovid of 1515.

The art did not, however, fall into decline immediately. It is true that
wood-engraving never won for itself in Italy a place in the popular
esteem like that which it held in the North; the Italians were too fond
of color, and possessed too many master-pieces of the nobler arts, to
set a very high value on such simple effects; but, nevertheless, in the
first quarter of the sixteenth century there appeared in Venice, the
chief seat of the art, many volumes which were illustrated by woodcuts
of excellent design, such as this of Nero (Fig. 31), from an Ovid of
1510, the representation of the physician attending a patient stricken
with the plague (Fig. 32), from the _Fasciculus Medicinæ_, by Johannes
de Ketham, published in 1500, and that of Hero and Leander (Fig. 33),
from an Ovid of 1515. Of Venetian work of lesser merit, the
representation of Dante and Beatrice (Fig. 34), from a Dante of 1520,
and the cuts (Figs. 35, 36, 37, 38), from the Catalogue of the Saints,
by Petrus de Natalis, published in 1506, may serve as examples. The
whole Italian series, even as illustrated by the cuts here given,
exhibits a greater variety of interest, knowledge, and feeling than does
the work of any other nation, and affords a lively notion of the
manifold elements that went to make up the Renaissance; it reflects
fable, superstition, learning, the symbolism of mediæval theology,
ancient myth and legend, the rise of the modern feeling for nature, the
passion for beauty and art; and, ranging from the life of the scholar
and the nunnery to that of the beggar and the plague, it pictures
vividly contemporary times, while it adds to the interest of history and
humanity the interest of beauty. Its prime, however, was of brief
duration. Venetian engraving, and that of the other Italian cities also,
continued to be marked by this simplicity and skill in design until
1530, when cross-hatching was introduced from the North; after that date
wood-engraving shared in the rapid decline into which all the arts of
Italy fell in consequence of the internal troubles of the country,
which, from the time of the sack of Rome, in 1527, became the common
battlefield of Europe for generations. But, in the short space during
which the Italians practised the art with such success, they showed that
they had mastered it, and had come to an understanding of its
capacities, both as a mode of drawing in black line and as a mode of
relief in white line, such as appears in their arabesques and initial
letters, examples of which are scattered through this volume. They came
to this mastery and understanding before any other nation, because of
their artistic instinct; for the same reason, they did not surpass the
rudeness of German workmen in skill more than they excelled in simple
beauty of design the best of early French work, which was characterized
by such confused exuberance of fancy and such profusion of detail. They
breathed into the art the Italian spirit, and its presence made their
works beautiful.

[Illustration: FIG. 34.--Dante and Beatrice. From the Dante of 1520.

[Illustration: FIG. 35.--St. Jerome Commending the Hermit’s Life. From
“Epistole di San Hieronymo.” Ferrara, 1497.]

[Illustration: FIG. 36.--St. Francis and the Beggar. From the “Catalogus
Sanctorum.” Venice, 1506.]

[Illustration: FIG. 37.--The Translation of St. Nicolas. From the
“Catalogus Sanctorum.” Venice, 1506.]

To the Italian love of color is due the development of what is known as
engraving in chiaroscuro, a process which, although it had been
practised in Germany since 1506, was claimed as a new invention by Ugo
da Carpi (1460-1523), at Venice, in 1516, and was carried by the
Italians to the highest point of perfection which it reached in the
sixteenth century. It was an attempt to imitate the results of
painting; two, and sometimes several, blocks were used in the process;
on the first the outlines and heavy shadows of the design were engraved,
and a proof was taken off; on the second block the lighter parts of the
design were engraved, and an impression was taken off from this on the
same print in a different color, or, at least, in a color of different
intensity; thus the original proof was overlaid with different tints by
successive impressions from different blocks, and a variety of shades
was obtained in the finished engraving, analogous to those which the
painter gets by laying flat tints over each other with the brush. Great
care had to be taken in laying the original proof down on the second
block, so that the lines of the design should fall in exactly the same
position as in the first block; it is owing to a lack of exactness in
this superposition of the proof on the later blocks that some of these
engravings are so displeasing. There was considerable variety in the
detail of the process. Sometimes the impression from the outline block
was taken last; sometimes the different impressions were taken off in
different colors, but usually in the same color of different
intensities; sometimes the impressions were taken off on colored paper.
The Italians used four blocks at an early time, and were able to imitate
water-colors with some success. All of their prints in this kind are
marked by more artistic feeling and skill than those of the Germans,
even when the latter are by masters. This application of the art,
however, is not a true development, and really lies outside its

[Illustration: FIG. 38--Romoaldus, the Abbot. From the “Catalogus
Sanctorum.” Venice, 1506.]



[Illustration: A FIG. 39.--From an Italian Alphabet of the 16th

Already, before the Dream of Poliphilo had been published in Venice,
wood-engraving in the North had passed into the hands of the great
German master who was to transform it; in the studio of Albert Dürer
(1471-1528) it had entered upon its great period. The earlier German
engravers, whose woodcuts in simple outline, shadowed by courses of
short parallel lines, showed a naïve spirit almost too simple for modern
taste, a force ignorant of the channels of expression and feeling
inexpert in utterance, did not know the full resources of their art. It
was not until the very close of the fifteenth century, when they
discarded the aid of the colorists, and sought all their effects from
simple contrast of black and white, that they conceived of
wood-engraving as an independent art; even then their sense of beauty
was so insignificant, and their power of thought was so feeble, that
their works have only an historical value. Dürer was the first to
discover the full capacities of wood-engraving as a mode of artistic
expression; it had begun to imitate the methods of copperplate-engraving
before his day, but he saw immediately that it could not equal the rival
art in that delicacy of line and harmony of tone on which
copperplate-engraving depends for its excellence; the materials and
processes of wood-engraving required different methods, and Dürer
prescribed them. He increased the size of the cuts, gave breadth and
boldness to the lines, and obtained new and pleasing effects from strong
contrasts of black and white. He thus showed the true method of
wood-engraving; but the art owes to him much more than this: he brought
to the practice of it the hand and brain of a great master, lifted it, a
mechanic’s trade, into the service of high imagination and vigorous
intellect, and placed it among the fine arts--a deed of far more
importance than any improvements in processes or methods, even though
they have such brilliant consequences as followed Bewick’s later
innovations. He taught the art a language, put meaning into its words,
and made it capable of conveying the ideas which art can express, and of
spreading them and the appreciation of them among the people.

The application of Dürer’s genius to wood-engraving could not fail of
great results. He recorded in it the German Renaissance. Civilization
had gained much in freedom of thought, independence of action, and
community of knowledge, as well as in a respect for nature; but it was
still ruled by the devout and romantic spirit of the Middle Ages. Dürer
shared in all the intellectual life of his time, alike in its study of
antiquity and its revolt against Rome; he was interested in all the
higher subjects for which his contemporaries cared, and his versatile
genius enabled him often to work with them in preparing the modern age,
but he was not touched by the modern spirit; in thought and feeling he
remained deeply religious, fantastic, picturesque, mystical--in a word,
mediæval. He did not possess the modern sense of limitation, the power
to restrict himself to realizing a definite conception, the power to
disregard and refuse what cannot be clearly seen and expressed, which
the modern age, when it came, gave to the perfect artist; he was not
content to embody his idea simply, directly, and forcibly; he
supplemented it with secondary thought and subordinate suggestion in
unmeasured profusion; he did not know when his work was done, but kept
on adding to it in the true wandering, Gothic spirit, which never
finishes its task, because its main purpose does not control it; he
allowed his fancy to encumber the noble work of his imagination, and
allegory to obscure the truth he uttered; he was not master of himself,
but was hurried on by the fire and speed of his own genius along paths
which led only to the obscure and the inaccessible. His imagination was
deeply suggestive, straightforward, and marvellously fertile in
invention; but he interpreted the imaginative world in terms of daily
and often homely life; he represented ideal characters, not under ideal
forms, but realistically under forms such as he saw about him; he knew
beauty only as German beauty, and life and its material surroundings
only as German life and German civilization; and thus his works are
characterized by an uncouthness which offends minds not habituated to
German taste. But there is no need to be irritated at this realism, this
content with gross forms, or to wish with Vasari that he had been born
in Italy and had studied antiquity at Florence, whereby he would have
missed that national endowment which individualized him and gave him a
peculiar charm. The grotesqueness disappears as the eye becomes
acquainted with the unfamiliar, and the mind is occupied with the
emotion, the intellectual idea, and imaginative truth, expressed in
these sometimes ugly modes, for they are of that rare value which wins
forgiveness for far greater defects of formal beauty than are apparent
in Dürer’s work. Although his spirit was romantic and uncontrolled, and
his imagination dealt with forms not in themselves beautiful, he
possessed the greatest energy of genius of all the masters who have
intrusted their works to wood-engraving, and with him it was a favorite

[Illustration: FIG. 40.--St. John and the Virgin. Vignette to Dürer’s

[Illustration: FIG. 41.--Christ Suffering. Vignette to Dürer’s “Larger

The first of the four famous series of designs by which his skill in
wood-engraving is best known was published in 1498, but it was probably
finished before that time. It consisted of fifteen large cuts in
illustration of the Apocalypse of St. John, to which a vignette (Fig.
40) of wonderful nobility and simplicity was prefixed. The theme must
have been peculiarly attractive to him, because of the opportunities it
afforded for grandeur of conception and for the symbolism in which his
genius delighted; it was supernatural and religious; it dealt with
images and thoughts on which the laws of this world imposed no
restraint, and revealed visionary scenes through types of awe, terror,
and mystery, the impressiveness of which had almost no human relation.
In attempting to bring such a theme within the compass of the powers of
expression which art possesses, he strove to give speech to the
unutterable, and to imprison the unsubstantial, so that it is no wonder
if, although the fertility of invention and power of drawing which he
displayed, and the variety and richness of effect which he obtained,
made his work a masterpiece of art, yet much of what he intended to
express is not readily comprehended.

[Illustration: FIG. 42.--Christ Mocked. Vignette to Dürer’s “Smaller

This series was succeeded by three others, in which the human interest
is far greater, although they are not unmarked by fantastic invention;
they were the Larger Passion of our Lord, a series of twelve cuts,
including this impressive vignette (Fig. 41), Christ Suffering; the Life
of the Virgin, a series of twenty cuts; and the Smaller Passion of our
Lord (Figs. 42, 43), a series of thirty-six cuts, the vignette to which
(Christ Mocked) is a design marvellous for its intensity, for its
seizure of the malignant, mocking spirit in devilish possession of every
lineament of the face and every muscle working in that sinuous gesture,
for the ideal endurance in the Saviour’s attitude, which needs not those
symbols of his sufferings beside him for pity, though Dürer’s genius
must crowd every corner with thought and suggestion. These three great
series were published about 1511, and were probably the work of the
previous six years; they are full of force, and are characterized by
tenderness of sympathy and fervor of devotion, as well as by the
imaginative insight and power of thought which distinguish all his
works. They quickly became popular; several editions were issued, and
they were copied by more than one engraver, especially by the famous
Italian, Marc Antonio Raimondi, who reproduced the Smaller Passion on
copperplate. They marked an epoch in the history of wood-engraving. It
is not possible to over-estimate the debt which the art owes Dürer, who
thus suddenly and by his own artistic insight revealed the power and
dignity which wood-engraving might attain, opened to it a great career,
and was its first master in the era of its most splendid accomplishment.

[Illustration: FIG. 43.--The Descent into Hell. From Dürer’s “Smaller

Besides these connected series of woodcuts, many others, making in all
three hundred and forty-seven, are attributed to Dürer; and of these one
hundred and seventy are undoubtedly from his hand. They represent nearly
all aspects of German life in the early sixteenth century, and, taken
all together, afford a nearly complete picture of his time, not only in
its general characteristics, but in detail. They show for the first time
the power of wood-engraving to produce works of real artistic value, and
its power to record faithfully the vast variety of contemporary life.
Dürer was himself the highest product of the new freedom of individual
development in the North, but his individuality gathered the age within
itself, and became universal in knowledge and interest; so that he was
not only the Reformer of German art and the greatest master in it, but
was in a true sense the historian of the German Renaissance; it is to
his works, and not least to his wood-engraving, that the student of that
age must have recourse for the truest record of its thought and feeling
at their best.

In his later years he designed two other works which rank among the
chief monuments of wood-engraving; they were the Car and Gate of
Triumph, executed for the Emperor Maximilian, who was then the great
patron of the art, and employed it to perpetuate the glory of his reign
and realm. The Emperor, although the Italians made a jest of him, was
one of the most interesting characters in German history. He
illustrates in practical life, as Dürer in artistic and intellectual
life, the age that was passing away, and he foreshadows more than Dürer
the age that was coming on. He was romantic by nature, a lover of the
chivalric and picturesque elements of mediæval life; he was skilful in
all the manly sports which belonged to a princely education--a daring
hunter, and brave in the lists of the tourney; in affairs of more moment
he had always some great adventure in hand, the humbling of France, or
the destruction of Venice, or the protection of Luther; at home he was
devoted to reform, to internal improvements, to establishing permanently
the orderly methods of civilization, to the spread of commerce, and to
increasing the safety and facility of communication. He left his empire
more civilized than he found it; and if he was unsuccessful in war, he
was, in the epigram of the time, fortunate in love, and won by marriage
what the sword could not conquer, so that he prepared by the craft of
his diplomacy that union of the vast possessions of the House of Austria
which made his grandson, Charles V., almost the master of Europe. He was
a lover of art and books; and, being puffed up with imperial vanity, he
employed the engravers and printers to record his career and picture his
magnificence. The great works which by his order were prepared for this
purpose were upon a scale unthought of before that time, and never
attempted in later days. The Triumphal Car, which he employed Dürer to
design, was a richly decorated chariot drawn by six pair of horses; the
Emperor is seated in it under a canopy amid female figures, representing
Justice, Truth, and other virtues, who offer him triumphal wreaths; the
driver symbolizes Reason, and guides the horses by the reins of Nobility
and Power; the wheels are inscribed with the words Magnificentia and
Dignitas, and the horses are attended by allegoric figures of swiftness,
foresight, prudence, boldness, and similar virtues. The whole design was
seven feet four inches in length, and about eighteen inches high. The
Gate of Triumph was similarly allegoric in conception; it was an arch
with three entrances, the central one being the gate of Honor and Power,
and those upon the right and left the gates of Nobility and Fame; the
body of the arch was ornamented with portraits of the Roman Emperors
from the time of Cæsar, shields of arms which indicated the Emperor’s
descent and alliances, portraits of his relatives and friends, and
representations of his famous exploits. The size of the cut, which was
made up of ninety-two separate pieces, was about ten and a half feet by
nine and a half feet. In both of these works Dürer was limited by the
directions which were given him, and neither of them are equal to his
original creations.

[Illustration: FIG. 44.--The Herald. From “The Triumph of Maximilian.”]

[Illustration: FIG. 45.--Tablet. From “The Triumph of Maximilian.”]

The chief of the great works of Maximilian was the Triumphal
Procession,[39] which was designed by Hans Burgkmaier, of Augsburg
(1473-1531), whose secular and picturesque genius found its most
congenial occupation in inventing the figures of this splendid train of
nobles, warriors, and commons, on horse, foot, and in chariots, winding
along in symbolical representation of the Emperor’s victories and
conquests, and in magnificent display of the wealth, power, and
resources of all the imperial dominions. The herald of the Triumph (Fig.
44), mounted upon a winged griffin, leads the march; behind him go two
led horses supporting a tablet (Fig. 45), on which is written: “This
Triumph has been made for the praise and everlasting memory of the
noble pleasures and glorious victories of the most serene and
illustrious prince and lord, Maximilian, Roman Emperor elect, and Head
of Christendom, King and Heir of Seven Christian Kingdoms, Archduke of
Austria, Duke of Burgundy and of other grand principalities and
provinces of Europe;” his fifer Anthony, with his attendants, his
falconers, led by Teuschel, their hawks pursuing prey, his hunters of
the chamois, the stag, the boar, and the bear, habited for the chase,
follow on; behind them richly caparisoned animals, elk, buffalo, and
camels, draw finely decorated chariots, in which are seated the
Emperor’s favorite musicians (Fig. 46), playing diverse instruments; the
jesters (among them that famous Conrad von der Rosen whom Heine tenderly
remembered), the fools, the maskers, the fencers, knights of the tourney
and the joust, armed foot-soldiers of every service, continue the
procession, which lengthens out with cuirassed horsemen (Fig. 47)
carrying banners emblazoned with the arms of the Austrian provinces in
which the Emperor had waged war, and other horsemen (Fig. 48) in the
garb of peace, with standards of the faithful provinces, lasquenets
whose pennants are inscribed with the names of the great battles which
the Emperor had fought, trophy-cars filled with the armorial shields of
the conquered peoples, representations of the Emperor’s marriage and
coronation, of the German Empire and the great wars--Flanders,
Burgundy, Hungary, Guelders, Naples, Milan, Venice, an unending
list--the symbols of military power, artillery, treasure, the statues of
the great rulers who were allied by blood to Maximilian or had ruled his
dominions before him, prisoners of war in chains, the Imperial Standard,
the Sword of the Empire, the counts, lords, and knights who owned the
Emperor’s sovereignty--a splendid display of the pomp and pride of
mediæval life. Maximilian himself is the central thought of the whole;
he is never lost sight of in any smaller figure; his servants are there,
as their devices relate, because they served him; his provinces, because
he ruled them; his victories, because he won them; his ancestors,
because they were of his line. His personality groups the variety of
the procession round itself alone; but the real interest of the work
does not lie in him or his praise, but in the revelation there made of
the secular side of the Middle Ages, the outward aspect of life, the
ideal of worldly power and splendor, the spirit of pleasure and
festival, shown forth in this marvellously varied march of laurelled
horses and horsemen whose trappings and armor have the beauty and
glitter of peaceful parade. There is nowhere else a work which so
presents at once the feudal spirit and feudal delights in such
exuberance of picturesque and truthful display.

[Illustration: FIG. 46.--The Car of the Musicians. From “The Triumph of

[Illustration: FIG. 47.--Three Horsemen. From “The Triumph of

The designs for this work were first painted upon parchment, and were
afterward reproduced by engraving in wood; but the reproduction varied
from the originals in important particulars. The series was far from
completion at the time of Maximilian’s death, and was left unfinished;
it was never published until 1796, when the first edition appeared at
Vienna, whither the lost wood-blocks had found their way in 1779. In its
present shape the series consists of one hundred and thirty-five large
cuts, extending for a linear distance of over one hundred and
seventy-five feet; all but sixteen of these are reproductions of the
designs on vellum, which numbered two hundred and eighteen in all, and
these sixteen are so different in style from the others as to suggest a
doubt whether they belong to the Triumph or to some other unknown work.
Hans Burgkmaier is believed to be the designer of all except the few
that are ascribed to Dürer; but, owing to their being engraved by
different hands, they vary considerably in merit.

Maximilian also ordered two curious books to be prepared and adorned
with woodcuts in his own honor, a prose work entitled The Wise King, and
a poem entitled The Adventures of Sir Tewrdannckh. In these volumes the
example of his own life is offered for the instruction of princes, and
the history of his deeds, amours, courtship, perils, and temptations is
written, once for the edification, but now for the amusement, of the
world. The woodcuts in The Adventures of Sir Tewrdannckh are one hundred
and eighteen in number, and are principally, if not entirely, the work
of Hans Schäuffelin (1490?-1540); they show how Sir Tewrdannckh,
attended by his squire, started out upon his travels, and what moving
dangers he encountered in his hunting, voyaging, tilting, and fighting,
under the guidance and instigation of his three great enemies, Envy,
Daring, and Curiosity, who at last, when he is happily at the end of his
troubles, are represented as meeting their own fate by the gallows, the
block, and the moat. The engravings are marked by spirit, and due
attention is given to landscape; but they are not infrequently too near
caricature to be pleasing, and cannot pretend to rank beside the other
works of Maximilian. This volume was printed during the Emperor’s
lifetime, and was the only one of his works of which he saw the
completion. The Wise King was illustrated by two hundred and
thirty-seven cuts, of which several bear Burgkmaier’s mark, one the mark
of Schäuffelin and one that of Hans Springinklee (1470?-1540). They
picture the journey of the Emperor’s father to Rome, the youth and
education of the young prince, his gradual acquirement of the liberal
arts--kingcraft, the black-art, medicine, the languages, painting,
architecture, music, cookery, dancing, shooting, falconry, angling,
fencing, tilting, gunnery, the art of fortification, and the like;
and they represent, in conclusion, his political career by means of
obscure allegory. They are similar to the illustrations in Sir
Tewrdannckh in general character, and, like them, are inferior to the
other works of Maximilian. In the composition of this volume Maximilian
is supposed to have had a considerable share; it was not printed entire
until 1775.

[Illustration: FIG. 48.--Horseman. From “The Triumph of Maximilian.”]

These five great works, apart from their value as artistic productions
and their interest as historic records, have a farther importance
because of their influence upon the art, both in the way of
encouragement and of instruction. Although there has been much dispute
about the matter, it must now be acknowledged that the artists
themselves did not ordinarily engrave their designs, but left the actual
cutting of the block to the professional workmen; at most they only
occasionally corrected the lines after the engraver had cut them. The
works of Maximilian employed a number of these engravers, who practised
the art only as a craft; the experience these workmen gained in such
labor as they were now called upon to do, under the superintendence of
artists like Dürer and Burgkmaier, who knew what engraving ought to be,
and who held up a high standard of excellence, was most valuable to
them, and made itself felt in a general improvement of the technical
part of the art everywhere. The standard of the engraver’s craft was
permanently raised. The engravers’ names now became known; and sometimes
the engraver received hardly less admiration for his skill in technique
than the artist for his power of design.

Other distinguished artists united with Dürer and the designers of
Maximilian’s works in making this period of wood-engraving the most
illustrious in the German practice of the art. Lukas van Leyden
(1494-1533), whose youthful works in copperplate were wonderful, left
some woodcuts in Dürer’s bold, broad manner, which illustrate the
attempt of German art to acquire classical taste, and show so much the
more clearly the incapacity of the Germans in the perception of beauty.
The Cranachs, father (1472-1553) and son (1515-1586), who are
interesting because of the share they had in the Reformation, produced
some very striking works, such as the charming scene of the Repose in
Egypt, and were the first to practise chiaro-scuro engraving in the
North. Hans Baldung (1470-1552?), although his designs are sometimes
characterized by exaggeration and too great violence of action, ranks
with the best of the secondary artists of the time; and Hans
Springinklee, who has been already mentioned, reached a high degree of
excellence in his illustrations to the Hortulus Animæ, which are still

The works of these men, however, were only the most important and the
best of a vast number of woodcuts which, during the first half of the
sixteenth century, appeared in Germany during this period of the
greatest popularity of the art. Under the personal influence of Dürer,
or under the influence of the numerous and widely-spread prints by
himself and his associates, many other artists of merit acquired skill
in engraving, both on metal and in wood, and employed it upon a great
variety of subjects. The devotion of mediæval art wholly to church
decoration and to the representation of religious scenes had passed away
in all quarters of the world; in Italy the artists had come to treat the
subjects of pagan imagination, the beings and scenes of classical
mythology; in Germany the people had homelier tasks, and religious art
there yielded to the interest which men felt in the incidents and
objects of common life; in both countries wealth took the place of
religion as the patron of art; and, although art still dealt with the
story of the Scriptures and the martyrs, because these filled so
important a place in the imagination of the people, still it had become
secularized. This change was naturally shown in the arts of engraving
more than in painting, because engraving in copper and on wood had a far
greater sphere of influence, and came into more intimate relations with
the popular life, and because the illustration of books offered a
greater variety of subject. In German engraving, from this time, the
actual life of the town and the peasantry was represented almost as
often as the history of the Saviour and the saints; the village
festival, the procession of the wedding-guests, the fêtes of the town,
the employments and costumes of the citizens, recur with the same
frequency as the passion of the Lord and the Old Testament stories; the
joy and sorrow of ordinary life, the objects of ordinary observation and
thought, the humorous, the humble, and the satirical, sometimes
strangely mingled with ill-understood mythology and badly-caricatured
classicism, are the constant theme of the engravers.

Chief among the successors of Dürer who shared in this vast production
were the group of artists known as the Little Masters, although the name
is one of ill-defined and incomplete application; they were so called
because they chiefly engraved small designs; but they also engraved
large designs, and their number, which is usually limited to seven,
excludes some whose works are on the same small scale. The first of them
was Albrecht Altdorfer (1488-1538), said to have been the pupil of
Dürer and the inventor of engraving in this manner; in his day he was
more celebrated as an architect and painter than as an engraver, but his
fame now rests on his works on copper and in wood. The best known of his
sixty-five woodcuts is the series of forty designs, scarcely three
inches by two in size, entitled the Fall and Redemption of Man, in
depicting which he had the Smaller Passion of Dürer to guide him. In
these he attempted to obtain effects by the use of fine and close lines,
such as were employed in copperplate-engraving; but, although his
success was certainly remarkable, considering the rude mechanical
processes of the time, yet his method clearly produced results of
inferior artistic value in comparison with the works in the bold, broad
manner of Dürer. All of his woodcuts, excepting four, are
representations of religious subjects; they are marked, like his other
works, by an attention to landscape, that truly modern object of art, of
which he probably learned the value from Dürer, who was the first to
treat landscape with real appreciation. In Hans Sebald Behaim
(1500-1550?) the spirit of the age is revealed with great clearness and
variety (Fig. 49); both his life and his art were inspired by it. In his
early manhood he was banished from Nuremberg for denying the doctrines
of transubstantiation and the efficacy of baptism, and for entertaining
some vague socialistic and communistic opinions; but it is not clear to
what extent he held them, if he held them at all. He seems to have been
one of the most advanced of the religious Reformers, and he employed his
art in their service, as, for example, in a book entitled The Papacy,
which he illustrated with a series of seventy-four figures of the
different orders of monks in their peculiar costumes, beneath each of
which satirical lines were written. He is best known by his eighty-one
Bible-cuts, which were the most popular, perhaps, of the many series
published in that century, not excepting the impressive Bible figures of
Holbein; they passed through many editions, and were widely copied. The
first English Bible was illustrated by them. Besides these two series,
and one other in illustration of the Apocalypse, he designed many
separate prints, both in the small manner of the Little Masters and in
imitation of the large works of Maximilian, such as his Military Fête,
in honor of Charles V., his Fountain of Youth, and the prints of the
Marauding Soldiers, which measured four or five feet in length. His
representations of peasant life are peculiarly attractive, because of
the force of realism displayed in them, whether he depicted the marriage
festival, or mere jollity or drunken brawl. In the breadth of his
interests, in the variety of his subjects, and in his sympathy with the
special movements of his age, he was as an engraver more characteristic
of the civilization in which he lived than any other of the Little
Masters who gave their attention to wood-engraving. Of the rest of this
group none, excepting Hans Brosamer (1506-1552), left works in
wood-engraving of any consequence; he designed in a free and bold
manner, and his engravings are to be found in books of the third quarter
of the century.

[Illustration: FIG. 49.--Virgin and Child. From a print by Hans Sebald

Other artists of this period devoted their attention to wood-engraving;
but as they did not mark any new progress in the art, or reflect any
aspect of German civilization which has not already been illustrated,
they need not be treated in any detail. Virgil Solis (1514-1562), a very
productive designer, who was employed by the Nuremberg printers to
illustrate the books by which they attempted to rival the productions of
the Lyonese press; Jobst Amman (1539-1591), whose excellent engravings
of costumes and trades are well known; Erhard Schön (d. 1550), Melchior
Lorch (1527-1586), whose works were of little merit; and Tobias Stimmer
(1539-1582), a popular designer for book illustration, are all who
deserve mention. Their engravings are inferior to the productions of
previous artists, and after their death the art in Germany fell into
speedy and irretrievable decay.

The work of the wood-engravers who were imbued with the German spirit
exhibits the same excellences and defects as other German work in art.
It is characterized by vigor principally, and in its higher range it has
great value, because of the imaginative and reflective spirit by which
it was animated; in its lower range, as a portrayal of life and manners,
it derives from its realism an extraordinary interest. Its great
deficiency is its lack of beauty, and is due to the inborn feebleness of
the sense of beauty in the German race; but, notwithstanding this
deformity, German wood-engraving was invaluably useful in its day in the
cities where it became so popular, because it was so widely and
variously practised, and entered into the life of the people in so many
ways with an effective influence of which it is difficult to form an
adequate conception. It facilitated the spread of literature and helped
on the progress of the Reformation to a degree which is little
recognized; it disseminated ideas and standards of art, and made them
common property; and, finally, it prepared the way for the great master
who was to embody in wood-engraving the highest excellence of art and



[Illustration: G FIG. 50.--From the “Epistole di San Hieronymo.”
Ferrara, 1497.]

Germany produced one artist who freed himself from the limitations of
taste and interest which the place of his birth imposed upon him, and
took rank with the great masters who seem to belong rather to the race
than to their native country. Hans Holbein was neither German nor
Italian, neither classical nor mediæval. The ideal of his art was not
determined by the culture of any single school, at home or abroad; far
less was it a jarring compromise between the aims and methods of
different schools; it grew out of a faithful study of all, and in it
were rationally blended the elements which were right in each. In style,
theme, and spirit he advanced so far beyond his contemporaries that he
became the first modern artist--the first to clear his vision from the
deceptions of religious enthusiasm, and to subdue in himself the
lawlessness of the romantic spirit; the first to perceive that only the
purely human interest gives lasting significance to any artistic work,
and to depict humanity simply for its own sake; the first to express
his meaning in a way which seems truthful and beautiful universally to
all cultivated men. In this lies the peculiar and profound value of his

Holbein was born at Augsburg, in 1495 or 1496, into a family of artists.
In that city, then the centre of German culture, he grew up amid the
stir of curiosity and thought which attended the discovery of the
Western World and the first movements of the Reformation. He handled the
pencil and the brush from boyhood, and produced works as wonderful for
their precocious excellence as the early efforts of Mantegna; he was
deeply impressed by the secular and picturesque genius of Burgkmaier,
the great artist of Augsburg, who may have first opened to him the value
of beauty of detail, and inculcated in him that carefulness in respect
to it which afterward distinguished him; he seems, too, even at this
early period, to have been touched by some Italian influence which may
have reached Augsburg in consequence of the close commercial relations
between that city and Venice. Holbein, however, did not arrive at any
mature development until after he left Augsburg and removed to Bâsle,
whither he went in 1515, in order to earn his bread by making designs
for books--a trade which was then flourishing and lucrative in that
city. Bâsle offered conditions of life more favorable, in some respects,
to the development of energetic individuality than did Augsburg; it was
already the seat of humanistic literature, at the head of which was
Erasmus, and it soon became the safest refuge of the persecuted
Reformers. In such a city there was necessarily a vigorous intellectual
life and a free and liberal spirit, which must have exerted great
influence upon the young artist, who by his profession was brought into
intimate relations with the most learned and advanced thinkers about
him. Holbein was at once profoundly affected by the literary and reform
movements which he was called upon to aid by his designs, and he threw
himself into their service with energy and sympathy. His art, too, under
the influence of Italy, and under the rational direction of his own
thought, grew steadily more refined in ideal and more finished in
execution. He soon learned the value of formal beauty, and gave evidence
that the work of the last great German painter was not to be marred by
German tastelessness. Hitherto the masters of German art, led by a
realistic spirit which did not discriminate regularly and with certainty
between the different values of the lovely and the unlovely, had
expressed their thought and feeling in familiar forms, and,
consequently, often in forms which shared in the grotesqueness,
bordering on caricature, and in the homeliness, bordering on ugliness,
that characterized much of actual German life. Holbein, whose realism
was governed by cultivated taste, expressed his thought and feeling in
beautiful forms. His predecessors had used a dialect of art, as it were,
which could never seem perfectly natural or be immediately intelligible
to any but their own countrymen; Holbein acquired the true language of
art, and was as directly and completely intelligible to the refined
Englishman or Italian as to the citizen of Augsburg or Bâsle. Holbein
came, also, to an understanding of the true law of art; as he freed
himself from the Gothic dulness of sight in respect to beauty, he freed
himself from the Gothic license of reverie, fancy, and thought. He
limited himself to the clear and forcible expression of the idea he had
in mind; he admitted no details which interfered with his main purpose,
and which asserted a claim to be there for their own sake; he made every
accessary enforce or illustrate his principal design, and subordinated
each minor portion of his picture to the leading conception; he had one
purpose in view, and he preserved its unity. How different this was from
the practice of Dürer, who introduced into his work whatever came into
his mind, however remotely it might be associated with his subject, who
repeated almost wearisomely the same idea in varying symbolism, and
dissipated the intensity of the thought by distracting suggestion
crowded into any available space, need not be pointed out; in just the
proportion in which Dürer lost by his practice directness, simplicity,
and force, Holbein gained these by his own method, which was, indeed,
the method of great art, of the art which obeys reason, in distinction
from the art which yields to the wandering sentiment. Holbein differed
from Dürer in another respect: he thoroughly understood what he meant to
express; he would have nothing to do with vague dreaming or mystical
contemplation; he thought that whatever could not be definitely
conceived in the brain, and clearly expressed by line and color, lay
outside the domain of his art; he gave up the phantoms of the enthusiast
and the puzzle of the theologian to those who cared for them, and fixed
his attention on human life as he saw it and understood it. He often
treated religious subjects, but in no different spirit from that in
which he treated secular subjects; in all it is the human interest which
attracts him--the life of man as it exists within the bounds of
mortality. Thus he arrived not only at the true language and the true
law of art, but also at its true object. This development of his genius
did not take place suddenly and at once; it was a gradual growth, and
reached full maturity only in his closing years; but, while he still
worked at Bâsle, the essential lines of his development were clearly
marked, and he had advanced so far along them as to be even then the
most perfect artist whom the North had produced.

Holbein began to practise wood-engraving as soon as he settled in Bâsle,
and designed many titlepages, initial letters, and cuts for the
publishers of that city. The titlepages, which are numerous, were
usually in the form of an architectural frame, in which groups of
figures were introduced; they show how early his taste for the forms of
Italian architecture became pronounced, and how bold and free was his
power of drawing, and how highly developed was his sense of style, even
in his first efforts. He illustrated the books of the humanists,
especially the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, then a new and popular work;
and he designed the cuts for the biblical translations of Luther, and
for other publications of the Reformers. He served the Reformation, too,
in a humorous as well as in a serious way, for he was as much a master
of satire as of beauty. Two cuts in ridicule of the papal party are
particularly noticeable, one in which he satirizes the sale of
indulgences, contrasting it with true repentance; and one in which he
represents Christ as the Light of the World, with a group of sinners
approaching upon one side, and a group of papal dignitaries led by
Aristotle turning away on the other side. The illustrations in which he
depicts ordinary humble life, particularly the life of peasants and
children, make another great department of his lesser work in
wood-engraving; these scenes are sometimes separate cuts, and sometimes
introduced as backgrounds of initial letters, twenty alphabets of which
are ascribed to him; they represent the pastimes and sports of the
country, just as Holbein may have seen them at any time upon the
way-side, and are full of heartiness, humor, and reality. The sketches
from the life of boys and children are especially graceful and charming,
and reveal an ease and power in delineation which has seldom been
rivalled. This species of _genre_ art, which had first made its
appearance in wood-engraving, because it was considered beneath the
dignity of the higher arts, was very popular; by his work of this sort
Holbein contributed to the pleasure of the people, just as by his
co-operation with the Humanists and the Reformers he served them in more
important ways. Finally he produced at Bâsle his two great works in
wood-engraving, the Dance of Death and the Figures of the Bible, which
are the highest achievements of the art at any time.

The Dance of Death was an old subject. It had possessed for centuries a
powerful and sometimes morbid attraction for the artistic imagination
and for popular reflection. It was peculiarly the product of mediæval
Christian life, and survives as a representative of the great mediæval
ideas. That age first surrounded death with terrors, fastened the
attention of man continually upon his doom, and affrighted his spirit
with the dread of that unknown hour of his dissolution which should put
him in danger of the second death of immortal agony. In Greece death had
been the breaking of the chrysalis by the winged butterfly, or, at
least, only the extinction of the torch; here it was the gaunt and
grinning skeleton always jostling the flesh of the living, however
beautiful or joyous they might be. In the churches of the thirteenth
century there swung a banner emblazoned upon one side with the figures
of a youth and maiden before a mirror of their loveliness, and, upon the
reverse, with Death holding his spade beside the worm-pierced corpse; it
was the type of mediæval Christian teaching. The fear of death was the
recurring burden of the pulpit; it made the heart of every bowed
worshipper tremble, and was taught with fearful distinctness by the
pestilence that again and again suddenly struck the populations of
Europe. The chord of feeling was overstrained; the elastic force of life
asserted itself, and, by a strange transformation, men made a jest of
their terror, and played with death as they have never since done; they
acted the ravages of death in pantomime, made the tragedy comic, put the
figure of Death into their carnivals, and changed the object of their
alarm into the theme of their sport. In the spirit of that democracy
which, in spite of the aristocratic structure of mediæval society, was
imbedded in the heart of the Christian system, where every soul was of
equal value before God, the people turned the universal moral lesson of
death into a satire against the great; Death was not only the common
executioner, he arrested the prelates and the nobles, stripped them of
their robes and their possessions, and tried them whether they were of
God or Mammon. In these many-varied forms of terror, sport, and irony
Death filled the imagination and reflection of the age; the shrouded
figure or the naked skeleton was seen on the stage of the theatre, amid
the games of the people, on the walls of the churches and the
monasteries, throughout the whole range of art and literature. Holbein
had looked on many representations of this idea: where, as in Dürer’s
work, Death attends knight and beggar; or where, as in the Nuremberg
Chronicle, the skeletons dance by the open grave; or where, as in the
famous series at Bâsle, Death humbles every rank of life in turn. But
Holbein did not look on these scenes as his predecessors had done; he
was free from their spirit. He took the mediæval idea and re-moulded it,
as Shakspeare re-moulded the tradition of Denmark and Italy, into a work
for all times and generations. He represented Death, but with an
artistic power, an imaginative fervor, a perception of the constant
element in its interest for mankind, which lifted his work out of
mediævalism into universal truth; and in doing this he not only showed
the high power of his art, but he unlocked the secrets of his character.

[Illustration: FIG. 51.--The Nun. From Holbein’s “Images de la Mort.”
Lyons, 1547.]

[Illustration: FIG. 52.--The Preacher. From Holbein’s “Images de la
Mort.” Lyons, 1547.]

This work is, in the first edition (1538), a series of forty-one small
cuts, in each of which is depicted the triumph of Death over some person
who is typical of a whole class. Each design represents with intense
dramatic power some scene from daily life; Death lays his summons upon
all in the midst of their habitual occupations: the trader has escaped
shipwreck, and “on the beach undoes his corded bales;” Death plucks him
by the cloak; the weary, pack-laden peddler, plodding on in his
unfinished journey, turns questioningly to the delaying hand upon his
shoulder; the priest goes to the burial of the poor, Death carries the
candle in a lantern before him, and rings the warning bell; the
drunkard gulps his liquor, the judge takes his bribe, the miser counts
his gold--Death interrupts them with a sneer. What poetic feeling, what
dramatic force, there is in the picture of the Nun! (Fig. 51.) She
kneels with head averted from the altar of her devotions toward the
youth who sits upon the bed playing the lute to her sleeping soul, and
at the moment Death stands there to put out the light of the taper which
shall leave her in darkness forever. What sharp satire there is in the
representation of the Preacher (Fig. 52), dilating, perhaps, in his
accustomed, half-mechanical way, upon the terrors of that very Death
already at his elbow! What justness of sight, what grimness of reality,
there is in the representation of the Ploughman (Fig. 53); how directly
does Holbein bring us face to face with the human curse--in the sweat of
thy brow thou shalt earn death! George Sand, looking out on the spring
fields of her remote province and seeing the French peasants ploughing
up the soft and smoking soil, remembered this type of peasant life as
Holbein saw it, and described this cut in words that vivify the
concentrated meaning of the whole series. “The engraving,” she says,
“represents a farmer guiding the plough in the middle of a field. A vast
plain extends into the distance, where there are some poor huts; the
sun is setting behind a hill. It is the close of a hard day’s work. The
peasant is old, thickset, and in tatters; the team which he drives
before him is lean, worn out by fatigue and scanty food; the ploughshare
is buried in a rugged and stubborn soil. In this scene of sweat and
habitual toil there is only one being in good spirits and light of foot,
a fantastic character, a skeleton with a whip, that runs in the furrow
beside the startled horses and beats them--as it were, a farmer’s boy.
It is Death.” She takes up the story again, after a while. “Is there
much consolation,” she asks, “in this stoicism, and do devout souls find
their account therein? The ambitious, the knave, the tyrant, the
sensualist, all the proud sinners who abuse life, and whom Death drags
away by the hair, are on their way to a reckoning, no doubt; but the
blind, the beggar, the fool, the poor peasant, is there any amends for
their long wretchedness in the single reflection that death is not an
evil for them? No! an inexorable melancholy, a dismaying fatality,
weighs upon the artist’s work. It is like a bitter curse launched on the
universal human lot.”[40]

[Illustration: FIG. 53.--The Ploughman. From Holbein’s “Images de la
Mort.” Lyons, 1547.]

Certainly the artist’s work is a bold and naked statement of man’s
mortality, of the close of life contrasted with the worth of its career;
but the melancholy of his work is not more inexorable, its fatality is
not more dismaying, than the reality he saw. He did not choose for his
pencil what was unusual, extraordinary, or abnormal in life; he depicted
its accustomed course and its fixed conclusion in fear, folly, or
dignity. He took almost every character among men, almost every passion
or vice of the race, almost every toil or pursuit in which his
contemporaries engaged, and confronted them with their fate. The king is
at his feast, Death pours the wine; the poor mother is cooking her
humble meal at the hearth, Death steals her child; the bridal pair walk
on absorbed, while Death beats their wedding-march with glee. Throughout
the series there is the same dramatic insight, the same unadorned
reality, the same humanity. Here and there the spirit of the Reformer
reveals itself: the Pope in the exercise of his utmost worldly power
crowns the emperor, but behind is Death; a devil lurks in the shadow,
and over the heads of the cardinals are other devils; the monk, abbot,
and prioress--how they resist and are panic-stricken! There can be no
doubt at what Holbein reckoned these men and their trade. Holbein showed
here, too, his sympathy with the humbler classes in those days of
peasant wars, of the German Bible, and of books in the vulgar
tongue--the days when the people began to be a self-conscious body, with
a knowledge of the opportunities of life and the power to make good
their claim to share in them; as Holbein saw life, it was only the
humble to whom Death was not full of scorn and jesting, they alone stood
dignified in his presence. Beneath this sympathy with the Reformers and
the people need we look farther, as Ruskin does, to find scepticism
hidden in the shadows of Holbein’s heart? Holbein saw the Church as
Avarice, trading in the sins of its children; as Cruelty, rejoicing in
the blood of its enemies; as Ignorance, putting out the light of the
mind. There was no faltering in his resolute, indignant denial of that
Church. Did he find any refuge elsewhere in such hope and faith as
remain to man in the suggestions of his own spirit? He saw Death’s
triumph, and he made men see it with his eyes; if he saw more than that,
he kept silence concerning it. He did not menace the guilty with any
peril save the peril of Death’s mockery; he spoke no word of consolation
for the good; for the inevitable sorrow of the child’s loss there is no
cure, for the ploughman’s faithful labor there is no reward except in
final repose by the shadow of the distant spire. He did not open the
heavens to let through one gleam of immortal life upon the human lot,
unless it be in the Judgment, where only the saved have risen;
nevertheless, the purport of that scene, even if it be interpreted with
the most Christian realism, cannot destroy the spirit of all others.
“Inexorable melancholy, dismaying fatality”--these, truly, are the
burden of his work.

The series holds high rank, too, merely as a product of artistic skill.
It shows throughout the designer’s ease, simplicity, and economy in
methods of work, his complete control of his resources, and his unerring
correctness in choosing the means proper to fulfil his ends; few lines
are employed, as in the Italian manner, and there is little
cross-hatching; but, as in all great art, every line has its work to do,
its meaning, which it expresses perfectly, with no waste of labor and no
ineffectual effort. In sureness of stroke and accuracy of proportion the
drawing is unsurpassed; you may magnify any of the designs twelve
times, and even the fingers will show no disproportion in whole or in
part. It is true that there is no anatomical accuracy; no single
skeleton is correctly drawn in detail, but the shape of Death, guessed
at as a thing unknown, is so expressed that in the earliest days of the
work men said that in it “Death seemed to live, and the living to be
truly dead.” The correctness, vigor, and economy of line in the drawing
of these cuts made them a lesson to later artists like Rubens, merely as
an example of powerful and truthful effects perfectly obtained at the
least expense of labor. In this respect they were in design a triumph of
art, as much as they were in conception a triumph of imagination.

Holbein made the original drawings for the Dance of Death before he left
Bâsle in 1526; but, although some copies were printed in that city, the
work did not become known until it was published in 1538 by the
Trechsels at Lyons, where it appeared without Holbein’s name. This
latter circumstance, in connection with a passage in the preface of this
edition, led some writers to question Holbein’s title to be considered
the designer of the series, although his friend, Nicolas Bourbon de
Vandoeuvre, the poet, calls him the author of it in a book published at
Lyons in 1538, while Karl van Mander, of Holland, in 1548, and Conrad
Gesner, of Zurich, in 1549, ascribe it to him, and their statements were
unhesitatingly accepted until doubt was expressed in our own time. The
passage in the preface of the first Lyons edition, on which the sceptics
rely, mentions the death “of him who has here imaged (_imaginé_) for us
such elegant designs as much in advance of all hitherto issued as the
paintings of Apelles or Zeuxis surpass those of the moderns;” but this
is generally considered to refer to the engraver, Hans Lützelburger, who
cut the designs in wood after Holbein’s drawing, and deserves all the
praise for their extraordinarily skilful technical execution. This is
the most satisfactory explanation which can be framed; but, if it is not
accepted, the balance of evidence in favor of Holbein is so great as to
be conclusive. The original drawings, made with a pen and touched with
bistre, are in the cabinet of the Czar, and show the excellence of the
draughtsmanship more clearly than the woodcuts; the engraver omitted
some striking details, but in general his fidelity and correctness of
rendering were remarkable. The first edition at Lyons contained only
forty-one of the original designs, of which there are forty-six at St.
Petersburg; the later editions, published by Frellon, increased the
number to fifty-three in 1547, and fifty-eight in 1562, including some
beautiful cuts of children at the end of the volume. The popularity of
the work was very great; the text was printed in French, Latin, and
Italian, and thirteen editions from the original blocks were issued
before 1563. Since that time it has been published many times; but the
engravings in the later editions, which were copied from the originals
by workmen much inferior to Lützelburger, have little comparative value.
Between forty and fifty editions have been printed from wood-blocks, and
as many more from copperplate.

[Illustration: FIG. 54.--Nathan Rebuking David. From Holbein’s “Icones
Historiarum Veteris Testamenti.” Lyons, 1547.]

The Figures of the Bible, which made a series of ninety-two
illustrations of the Old Testament, showed the same qualities of
Holbein’s genius as did the Dance of Death, but generally in less
perfection. In designing many of these cuts Holbein accepted the types
of the previous artists, just as nearly all the great painters
frequently took their conceptions of scriptural scenes from their
predecessors; hence these Bible Figures show a marked resemblance in
their general composition to the earlier woodcuts in illustration of the
Scriptures. But while Holbein followed the earlier custom in
representing two or three associated actions in one scene, and kept the
same relative arrangement of the parts, he essentially modified the
total effect by omitting some elements, subordinating others, giving
prominence to the principal group, and informing the whole picture with
a far more vigorous, thoughtful, and expressive spirit. In artistic
merit some of these designs are among the best of Holbein’s work; but
the technical skill of the wood-engraver who cut them is inferior to
that shown in the Dance of Death. The scene in which Nathan is
represented rebuking David (Fig. 54) is especially noble in conception:
the prophet does not clothe himself in any superior human dignity as a
divine messenger; but, mindful only of the supreme law which is over all
men equally, kneels loyally and obediently before his king, and calls on
him to humiliate himself, not before man, but in the solitary presence
of God. The power of the universal law, independent alike of the majesty
of the criminal or the lowliness of its servant, has never been pictured
with greater subtlety and force than is here done. There are others
among these designs of equal excellence, both in imagination and art,
but in all the best of them there is some human interest in the scene
which attracted Holbein’s heart; in others, such as the illustrations to
the books of the Prophets, he falls into a feebleness of conception and
baldness of allegorical statement which shows clearly how little he
cared for what was merely supernatural. The series, nevertheless, is, as
a whole, the best which was made in that century, and was reprinted
several times to satisfy the popular demand for it; it first appeared,
contemporaneously with the Dance of Death, in 1538, at Lyons; the text
was afterward published in Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, and English,
but the work never obtained the extraordinary popularity of the Dance of
Death. It is noteworthy that no edition of either work was printed in
German--so far had Holbein outstripped his countrymen in the purity of

When these two works appeared at Lyons, Holbein had been for many years
a resident at the English court, where he painted that series of
portraits which remains unsurpassed as a gallery of typical English men
and women represented by an artist capable of revealing character as
well as of portraying looks. In these later years of his life he busied
himself but little with designing for woodcuts, but he did not entirely
neglect the art, and was, without doubt, of great service in spreading a
taste for it in England, and in improving its practice there. The
English printers imported their best woodcuts, and probably
wood-engraving was hardly a recognized English art before Holbein’s day.
The great titlepage which he designed for Coverdale’s Bible in 1535 was
apparently cut by some Swiss engraver, as were some other similar works;
but a few designs, which Holbein seems to have drawn so as to require
the least possible skill in the engraver to reproduce them, were
apparently executed in England. They were produced when England was
separating from Rome, in the time of Cromwell’s power, and are marked by
the same satirical spirit as Holbein’s earlier work at Bâsle; the
self-righteous Pharisee wears a cowl, the lawyers, who are offended when
Christ casts out the devil from the possessed one, have bishops’ mitres;
the unfaithful shepherd who flees when the wolf comes is a monk. These
cuts, in which Holbein last used his art as a weapon of civilization,
mark the close of his practice of it.

In the course of that practice he had not merely found utterance for his
genius, but he had shown the entire adequacy of wood-engraving for the
purposes of the artist when the laws which spring out of its peculiar
nature are most rigidly observed. He had employed it with complete
success as a mode of obtaining beautiful architectural design, of
depicting charming _genre_ scenes, of attacking abuses by the keenest
and most effective irony, of making real for the popular comprehension
the solemn and beautiful stories of the Scriptures, and of expressing
passionate feeling and profound thought; and he thus exercised upon his
own time and upon the future an influence which was perhaps more
powerful than that exercised by any contemporary artists. Within the
limits of the Dance of Death he had embodied in wood-engraving tragedy
and humor, satire and sermon, poetic sentiment, dramatic action, and
wise reflection, and he thus gave to that work a special interest for
his contemporaries as an expression of the sympathies, efforts, and
problems of that time, and an enduring interest for all men as the
truest picture of universal human life seen at its most tragic moment
through the hollow sockets of Death. He did this without offering
violence to the peculiar nature of the art, without wresting it from its
appropriate methods or requiring of it any difficult effort; he
perceived more clearly than Dürer the essential conditions under which
wood-engraving must be practised, and he conformed to them. If he had
needed cross-hatching, fine and delicate lines, harmonies of tone, and
soft transitions of light, he would have had recourse to copperplate;
but not finding them necessary, he contented himself with the bold
outlines, easily cut and easily printed, which were the peculiar
province of wood-engraving, and by means of them created works which not
only made wood-engraving illustrious, but rank with the high
achievements and valuable legacies of the other arts of design. Holbein
was one of the great geniuses of the race, and he put into his works the
fire and wisdom of genius; but, independently of what his works contain,
and merely as illustrations of artistic methods, they show for the first
time an artist perceiving and choosing to obey the simple laws of the
art, and exhibiting its compass and capacity, its wealth and utility,
within the sphere of those laws. This thorough understanding and
rational practice of the art, in connection with his intellectual and
artistic powers, made Holbein the most perfect master who has ever left
works in wood-engraving, and give his works the utmost value both as
forms of art and as embodiments of imagination and thought.



[Illustration: T FIG. 55.--From “Opera Vergiliana,” printed by Sacon.
Lyons, 1517.]

The wood-engravers of France produced no great works like those of
Maximilian, and no single cuts of the artistic value of those by Dürer
and his contemporaries. They limited themselves almost exclusively to
the illustration of books. The early printers, who had expended so much
care in the adornment of their religious books, were succeeded by other
printers who were hardly less animated by enthusiastic devotion to their
art, as was shown by their efforts to make their works beautiful both in
text and illustration. The Renaissance had now penetrated into France,
and entered into the arts. Geoffrey Tory (c. 1480-1533), who had
travelled in Italy, appears to have been the first to introduce a
classical spirit into wood-engraving; from his time two distinct schools
may be distinguished in French wood-engraving--one Germanic and archaic,
the other filled by the Italian spirit. The most distinguished engravers
belonged to the latter school, and their work was characterized by the
curiously modified Italian taste which marked the French Renaissance.
They understood design, and showed considerable power in it; they
regarded the main lines and principal harmonies and contrasts of masses
which are necessary to it; but they transformed its simplicity into
elegance, and overlaid it with ornamentation and trifling detail which
marred its effect, and gave to their works an appearance of
artificiality, of over-labored refinement and mistaken scrupulousness of
taste. As a rule, indeed, taste was their characteristic rather than a
developed sense of beauty, and skill rather than power. Finally, they
passed, by a natural progress, into a complexity and fineness of line
which are unsuitable to wood-engraving; they lost the sense of unity in
the abundance of detail, and were forced to give up engraving in wood
and adopt engraving on copperplate, which was so much better fitted to
the meaningless excess of delicacy and accumulation of ornament in which
the French Renaissance ended.

The most talented of the French designers for wood-engraving was Jean
Cousin (1501-1589), a member of the Reformed Church, little favored at
court and much neglected by his contemporaries. He appears to have been
of a robust and independent spirit, an admirer of Michael Angelo and the
Italians, and an industrious and painstaking workman in many branches of
art. A large number of designs are ascribed to him; but, as is the case
with nearly all the French engravers, there is great difficulty in
making out what really was his work. Among the characteristic products
of French wood-engraving were representations of royal triumphal entries
into the great cities of the kingdom. Two of these are ascribed to
Cousin--the entry of Henry II. into Paris, published in 1549, and his
entry into Rouen, published in the next year. In the latter the captains
of Normandy lead the march; they are followed by ranks of foot-soldiers,
trumpeters, men holding aloft laurel wreaths, other men with antique
arms and banners, and a band which, with a reminiscence from Roman
festivals, carry lambs in their arms for sacrifice to the gods; next
succeed new ranks of soldiers, then elephants and captives, the fool and
musicians leading on Flora and her nymphs, after whom comes the Car of
Happy Fortune, on which the royal family are enthroned, and the
triumphal Chariot of Fame; the procession closes with men-at-arms and
two captains, with succeeding scenes of some places by which the pageant
had passed. In this work the French Renaissance shows itself in the
prime of its career, when some simplicity and nobility of design were
still kept, and the tendency toward refinement of line and
multiplication of ornament were still held in check by a regard for
unity of effect. The Entry of Henry II. into Paris is, perhaps, even
more excellent. The two works rank with the best French wood-engraving
in the sixteenth century.

The characteristics by which the French Renaissance differed from the
Renaissance in Italy are more clearly and easily seen in the
reproduction of the Dream of Poliphilo, which was published in 1554, and
is ascribed to Cousin. The French artist did not copy the beautiful
designs of the Venetian; he kept the general character of each woodcut,
it is true, but he varied the style. He made Poliphilo elegant in
figure, taller and more modish in gesture and attitude; he represented
the landscape in greater detail and with more realism; he gave greater
height and more careful proportion to the architecture, added ornaments
to its bare façades and smooth lintels, and in the subordinate portions
he varied the curvature of the lines and made them more complex; in the
lesser figures, the statues and monumental devices, he allowed himself
more liberty in changing the original designs, and sometimes practically
transformed them; finally, he introduced a more vigorous dramatic action
throughout, and attempted to obtain more difficult effects of contrast
and to give relief to the figures. Nevertheless, the improvements which
the taste of Cousin required are distinctly injurious. The French
reproduction is inferior to the Italian original in feeling for design,
in simple beauty, in the force and directness of its appeal to the
artistic sense, in the power and sweetness of its charm; much that was
lovely in the original has become simply pretty, much that was noble and
striking has become only tasteful; especially that quality, by virtue of
which the original possessed something suggestive of the calm beauty of
sculpture, has vanished, and in the effort of the new designer to obtain
pictorial effects one has an unpleasant sense of something like
weakness. The comparative study of the two volumes is of extreme
interest, so clearly do they illustrate the different temper of the
Renaissance in France and Italy. France received the word of inspiration
from Italy, but could not become its oracle. Even at that early day
French art was marked by the dispersion of interest, the regard for
externals, and the inability to create the purest imaginative work,
which have since characterized the French people, despite their facility
in acquisition and the ease with which they reach the level of
excellence in any pursuit.

Of the other works, known or supposed to be by Cousin, the Book of
Perspective, published in 1560, is the most remarkable, because in its
designs considerable difficulties are overcome, and greater power of
relief is shown than in any previous French wood-engraving. This book
was a treatise, similar to those by Dürer and Leonardo da Vinci upon the
laws of art, and its dedication is noticeable because of the light it
throws on Cousin’s spirit--“neither to kings nor princes, as is
customary,” he says, “but to the public.” The Bible, usually called Le
Clerc’s, which contains two hundred and eighty-seven woodcuts, is said
to be by Cousin, but of this there is no direct evidence; and to him is
ascribed the Triumphal Entry of Charles IX., published in 1572, and
supposed by some to have been designed by the engraver Olivier Codoré;
many other works are also added to his list, but they were inferior in
value to those which have been described, and were unmarked by any
special interest. In consequence of the fineness and number of his
productions Cousin must be considered the principal French engraver of
the century; and he undoubtedly deserves a high rank among the artists
of talent, in distinction from the artists of genius, who have practised

About Cousin there were a number of other designers who gave attention
to the art and left works of value; but these works bear so much
resemblance to one another that it is frequently impossible to recognize
in them the hand of any individual of the school--a difficulty by which
Cousin’s reputation has profited, because of the eagerness of his
admirers to ascribe to him any excellent work in his style which is not
definitely known to belong to some one of his contemporaries. These
lesser artists were Jean Goujon (c. 1550), who made some excellent cuts
for a Vitruvius of 1547, and is believed by some authorities to have
designed the reproduction of the Dream of Poliphilo; Pierre Woeiriot (b.
1532), whose biblical cuts inserted in a Josephus of 1566 have much
merit; Jean Tortorel (b. 1540?) and Jacques Périssin (b. 1530?), who
designed some interesting illustrations of the Huguenot wars; and
Philibert de Lorme (c. 1570) and Jean Le Clerc (1580-1620), whose
productions are of comparatively little interest. The works of all these
artists lacked that intimate relation with the life of the people which
made the engravings of the lesser German designers valuable, and have
importance only as illustrations of the development of French art in the

The only artist who can contest Cousin’s foremost place in French
wood-engraving is Bernard Salomon (c. 1550), usually called the Little
Bernard, from the small size of his cuts, who was the leading designer
of Lyons. That city had retained its importance as a centre of popular
literature illustrated by woodcuts, and is said to have sent forth more
books of this kind in the latter part of the sixteenth century than any
other city in Europe. The works of Holbein were the pride of the Lyonese
art, and exerted great influence upon the style of the designers who
were constantly employed in the service of the Lyonese press. Bernard
worked in the small manner which Holbein had made popular, and he
learned from him how to compress much in a little space; but he
multiplied details, and carried the lines to an extreme of fineness
which his engravers were unable to do justice to in cutting the block.
As is the case with Cousin, a vast number of designs are attributed to
Bernard, simply because they are sufficiently excellent to have been
his work; according to Didot, no less than twenty-three hundred cuts
have been claimed for him, and it is believed by some writers that he
not only designed but engraved this large number. A large proportion of
these must have been produced by the unknown contemporaries of Bernard,
because, although he gave his attention wholly to wood-engraving for
thirty years, he could not have accomplished so great a work. His
best-known designs are the illustrations to an Ovid, published by Jean
de Tournes, and two hundred and thirty cuts for the same printer’s
edition of the Bible: these rank next to Cousin’s works as the most
remarkable productions of French wood-engraving in the sixteenth
century. Of the other Lyonese designers very little is known; indeed, no
other important name has been preserved, excepting that of Jean Moni (c.
1570), who is remembered for a series of Bible cuts inferior to those by
Bernard. In Lyons, as in the rest of France, wood-engraving lost its
value toward the close of the century, in consequence of its attempts at
a kind of delicacy and refinement beyond its reach and inappropriate to
its class; it did not appeal to the taste of the late Renaissance, and
by degrees the engravers lost their technical skill, and the artists
gave up its practice as a fine art. This result was also partly due to
the contempt into which the popular romantic literature of the preceding
century had fallen, and to the degradation of wood-engraving as a mode
of coarse caricature. Copperplate-engraving gradually supplanted the
more simple art, and finally the practice of wood-engraving became

[Illustration: FIG. 56.--St. Christopher. From a Venetian print.]

[Illustration: FIG. 57.--St. Sebastian and St. Francis. Portion of a
print by Andreani after Titian.]

In Italy the older style of woodcuts in simple outline continued to be
followed long after it was abandoned in the North. The designs in
Italian books up to the year 1530, when cross-hatching was introduced,
do not differ essentially in character from those of which examples have
already been given. The names of the artists who produced them are
either obscure or unknown, excepting Leonardo da Vinci, to whom are
ascribed the cuts in Luca Pacioli’s volume, De Proportione Divina,
published in 1509, and Marc Antonio Raimondi (1478-1534), to whom are
ascribed the remarkably excellent cuts in a volume entitled Epistole et
Evangelii Volgari Hystoriade, published in 1512 in Venice. From the
first, Venice (Fig. 56) had been the chief seat of wood-engraving in
Italy, and now became the rival of Lyons. The most distinguished of the
group of artists who produced woodcuts in that city was Nicolo Boldrini
(c. 1550), who designed several engravings (Fig. 59) after Titian
(1476?-1575) with such boldness and force that some writers have
believed Titian to have drawn the design on the block for Boldrini to
engrave. The works of Titian and other Venetian painters were reproduced
in the same way by Francesco da Nanto (c. 1530); and by other artists,
like Giovanni Battista del Porto (c. 1500), Domenico delle Greche (c.
1550), and Giuseppe Scolari (c. 1580), who also sometimes made woodcuts
from their own designs. Besides these engravings, some very large cuts,
similar to those which the German artists had attempted, were printed
from several blocks; but they have little interest. The illustrations in
Vesalius’s Anatomy, published at Bâsle in 1543, in which wood-engraving
was first employed as an aid to scientific exposition, were designed in
Venice by Jean Calcar, a pupil of Titian, and are of extraordinary
merit. Finally, in the cuts by Cesare Vecellio (1550-1606) for the
volume entitled Habiti Antiche e Moderne, published in 1590, Venetian
wood-engraving produced its last excellent work--so excellent, indeed,
that the designs have been attributed to Titian himself, who was the
uncle of Vecellio.

[Illustration: FIG. 58.--The Annunciation. From a print by Francesco da

[Illustration: FIG. 59.--Milo of Crotona. From a print by Boldrini after

The Italians devoted themselves with especial ardor to wood-engraving in
chiaroscuro, and from the time when Ugo da Carpi introduced it in Venice
it was practised by many artists. Nearly all of those designers who have
been mentioned left works in chiaroscuro engraving as well as in the
ordinary manner. Beside them, Antonio da Trento (c. 1530), Giuseppe
Nicolo (c. 1525), Andrea Andreani (c. 1600), and Bartolemeo Coriolano
(c. 1635) produced chiaroscuro engravings which are now much valued and
sought for by collectors of prints. The Italian love of color led these
artists into this application of wood-engraving, which must be regarded
as a wrongly-directed and unfruitful effort of the art to obtain results
beyond its powers. The Italians had been the first to discover the
capacity of wood-engraving as an art of design, but they never developed
it as it was developed in Germany; when they gave up the early simple
manner in which they had achieved great results, and began to follow the
later manner, the great age of Italy was near its close, and the arts
felt the weakening influences of the rapid decline in the vigor of
society. At Venice the arts remained for a while longer powerful and
illustrious, and wood-engraving shared in the excellence which
characterized all the artistic work of that city; but the place which
wood-engraving held in the estimation of the Venetians appears to have
been far lower than its place in the North, where it was popular and
living, highly valued and widely influential as it could not be in any
Italian city. At last in Italy, as in France, it died out altogether,
and was no longer heard of as a fine art.

In the Netherlands the art had been practised continuously from the time
of the Block-books with varying success, but, excepting in the works of
Lukas van Leyden (1494-1533), it had produced nothing of great value. In
the sixteenth century Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) designed some
woodcuts in the common manner as well as chiaroscuro engravings, and
Christopher van Sichem (c. 1620) some woodcuts in the ordinary manner,
which have some worth. The only work of high excellence was due to
Christopher Jegher (c. 1620-1660), who engraved some large designs which
Rubens (1577-1640) drew upon the block; they are inferior to Boldrini’s
reproductions of Titian’s designs, but are free, bold, and effective,
and succeed in reproducing the designs characterized by the vehement
energy of Rubens’s style. Rembrandt (1606-1665) also gave some attention
to the art which the older masters had prized, and left one small
portrait in wood-engraving by his own hand. His example was followed by
his pupils, Jean Livens (1607-1663) and Theodore De Bray (c. 1650),
whose cuts are characterized by the style of their master.

In England, where the art had not been really practised until Holbein’s
day, and had not reached any degree of excellence, some improvement was
made during the sixteenth century in designs for titlepages, portraits,
and separate cuts, particularly in the publications of John Day. In the
next century, during the civil wars, woodcuts of extreme rudeness were
inserted in the pamphlets of the hour, and in the latter half of the
century some interest was still felt in the art. In the eighteenth
century two engravers, Edward Kirkall (c. 1690-1750) and John Baptist
Jackson (1701-1754?), worked both in the ordinary manner and in
chiaroscuro, but both were forced to seek support on the Continent,
where, although the practice of wood-engraving as a fine art had long
been extinct, the tradition of it as a mechanical process by which cheap
ornaments for books were produced was still preserved. In France the
engravers Pierre Le Sueur (1636-1710) and Jean Papillon (1660-1710)
executed cuts of this sort which are without intrinsic value, and in the
next generation their sons produced works which remained at the same low
level of excellence. In Italy an artist, named Lucchesini, engraved some
cuts in the latter part of the century, but they are without merit. In
Germany the art was equally neglected, and the woodcuts in German books
of the eighteenth century are entirely worthless.

The explanation of this rapid and universal decline of wood-engraving is
to be found in general causes. The great artistic movement, which both
in the North and the South had sprung out of mediæval religious life,
and had gathered force and spirit as the minds of men grew in strength
and independence, and as the compass of their interests expanded, which
had been so transformed by the study of antiquity that in the South it
seemed to be almost wholly due to that single influence, and in the
North to have suffered an essential change in its spirit and standards,
had at last spent itself. The intellectual movement which had gone along
with it side by side, gaining vigor from the spread of literature, the
debates of the Reformation, and the exercise of the mind upon the
various and novel objects of interest in that age of great discoveries
and inventions, had resulted in a century of religious warfare,
aggravated by the violence of dynastic quarrels which arose in
consequence of the new political organization of Europe. In this
conflict the arts were lost; they all became feeble, and wood-engraving
under the most favorable conditions would have shared in this general
degradation. But for its utter extinction as a fine art there were more
special causes. The popular literature with which it had flourished had
been brought into contempt by Cervantes and Ariosto; the use of
wood-engraving for coarse caricature also reflected discredit upon it;
but the principal cause of its decadence lay in the taste of the age,
which had ceased to prize art as a means of simple and beautiful design,
but valued it rather as a means of complicated and delicate ornament, so
that excessive attention was given to form divorced from meaning, and,
as always happens in such a case, artificiality resulted. The
wood-engravers attempted to satisfy this taste by seeking the refinement
which copperplate-engraving obtained with greater ease and success, and
they failed in the effort; in other words, wood-engraving yielded to
copperplate-engraving because the taste of the age forced it to abandon
its own province, and to contend with its rival on ground where its
peculiar powers were ineffective.

Here the history of wood-engraving in the old manner, as a means of
reproducing pen-and-ink sketches in fac-simile, came to an end. It has
been seen how valuable it had proved both as an agent of civilization
and as a mode of art; how serviceable it had been in the popularization
of literature and of art, and what influence it had exerted in the
practical questions of the day as a weapon of satire; how faithfully it
had reflected the characteristics of successive periods of civilization,
and how perfectly, in response to the touch of the artist, it had
embodied his imagination and expressed his thought. It had run a great
career; its career seemed to have closed; but, when at the end of the
eighteenth century the movement toward the civilization of the people
again began with vigor and spirit, a new life was opened to it, because
it is essentially a democratic art--a career in which it has already
reached a scope of influence that makes its usefulness far greater than
in the earlier time, and has given promise of a degree of excellence
which, though in design it may not equal Holbein’s power, may yet result
in valuable artistic work.



[Illustration: T FIG. 60.--From the “Comedia di Danthe.” Venice, 1536.]

The revival of the art began in England, in the workshop of Thomas
Bewick (1753-1828). He is called, not without justice, the father of the
true art of engraving in wood. The history of the art in the older time
is concerned mainly with the designer and the ideas which he endeavored
to convey, and only slightly with the engraver whom he employed for the
mechanical work of cutting the block. In the modern art the engraver
holds a more prominent position, because he is no longer restricted to a
servile following of the designer’s work, line for line, but has an
opportunity to show his own artistic powers. This change was brought
about by the invention of white line, as it is called, which was first
used by Bewick. White line was a new mechanical mode of obtaining color.
“I could never discover,” says Bewick, “any additional beauty or color
that the cross-strokes gave to the impression beyond the effect produced
by plain parallel lines. This is very apparent when to a certainty the
plain surface of the wood will print as black as ink and balls can make
it, without any farther labor at all; and it may easily be seen that the
thinnest strokes cut upon the plain surface will throw some light on the
subject or design; and if these strokes again are made still wider or of
equal thickness to the black lines, the color these produce will be a
gray; and the more the white strokes are thickened, the nearer will they
in their varied shadings approach to white; and if quite taken away,
then a perfect white is obtained.” The practical difference between the
two methods is this: by the old method, after the simple work in outline
of the early Italian engravers had been relinquished for the style of
which Dürer was the great master, the block was treated as a white
surface, on which the designer drew with pen and ink, and obtained grays
and blacks by increasing the number of cross-strokes, as if he were
drawing on paper; by the new method the block was treated as a black
surface, and the color was lessened by increasing the number of white
lines. The latter process was as easy for the engraver as the former was
difficult, because whereas in the former he had to gouge out the diamond
spaces between the crossing lines, now he obtained white color by single
strokes of the graver. Bewick may have been led into the use of white
line simply by this consideration of the economy of labor, because he
engraved his own designs, and was directly sensible of the waste of
labor involved in the old method. In both methods color depends, of
course, upon the relative quantity of black and white in the prints; the
new method merely arranges color differently, so that it can be obtained
by an easy mechanical process instead of by a difficult one.

The use of white line not only affected the art by making it more easy
to practise, but also involved a change in the mode of drawing. Formerly
the effects were given by the designers’ lines, now they were given by
the engravers’ lines; in other words, the old workman followed the
designer’s drawing, the modern workman draws himself with his graver. By
the old method the design was reproduced by keeping the same
line-arrangement that the artist employed; by the new method the design
is not thus reproduced, but is interpreted by a line-arrangement first
conceived by the engraver. In the earlier period the design had to be a
drawing in line for the engraver to cut out and reproduce by leaving the
original lines in relief; now the design may be a washed sketch, the
tints of which the engraver reproduces by cutting lines of his own in
intaglio. The change required the modern engraver to understand how to
arrange white lines so as to obtain artistic effects; he thus becomes an
artist in proportion to his knowledge and skill in such arrangement. It
is clear that, no matter how much mechanical skill, firmness, justness
and delicacy of touch were requisite in the older manner of following
carefully and precisely the lines already drawn upon the block, still
the engraver was precluded from exercising any original artistic power
he might have; he could appreciate the artistic value of the design
before him, and, like Hans Lützelburger, show his appreciation by his
fidelity in rendering it, but the lines were not his own. The new method
of reproducing artists’ work by means of lines first conceived and
arranged by the engraver requires, besides skill of hand, qualities of
mind--perception and origination, and the judgment that results from
cultivated taste. This is what is meant when it is said that the true
art of wood-engraving is not a hundred years old, for it is only within
that time that the value of a print has been due to the engraver’s
capacity for thought and his artistic skill in line-arrangement, as well
as to the designer’s genius. The use of white line as a mechanical mode
of obtaining color was not unknown in the sixteenth century, and the
artistic value of white line was definitely felt in early French and
Italian wood-engraving; but the possibilities of development were not
seen, and no such development took place. The step in advance was taken
by Bewick, who thus disclosed the opportunities which wood-engraving
offers its craftsmen for the exhibition of high artistic qualities. The
white line revolutionized the art, and this is the essential meaning
there is in calling Bewick the father of wood-engraving.

Of course the older method has not ceased to be practised; artists have
drawn upon the block, and their lines have been reproduced; sometimes a
part of the lines are thus drawn, particularly the leading lines, and
the minor portions of the sketch have been indicated by the designer by
washes and left to be rendered by the engraver in his own lines. Old or
modern wood-engraving as a mode of reproducing designs in fac-simile is
valuable, but none of the artistic merit they may possess is due to the
engraver; while the artistic merit shown in the new style of
wood-engraving, as an art of design in white line, belongs wholly to the
engraver. It results from this that white line is the peculiar province
of wood-engraving, considered as an art; but that does not exclude it
from being practised in its old manner as a mode of copying and
multiplying ordinary design which it is able to reproduce.

Thomas Bewick, the founder of the modern art, was born near Newcastle
in 1753. He passed his boyhood in rude country life and received scanty
schooling. At fourteen he was bound apprentice to the Newcastle
engraver, Ralph Beilby; nine years later he went to seek his fortune in
London, where he impatiently endured city life for less than a year; in
the summer of 1777 he returned to his old master, with whom he went into
partnership. Some preliminary training in book-illustration of the rude
sort then in vogue was necessary to reveal his powers to himself; he
received a premium from the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, which
had shown some interest in wood-engraving; and after farther minor work
he began, in 1785, to engrave the first block for his British
Quadrupeds, which, with his British Birds, although his other cuts are
numbered by thousands, is the principal monument of his genius. When he
took the graver in his hand he found the art extinct as a fine art; at
most only large coarse prints were manufactured. Besides his great
service to the art in introducing the white line he substituted boxwood
for the pear or other soft wood of the earlier blocks, and he engraved
across the grain instead of with it, or “the plank way of the wood,” as
he called it; he also began the practice of lowering the surface of the
block in places where less color was desired, so that less pressure
would come upon those parts in printing (a device which Aldegrever is
believed to have resorted to in some of his works), and he used the
dabber instead of the inking-roller.

[Illustration: Fig. 61.--The Peacock. From Bewick’s “British Birds.”]

[Illustration: FIG. 62.--The Frightened Mother. From Bewick’s “British

[Illustration: FIG. 63.--The Solitary Cormorant. From Bewick’s “British

[Illustration: FIG. 64.--The Snow Cottage.]

[Illustration: FIG. 65.--Birth-place of Bewick. His last vignette,
portraying his own funeral.]

By such means he was truly, as Ruskin says, “a reformer”--Ruskin adds,
“as stout as Holbein, or Botticelli, or Luther, or Savonarola,” and this
is also true within limits. But if in relation to his art, and in answer
to the tests required of him, his reforming spirit proved itself
vigorous, independent, persistent in conviction, and faithful in
practice, his natural endowment in other ways was so far inferior to
those of the great Reformers named as to place him in a different order
of men. He had not a spark of the philosophic spirit of Holbein, and but
a faint glimmer of Holbein’s dramatic insight. He was not endowed with
the romantic imagination, the deep reflective power, the broad
intellectual and moral sympathy of Dürer. There is no need to magnify
his genius, for it was great and valuable by its own right. He was,
primarily, an observer of nature, and he copied natural facts with
straightforward veracity; he delineated animal life with marvellous
spirit; he knew the value of the texture of a bird’s feather (Fig. 61)
as no one before ever realized it. He was open also to the influence
which nature exerts over the emotions, and he rendered the sentiment of
the landscape as few engravers have been able to do. His hearty spirit
responded to country sights (Fig. 62), and he portrayed the humorous
with zest and pleasure, as well as the cheerful and the melancholy with
truth and feeling; his humor is sometimes indelicate, but it is
faithful; usually it is the humor of a situation which strikes him,
seldom the higher humor which appears in such cuts as the superstitious
dog. He is open to pathos, too, but here it is not the higher order of
pathos far-reaching into the bases of life and emotion--in this cut
(Fig. 64), for example, one fancies his heart is nearly altogether with
the uncared-for animal, and takes not much thought of the deserted
hearth. With this veracity, sensitiveness, heartiness, there is also an
unbending virtue--a little like preaching sometimes, with its gallows in
the background--but sturdy and homely; not rising into any eloquent
homily, but with indignation for the boys drowning a cat or the man
beating his overdriven horse.

As an artist he knows, like Holbein, the method of great art. His
economy of labor, his simplicity, justness, and sureness of stroke show
the master’s hand. There was no waste in his work, no ineffective effort
after impossible results, no meaningless lines. For these excellences of
method and of character he has been often praised, especially because he
developed his talents under very unfavorable conditions; but perhaps no
words would have been sweeter to him than those which Charlotte Brontë
wrote, sincerely out of her own experience without doubt, for he himself
said he was led to his task by “the hope of administering to the
pleasure and amusement of youth.” Charlotte Brontë, speaking through the
lips of Jane Eyre of the pleasure she took as a child in looking through
Bewick’s books, writes thus:

“I returned to my book--Bewick’s History of British Birds, the
letterpress whereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet
there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not
pass quite as a blank: they were those which treat of the haunts of
sea-fowl; of ‘the solitary rocks and promontories’ by them only
inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern
extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape--

    ‘Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
     Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
     Of farthest Thule, and the Atlantic surge
     Pours in among the stormy Hebrides.’

[Illustration: FIG. 66.--The Broken Boat. From Bewick’s “British

[Illustration: FIG. 67.--The Church-yard. From Bewick’s “British

Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the black shores of
Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland. * * * Of
these death-white realms I formed an idea of my own--shadowy, like all
the half-comprehended notions that float dim through children’s brains,
but strangely impressive. The words in these introductory pages
connected themselves with the succeeding vignettes, and gave
significance to the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray;
to the broken boat (Fig. 66) stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold
and ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.
I cannot tell what sentiment haunted the quiet, solitary church-yard
(Fig. 67), with its inscribed head-stone, its gate, its two trees, its
low horizon, girdled by a broken wall, and its newly risen crescent
attesting the hour of even-tide. The two ships becalmed on a torpid sea
I believed to be marine phantoms. The fiend pinning down the thief’s
pack behind him I passed over quickly: it was an object of terror. So
was the black, horned thing, seated aloof on a rock, surveying a distant
crowd surrounding a gallows. Each picture told a story--mysterious often
to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever
profoundly interesting. * * * With Bewick on my knee, I was then happy;
happy at least in my way.”

Bewick published the first edition of the British Quadrupeds in 1790,
the first edition of the first volume of the British Birds in 1797, and
of the second volume in 1804; all these became popular, and were several
times republished with additional cuts. His other works were very
numerous, but, as a whole, they are of inferior value. Both in the
volumes which have been mentioned and in his later work he received much
aid from his pupils, who designed and engraved, subject to his
correction and approval, many illustrations which are ascribed to him.
In his own work, notwithstanding his great excellence, he was by no
means perfect. In delineating rocks and the bark of trees, especially,
he fails; in drawing he sometimes makes errors, particularly when what
he represents was not subject to direct and frequent observation; in the
knowledge of line-arrangement, too, he is less masterly than some of his
successors, and, in this respect, his work is characterized by
effectiveness and spirit rather than by finish. Yet, when these
deductions have been made from his merit, so much remains as to render
him, without doubt, the most distinguished modern engraver in wood.

[Illustration: FIG. 68.--The Sheep-fold. By Blake. From Virgil’s

[Illustration: FIG. 69.--The Mark of Storm. By Blake. From Virgil’s

Before Bewick’s death, in 1828, another English genius, William Blake
(1758-1827), greater as an artist than as an engraver, produced a series
of woodcuts (Fig. 68) which is remarkable for vigor and originality.
They were published in a reprint of Ambrose Philips’s Imitation of
Virgil’s First Eclogue, in Dr. Thornton’s curious edition of Virgil’s
Pastorals which appeared in 1820. One of them (Fig. 69) represents a
landscape swept by violent wind. The idea of autumnal tempest has seldom
been so strikingly and forcibly embodied as in the old gnarled oak
straining with laboring limbs, the hedge-rows blown like
indistinguishable glimmering dust, the keen light of the crescent moon
shining through the driving storm upon the rows of laid corn and over
the verge of the distant hill. Contemporary engravers said the series
was inartistic and worthless, and an uneducated eye can easily discover
faults in it; imaginative genius of the highest order is expressed in
it, nevertheless, and from this the series derives its value. Blake
never made a new trial of the art.

The revival of wood-engraving was not confined to England. At the end of
the eighteenth century Prussia founded a chair at Berlin for teaching
the art, and made the Ungers, father and son, professors of it; but,
although they contributed to the progress of wood-engraving in Germany,
no real success was obtained until the time of their successor, Gubitz.
In France, too, the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry
began to offer prizes for the best wood-engraving as early as 1805; but
some years passed before any contestants, who practised the true art,
appeared. The publisher Didot deserves much of the credit for reviving
French wood-engraving, because he employed Gubitz, and called to Paris
the English engravers who really founded the modern French school. The
efforts of societies or individuals, however, do not explain the rise of
the art in our time. Wood-engraving merely shared in the renewal of life
which took place at the end of the last century, and so profoundly
affected literature, art, and politics. The barren classical taste
disappeared in what is known as the return to nature, the intellectual
life of the people was stimulated to extraordinary activity,
civilization suffered rapid and important modifications, and every human
pursuit and interest received an impulse or a blow. Wood-engraving felt
the influence of the change, and came into demand with the other cheap
pictorial arts to satisfy popular needs; the interest of the publishers,
the improvements in the processes of printing, and the example of
Bewick and his pupils especially contributed to bring the old art again
into use, and it continued to be practised because its value in
democratic civilization was immediately recognized.

[Illustration: FIG. 70.--The Cave of Despair. By Branston. From Savage’s
“Hints on Decorative Printing.”]

England was naturally the country where wood-engraving most flourished.
The pupils of Bewick, particularly Charlton Nesbit and Luke Clennell,
practised it with great merit, the former with a better knowledge of
line-arrangement than Bewick, and the latter with extraordinary artistic
feeling. The field, however, was not left wholly to those who had
learned the art from Bewick. Robert Branston was, like Bewick, a
self-taught wood-engraver; unlike Bewick, who was never trammelled by
traditions, and was thus able to work out his own methods in his own way
by the light of his own genius, Branston (Fig. 70), who had served an
apprenticeship in engraving on copperplate, and had mastered the art of
incising and arranging lines proper to that material, came to
wood-engraving with all the traditions of copperplate-engraving firmly
fixed in his mind and hand, and he founded a school which began where
the art had left off at the time of its decline--in the imitation of the
methods of engraving on copper. It is true that Branston sometimes
admitted white line where he thought it would be effective, but he
relied on black line for the most part. The wrong step thus taken led to
the next. Engravers on copper began to draw designs on the block for
wood-engravers to cut out. John Thurston, the most distinguished of
these, drew thus for John Thompson, who, however, did not follow the
lines with the servility of the engravers of the sixteenth century, but
modified them as he engraved, changed the direction and character of the
lines, and occasionally introduced white line. In the same way
Clennell, who also engraved after John Thurston’s drawing, modified it,
particularly in the disposal of the lights and shadows, and thus
improved it by his own artistic powers. Merely in engraving simple lines
Clennell’s artistic feeling placed him in a higher rank than even an
engraver of the power of John Thompson, as may be seen in the cuts which
these two men made after Stothard’s drawings in an edition of Rogers’s
Poems (Fig. 71, 72); in this volume Clennell has given an effect which
Thompson could not give. Branston’s engraving, in the same way, shows
the craftsman’s skill and knowledge, but it lacks the artistic quality
of the rival school of Nesbit and Clennell. The imitation of the manner
of copperplate, which Branston introduced, became common, and was
developed in the work of Orrin Smith and William Harvey, in which
wood-engraving lost its distinctive virtues. This school, nevertheless,
was popular, and its engravings were used to illustrate important works
to which for a long time copperplate-engraving alone had been considered
equal; thus wood-engraving once more encroached upon its rival’s ground.

[Illustration: FIG. 71.--Vignette from “Rogers’s Poems.” London, 1827.]

[Illustration: FIG. 72.--Vignette from “Rogers’s Poems.” London, 1827.]

Meanwhile the great illustrated magazines and papers, to which
wood-engraving owes so much of its encouragement, sprang up, and with
them the necessity for rapid work, and the temptation to be satisfied
with what satisfied the public taste. Cruikshank and Seymour prepared
the way for the designers, Leech, Gilbert, Tenniel, and the Dalziels,
the latter engravers themselves, and carelessness in engraving
accompanied carelessness in drawing; but from the latter charge
Tenniel’s designs must be excepted. These artists were inferior in
natural endowment to even the lesser artists of the sixteenth century,
and their work was made worse by the negligent rendering of their
engravers, who were not characterized either by the fidelity of the old
craftsmen, or the skill and knowledge of Thompson, or the artistic sense
of Clennell, but were merely inefficient workmen employed to cut lines
drawn for them as rapidly as possible. Mr. Linton made an attempt to
introduce the practice of rendering artists’ drawings by lines conceived
and arranged by the engraver himself; but the current was too strongly
set in another direction, and the engraver kept his old position of
mechanic employed to clear out the designers’ lines. The work which was
produced by this method in great quantities was in the mass not valuable
either for the art shown in the design or for the skill of the engraver,
but derived its interest and popularity from qualities which have little
connection with fine art. No great works were produced; and it is only
here and there that separate prints of value are to be found, among
which those by Edmund Evans in Birket Foster’s edition of Cowper’s Task
deserve to be mentioned.

[Illustration: FIG. 73.--Death as a Friend.]

Upon the Continent the development of wood-engraving was by no means so
great as in England, but some excellent work has been done by the pupils
of Thompson, who went to Paris by Didot’s invitation; these men, of
whom MM. Best and Leloir were the most distinguished, together with MM.
Brevière, Porret, and Lavoignat, produced some cuts of considerable
value both in book-illustration and in the art magazines. In Germany,
too, wood-engraving counts some good workmen among its following, but
the German woodcuts, of which the two (Figs. 73, 74) here given are
favorable examples, remain inferior for the most part to either the
English or French.

[Illustration: FIG. 74.--Death as a Throttler.]

Wood-engraving, however, has been practised in our time less as a fine
art than as a useful art; and if little that is valuable for artistic
worth has been executed by engravers since the days of Nesbit, Clennell,
and Thompson, the application of wood-engraving for merely useful
purposes has been of the greatest service. It has become a most
powerful instrument of popular education; it imparts the largest share
of the visual knowledge which the people have of the things they have
not directly seen; its utility as a means of instruction by its
representation of the objects with which science deals, and the
mechanical contrivances and processes which science employs, and also as
a means of influence in caricature and of simple popular amusement, is
incalculable; and, notwithstanding its low level in art, there can be no
doubt that it frequently assists the exercise of the popular
imagination, and sometimes generates in the better-endowed minds among
the people a real sympathy with the higher products of art and an
appreciation of them. These utilities, indeed, so overbalance its value
simply as a fine art as to give it a distinctive character, when its
practice now is compared with that of any previous time; as, formerly,
it reflected the aspects of changing civilization, now it reflects the
peculiar character of our time, and shows how great has been the gain in
the popular hold upon the material comforts of life and upon
intelligence, and how great has been the loss in the community’s
appreciation of purely artistic results. This is especially true of the
earlier American practice of the art, which seldom resulted in any work
of artistic value.

[Illustration: FIG. 75.--The Creation. Engraved by J. F. Adams.]

[Illustration: FIG. 76.--The Deluge. Engraved by J. F. Adams.]

The history of wood-engraving in America, until recent years, is
comparatively insignificant. In art, as in literature, the first
generation of the Republic followed the English tradition almost
slavishly; the engravers, indeed, showed hardly any individuality, and
left no work of permanent value. During Colonial times some very rude
apprentice-work on metal had been produced; but the first certain
engraving in wood bears date of 1794, and was from the hand of Dr.
Alexander Anderson (1775-1870), a physician by profession, but with a
natural bent toward the art, which he had played at from boyhood, and
finally made the principal business of his life. The sight of some of
Bewick’s early work had determined him to employ wood as a material in
place of the type-metal on which he had previously engraved in relief,
and the example of Bewick taught him to use white line. At that time,
and for many years afterward, the art was applied mainly to the
production of cuts for advertisements, labels, and the like, as a
servant of trade; its use for illustration simply was confined almost
wholly to juvenile books. The engravers who at the beginning of the
century introduced the art in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore,
and New Haven were few, and, for the most part, self-taught; usually
they merely copied English cuts, and thus they reflected in their
poorer work the manner of successive English schools; but at least they
kept the art alive, and handed it on through their pupils. Dr. Anderson
was the best of them; yet, although he was free and bold in his handling
of white line, and once or twice attained an excellence that proved him
a worthy pupil of Bewick, he left nothing of enduring interest, and the
work of his fellows met with even swifter forgetfulness. Woodcuts of
really high value were not produced in America until Joseph Alexander
Adams (b. 1803), one of the young engravers encouraged by Dr. Anderson,
began to do his best work (Figs. 75, 76), about 1834, and applied his
talents to the illustration of the Bible, published by the Harper
Brothers in 1843, with which wood-engraving may be properly said to have
begun its great career in this country. This volume was embellished by
sixteen hundred cuts, executed under the supervision of Mr. Adams, and
plainly exhibits the capacities and limitations of the art at that time.
Other illustrated books followed this from the same press, and from that
of the Putnams; the cuts in the papers and magazines, established during
the second quarter of the century, became more numerous, and the
attention paid by the American Tract Society to the engravings in its
various publications had great influence in encouraging and improving
the art. The work of this first half-century, however, as a whole, does
not deserve any great praise; in judging it, the inexperience of the
engravers and the difficulties of printing must be remembered; but in
its inferior portions it is marked by feebleness and coarseness, and in
its better portion by a hardness and stiffness of line, a lack of
variety and gradation in tone and tint, and a defect in vivacity and
finish. There are here and there exceptional cuts to which these
strictures would not apply, but the body of the work is vitiated either
through an incomplete control of his materials by the engraver, or
through an evil imitation of copperplate-drawing by the designer. Where
the engraver was also the designer the work is usually of higher value.

[Illustration: FIG. 77.--Butterflies. Engraved by F. S. King.]

With the second half of the century began that expansion of the press,
that increase in the volume and improvement in the quality of the
reading provided for the public through newspapers and magazines, which
has been one of the most striking and important results of democratic
institutions. The Harpers’ Monthly Magazine was established in 1850, and
it was followed within a decade by several illustrated periodicals;
during the civil war there was naturally a slackening in this
development, but, upon its close, numerous new illustrated weekly or
monthly publications began their longer or shorter career, among them
those issued by the Scribners, which were to have so important a bearing
on the history of wood-engraving. The art naturally received a great
impetus from this demand upon its resources; it rapidly advanced; and
being encouraged farther by the popularity of the new and beautifully
illustrated gift-books of the Boston and New York publishers, it has
taken the leading place in the artistic interests of the country.

[Illustration: FIG. 78.--Engraved by F. S. King.]

The scope of this volume does not allow any detailed account of the
works of American engravers individually; but while the increased
productiveness and improved technique of the art during the third
quarter of the century are being noticed, it would be unjust to make no
mention of the quiet, careful, and refined woodcuts of Mr. Anthony, or
of the long and unflinching fidelity of Mr. Linton, with its reward in
admirable work, or of the exquisite skill of Mr. Henry Marsh, the best
of American engravers of that period. The latter’s marvellous rendering
of insect life in the illustrations to Harris’s Insects Injurious to
Vegetation, published in 1862, can never be forgotten by any who have
been fortunate enough to see the artist-proofs. His work is in the
manner of copperplate-engraving, and affords one of the few instances in
which wood-engraving has equalled the rival art in fineness, delicacy,
softness, and gradation of tone. Whatever the critic’s theory may be, he
must remember that genius has a higher validity than reason, and must
acknowledge such work as this to be its own justification.
Unfortunately, the cuts in the published volume were not--perhaps at
that time could not be--printed with the success they deserved. The work
of these three engravers illustrates what advance had already been made
in skilful line-arrangement and in technique before 1870, about which
time the indications of an approaching change in the art became
plainly evident. Since then progress has been uninterrupted, swift,
marked by bold experiments and startling surprises. Now American
engravers excel all others in knowledge of the resources of their art,
and in control of its materials, as well as in the interest of their
work. They have not, it is true, produced, as yet, anything to rank in
artistic value with the designs of the older masters; but, in their
hands, the art has gained a width and utility of influence among our
people hitherto unequalled in any nation at any period. From the
beginning of its history wood-engraving has been distinctively a
democratic art; at present the ease and cheapness of its processes and
the variety of its applications make it one of the most accessible
sources of inexpensive information and pleasure; for this reason it has
acquired in our country, where a reading middle class forms the larger
portion of the nation, a popular influence of such far-reaching and
penetrative power as to make it a living art in a sense which none other
of the fine arts can claim. It now enters into the intellectual life and
enjoyment of our people to a degree and with a constancy impossible to
other arts. In this respect, too, it is only at the beginning of its
career; for, as popular education spreads, the place that the art holds
in the national life will continually become more important. These
social conditions, the technical skill of the engravers, and the
appearance among the people of a critical spirit concerning their
work--not perhaps to be called intelligent as yet, but forming, nascent,
feeling its way into conscious and active life--make up a group of most
favorable circumstances for a real artistic development. Whether such a
development will take place depends in large measure on the clearness
with which engravers understand the laws of their art, as presented by
their materials, and on the degree in which such knowledge controls
them. The experiments of recent years are to be judged finally by the
results; but, in spite of the novel effects obtained, and of the new
character that has been given to the art, there is at present no such
unanimity, either among the engravers or the public, as to be decisive
of the worth of the new work as a whole. While the issue is still
doubtful, and the stake is the future of the only art by which those who
care for the growth of civilization can develop in the people a sense of
art, bring them to an appreciation of its value, open their
understandings to its teachings, and fill their lives with its delights,
something may be gained by recurring to fundamental principles, as
illustrated by the practice of the older masters, not with an end to
limit the future by the past, but to foresee it. Such a brief review and
summary of past thought respecting the aims and methods of
wood-engraving, with such corrections as modern improvements in
processes justify, will afford the surest ground for criticism of the
work still to be considered.

All the graphic arts have to do with some one or more of the three modes
under which nature is revealed to the artist--the mode of pure form, the
mode of pure color, the mode of form and color, as they are affected by
the different lights and shadows in which they exist. In nature these
three modes do not exist separately, and usually no one of them is so
prominent as to efface the others; in the several arts, however, the
principal attention is given, now to one, now to another, of them,
according to the capacities of the art and the powers of the artists.
Thus sculpture deals only with form, and even in painting, which
includes all within its province, different masters make a choice, and
aim principally at reproducing color, or chiaroscuro, or form, as their
talents direct them, for a genius seldom arises with the power to
combine all these with the truth and harmony of nature. Wood-engraving,
there is no need to say, cannot reproduce the real hues of objects, nor
the play of light upon hue and form, nor the more marvellously
transforming touch of shadow; it can represent the form of a peach, but
it cannot paint its delicate tints, nor adequately and accurately show
how the beauty of its bloom in sun differs from the beauty of its bloom
in shade. More broadly, a landscape shot with the evanescent shadows
that hover in rapidly moving mists, or the intermingling light and gloom
of a wind-swept moonlit sky half overcast with clouds, wood-engraving
has no power to mirror in true likeness. The most it can do in this
direction is to indicate, it cannot express; it can exhibit strong
contrasts and delicate gradations of light and shadow, and it can
suggest varying intensity of hues, by the greater or less depth of its
blacks and grays; but real color and perfect chiaroscuro it relinquishes
to painting.

Form, therefore, is left as the main object of the wood-engraver’s
craft, and the representation of form is effected by delineation,
drawing, line-work. This is why the great draughtsmen, such as Dürer and
Holbein, succeeded in designing for wood-engraving. They knew how to
express form by lines, and they did not attempt to do more even when
suggesting color-values by the convention of black and gray. Line-work
is thus the main business of the engraver, because form must be
expressed by lines. Line-work, however, is of different kinds, and all
kinds are not equally proper for the art. Hitherto the fineness of line
by which copperplate-engraving easily obtains delicacy of contour and
soft transitions of tone, has been rarely and with difficulty attained
by the best-skilled hand and eye among wood-engravers, and when attained
has, usually, not been successfully printed. There remains, however, no
longer any reason to exclude fine lines from wood-engraving, when once
it has become plain that such work is possible without a wasteful
expenditure of labor, that its results are valuable, and that it can be
properly printed. But if it shall prove that the character of the line
proper to copperplate is also proper to wood, it may be looked on as
certain that the line-arrangement proper to the former material can
never be rationally used for the latter. The crossing of lines to which
the engraver on copperplate resorts is especially laborious to the
engraver in wood, and after all his toil does not give any desirable
effect which would not have resulted from other methods of work. It has
been seen that Dürer employed this cross-hatching in imitation of
copperplate-engraving; but he did so because he was ignorant of the way
to arrange color so that this difficult task of engraving
cross-hatchings would be unnecessary. Holbein, who was equally ignorant
of the possibilities of white line, rejected cross-hatching. Bewick also
rejected it, and proved it was unnecessary even where much color was to
be given. In the later work of the sixteenth century, and in modern
English work, wood-engraving imitated its rival art both in the
character and the arrangement of its lines; it failed in both instances
mainly because such imitation involved a waste of labor, and did not
result in works so valuable artistically as were obtained by
copperplate-engraving with far greater ease. At present the objection
to the use of cross-hatching in wood-engraving is as serious as ever,
but the employment of fine lines for some purposes, as in the rendering
of delicate textures and tones, has been justified, mainly in
consequence of innovations in the modes of printing. The charm of this
new and surprising beauty in fine-line woodcuts, however, has not at all
deprived the old broad and bold line of its force and vigor, nor made
less valuable the strong contrasts in which the art won its earlier
success. On the contrary, it is in the old province and by the old
methods that wood-engraving has worked out its most distinctive and
peculiar effects of real value.

[Illustration: FIG. 79.--Mount Lafayette (White Mountains). By J.

In what has been thus far said of the line-work proper to
wood-engraving, black line-work only has been referred to.
Wood-engraving is also an art of design in white line, and here a
different set of considerations applies. There is not the same
difficulty in cutting fine and delicate white lines, as is the case with
black lines, nor the same unlikelihood of their effect being felt in the
printed design. There is, too, no objection whatever to crossing white
lines, as a mode of work, for it is as easy a process for the
wood-engraver as crossing black lines is for the copperplate-engraver,
and the result thus obtained is sometimes of great value, particularly
in the moulding of the face. The art of design in white line, however,
is but little developed; but, not to depreciate the older method of
black line, which is extremely valuable, nevertheless it is clear that
white line-work is the peculiar province of the wood-engraver, and that
in developing its capacities the future of the art mainly lies, so far
as it rests with him. The merit of all line-work, whether black or
white, fine or broad, bold or subtle, depends upon the certainty with
which the lines serve their purposes. If, as with Holbein, every line
has its work to do, and does that work perfectly; if it fulfils its
function of defining an outline, or marking the moulding of a muscle, or
deepening the intensity of a shadow, or performing some similar service,
then the designer has followed the method of high art, and has produced
something of value. The work of all who practise the art--the
draughtsmen who draw in black line, and the engravers who draw in white
line--has worth just in proportion as they acquire the power to put
intention into their lines and to express something by every stroke;
and, other things being equal, he who conveys most meaning in the fewest
lines, like Holbein and Bewick, is the greatest master. By means of such
lines so arranged wood-engraving does represent form with great power,
and also texture, which is only a finer form; it indicates positive
hues, and, within limits, suggests the play of light and shadow on form
and hue. It thus aims chiefly, in its bolder and more facile work, at
force, spirit, and contrast, and, in its more rare and difficult
efforts, at delicacy, finish, and nice gradation of harmonious tones.

If there is any value in the teaching of the past, either these
principles must be shown to be no longer valid, or by them the engraving
of the last ten years must be judged. A considerable portion of it
consists of attempts to render original designs--for example, a washed
drawing--not by interpreting its artistic qualities, its form, color,
force, spirit, and manner, so far as these can be given by simple,
defined, firm lines of the engraver’s creation, but by imitating as
closely as possible the original effect, and showing the character of
the original process, whether it were water-color, charcoal-sketching,
oil-painting, clay-modelling, or any other. However desirable it may be
to make known the original process, such knowledge does not enhance the
artistic value of the cut; and however pleasing it may be to the public
to obtain copies even successfully, indicating the general effects,
without the charm, of originals in other arts with which wood-engraving
has little affinity, such work will rather satisfy curiosity than
delight the eye. The public may thus derive information; they will not
obtain works of artistic value at all equal to those which
wood-engraving might give them, did it not abdicate its own peculiar
power of expressing nature in a true, accurate, and beautiful way and
descend to mechanical imitation. The application of the art to such
purposes, as little more than another mode of photography, is a
debasement of it; it ceases to be a fine art when it ceases to be
practised for the sake of its own powers of beautiful expression. Such
work, therefore, has only a secondary interest, as being one more
process for the defective reproduction of beautiful things, and requires
only a passing mention.

[Illustration: FIG. 80.--“And silent were the sheep in woolly
fold.”--KEATS, _St. Agnes Eve_.

Engraved by J. G. Smithwick.]

[Illustration: FIG. 81.--The Old Orchard. Engraved by F. Juengling.]

Aside from these imitative cuts, the most striking portion of recent
engraving, that which has been hailed as opening a new career to the
art, is characterized either by a great refinement of line or by a
practical abandonment of line. Of the former tendency Mr. Henry Marsh
affords the most prominent examples by his engravings in illustration of
insect life, or similarly delicate work. The skill of his hand and the
charm of the style he has adopted are beyond question; there is as
little doubt of the truthfulness and beauty of the effects secured in
the rendering of individual objects, the butterfly wing, the pond-lily,
or the spray of the winter forest; the only deduction to be made from
his praise is, that when he binds these several objects into one
picture, as in a landscape, he suffers the too frequent penalty of
fine detail, and loses in the delicacy and finish of the parts the
beauty that should have characterized the whole. There is always in his
cuts grace, poetic feeling, exquisite workmanship, but there is in some
of them a lack of body, substance, distance, of skill in placing the
objects in a natural relation to one another, that mars the total
result. Mr. Marsh is one of the older men, and deserves the credit of
first showing what wood-engraving is capable of in refinement of line;
but younger men have joined him in developing these capacities of the
art, and have made work in this style more common. The best of it is by
Mr. F. S. King, being equal in every quality to Mr. Marsh’s most
admirable cuts. Such engraving is exceptional, of course; but the
evenness and transition of tone, the care for line, the discrimination
of both line and color values, shown in these butterflies (Fig. 77),
are characteristic of Mr. King’s work in general, although in some of
it a lack of definition in outlines is noticeable. The refinement of
line in these two engravers is justifiable, because they put meaning
into the lines, and express by them something that could not otherwise
be interpreted to the eye through this art; and so long as this remains
the case they will meet with commendation and encouragement. It is only
when such refinement is needlessly resorted to, or is confusing or
meaningless, that it is rightly rebuked.

[Illustration: FIG. 82.--Some Art Connoisseurs. Engraved by Robert

The second and more evil tendency of recent engraving, toward an
abandonment of line, is exhibited in many phases, and by nearly all the
younger men. In some cases the central portion of the cut seems alone to
be cared for, and is much elaborated, while the surrounding parts fade
off into the background with the uncertainty of a dissolving view; in
other cases there seems to be entire indifference about form or texture:
there is no definition of the one nor discrimination in the other, but
an effect only is sought for, usually vague or startling, always
unsatisfactory, and not infrequently ugly. Such work is the product of
ignorance or carelessness or caprice. In it wood-engraving ceases to be
an art of expression. These obscure masses, meant for trees, in which
one may look with a microscope and see neither leaf, limb, nor bark;
these mottled grounds, meant for grass or houses, in which there is
neither blade nor fibre; these blocks of formless tints, in which all
the veracity of the landscape perishes, do not record natural facts, or
convey thought or sentiment; they are simply vacant of meaning. To
illustrate or criticise such work would be an ungracious as well as a
needless task; but even in the best work of the best engravers, with
which alone these pages are concerned, the marks of tendency in this
wrong direction are palpably present. Here, for example, is some
charming work by Mr. King (Fig. 78), wholly successful in securing the
effect sought--beautiful, well worth doing. The spirit of the season,
the moist days, the April nature, the leafing and budding in mist and
cloudiness, and gleam of light and breath of warm, soft air along
full-flowing streams, the swift and buoyant welcome borne on the forward
flight of the birds straight toward us, the ever-renewed marvel of the
birth of life and the coming on of days of beauty--the feeling of all
this is given, and the success is due in large part to the vagueness
that dims the whole design; but why should the wreathing flowers, the
tender crown of all, lose the curve of their petals and darken the
delicate form of each young blossom, all blurred into the background,
and half-effaced and marred, and tiring the eye with the effort to
define them? If the value of form had been more felt, if the definition
of outline had been firmer, if the spray had really blossomed, would not
the design have been better? There is less doubt of the error in the
next cut. The disappearance of texture and the attenuation of substance
into flat shadow is very plain. To a true woodsman, to one who has lived
with trees, and knows and loves them, there is little of their nature in
these vague, transparent, insubstantial forms, that seem rather skeleton
leaves than strong-limbed, firm-rooted trees that have sung in the
frosty silence and lived through the “bitter cold” of many a St. Agnes
Eve. Who, looking on these pale shadows, would remember that the same
poet, whose verse is here put into picture, thought of trees as
“senators” of the woods? In the disposition of the light of the
atmosphere, in the management of the gray tints, particularly in the
lower portion of the cut, the eye takes more pleasure: there is some
discrimination between the sheep, the old man, and the fold--as much,
perhaps, as the prevailing obscurity admits; but the cut as a whole is
much harmed by the lack of relief, which seems to be a recurring fault
in fine-lined and crowded work. The cut (Fig. 81) by Mr. Juengling,
whose engravings exhibit the tendencies of the new methods in the most
pronounced way, shows, like the preceding illustration, an inattention
to texture in the foliage, and an entire negligence of cloud-form in the
sky, which is a fair example of the abandonment of line, or of
meaningless line, as one chooses to call it. An effect is gained, a
horizon light and shadowed masses, but the landscape is not faithfully

[Illustration: FIG. 83.--The Travelling Musicians. Engraved by R. A.

Of a different order are the two following cuts, simple, quiet, and
refined. The mountain scene (page 183) is admirable for the disposition
of its lights and shadows, the gradation and variation of its tints, and
the subordination of every element to a truthful total effect. The cut
by Mr. Hoskin (Fig. 82) is a good example of his always excellent work,
showing his power of economy and his feeling for line and tone, while it
evinces self-restraint in methods of work.

[Illustration: FIG. 84.--Shipwrecked. Engraved by Frank French.]

The change that has taken place in recent engraving has been less marked
in cuts of landscape, however, than in cuts of figures. In the former
line-arrangement has been affected somewhat, and usually for the worse,
but in the latter the transformation has been greater, and the results
already worked out of more striking novelty. The development, however,
has been in the same directions, in refining or abandoning line, and
examples exhibit the same or analogous variation in the engravers’
regard for form and texture. The first group here given (Fig. 83) shows
clearly, by the character and the direction of its lines, that it is a
reproduction of copperplate-engraving, and as a piece of imitative work
it is remarkable; the figures are life-like, full of vivacity and force,
and the faces are natural and very expressive. It is, however, in the
style of copperplate, and in the qualities mentioned it does not excel
the next cut (Fig. 84), in which the character and direction of the
lines are those peculiar to wood-engraving. The former has an appearance
of more finish, as also of more hardness, but it does not by its more
difficult mode of engraving, accomplish what is aimed at in any higher
degree than does the latter by its simpler, easier, and freer manner.
The Tap-room (Fig. 85), by the same engraver, is less careful work, and
its novel technical quality, while of the same general character as that
of the last cut, is more pronounced and less pleasing. The figures as a
whole are good, but the faces are poor; the use of the cross white line
or stipple for fire, apron, rafter, table-cloth, and face indifferently
cannot be commended, and the character of many of the lines
(particularly in the lower part of the seated figure) is beyond
criticism. It is the still bolder and more general use of the peculiar
modes of engraving in this design that results in the most meaningless,
negligent scratchiness of the new school. Mr. J. P. Davis’s “Going to
Church” (Fig. 86) is a favorable example of another considerable class
of cuts that is on first sight novel and pleasing. On examination one
sees that the figures are certainly the best part of the cut; but why
should the maiden’s dress be the same in texture as the cow’s breast,
and the young man’s trousers the same as the cow’s back? and why should
the child’s face be of a piece with its collar? Notice, too, beyond the
wall the familiar flat and insubstantial trees, with their foliage that
would serve as well for the ground at the foot of the steps.

[Illustration: FIG. 85.--The Tap-room. Engraved by Frank French.]

[Illustration: FIG. 86.--Going to Church. Engraved by J. P. Davis.]

The best work in these figure-cuts, however, is by Mr. T. Cole, who
stands at the head of engravers in the new manner, though he is not
confined by it. The portraits, by which he first became widely known,
were remarkable for an entire absence, in some cases, of any demarcation
between picture and background, and for a concentration of attention
upon some few specially characteristic features of the face. Whoever
deserved the blame so liberally meted out to these heads, Mr. Cole’s
reputation rests now upon better work--upon such an exquisitely refined
portrait as that of Modjeska as Juliet, in the Scribner Portfolio of
Proofs, and other cuts of hardly less merit there to be found.
Frequently, however, there is noticeable in some of his best work an
analogous characteristic to that of the earlier portraits--the
concentration of attention on the central figures, to the neglect of the
minor portions of the designs. Thus in the example here given (Fig. 87),
so long as the eye is concerned only with the two stately figures, there
is only pleasure in such admirable workmanship; but when the gaze
wanders to the near, and especially the remote, background, there is
nothing to delight the lover of art or nature in such confusion,
insubstantiality, flat, waving shadows without beauty or meaning. Who
would guess from that obscure and formless net-work in the distance that
the next line of these verses is--

    “And all the sunset heaven behind your head?”

This “generalization” of the landscape, as it is called, empties it of
all that makes it lovely. To the cut, as an example of figure-engraving,
the highest praise may be given, but as an entire picture it is harmed
by its imperfection of detail. To subordinate by destroying is not the
mode of high art, but it is often the mode of the new school.

Of all the work of recent years, however, the best, it is generally
admitted, is in the portraits, possibly because the artists are
restrained by the definiteness of the form and expression to be
conveyed. Mr. Cole’s Modjeska has been already praised, though it is
rather a fine figure than a fine portrait. A portrait of Mr. Hunt by Mr.
Linton, and of Mr. Fletcher Harper by Mr. Kruell, are also of high
merit, and in both a very high level of excellence is sustained. The
special character of the new school in portraiture, as a distinct and
radical style, is illustrated by Mr. Juengling’s “Spanish Peasant” (Fig.
88). It recalls at once the portrait of Whistler by the same hand. In
disposition of color, in certainty of effect, and in skill of execution,
all must recognize the engraver’s power; but is the value of the human
face, in whose mouldings is expressed the life of years and
generations--is the value of the human eye, in which the light never
goes out, truly felt? One cannot help feeling that the brutalizing of
this face is a matter rather of art than of truth. Contrast the two
portraits here given (Figs. 89, 90), one in the bolder, more definite,
larger style, admirable in its tones and discrimination of textures,
among the very best in this manner; the other finer, with the tendency
to fade into the background, but faultless in its rendering of the face,
and proving by success the great effectiveness of the fine white

[Illustration: FIG. 87.--

            “Nay, Love, ’tis you who stand
    With almond clusters in your clasping hand.”

                     Engraved by T. Cole.

These illustrations of recent engraving are sufficiently numerous and
various to offer a fair test of what has been done in different branches
of the art. The capacity of any new school should be judged by the best
it has produced; but, even in this best work, it is not difficult to
discern at times the same tendencies that have been the main cause of
failure in the less good work. The obscuration of leading outlines; the
disregard of substance, shape, and material in leaf, cloud, and stuffs;
the neglect of relief and perspective, the crowding of the ground with
meaningless lines, either undirected or misdirected, or uselessly
refined; the aim at an effect by an arrangement of color almost
independent of form, the attempt to make a momentary impression on the
eye, instead of to give lasting pleasure to the mind through the
artistic sense, and--especially in the best work--the lack of perfect
and masterly finish in all portions of the design, however insignificant
by comparison with the leading parts--these must be counted as defects.
How much of such failure is due to the designer, it is impossible to
determine without sight of the original drawings; a considerable portion
of the fault may rest with him; in wood-engravings, as art-works, the
union of designer and craftsman is inseparable--the two stand or fall
together. But when all deductions have been made, the best engravers may
rightly be very proud of their work, confident of their future, and
hopeful of great things. With such perfect technical skill as they
possess, with such form and texture as they have represented with care,
truth, and beauty; with such softness of tone and power of both
delicate and strong line as some of their number have earned the mastery
of, the value of future work depends only on the wisdom of their aims.
If the fundamental grounds on which the foregoing criticism rests be
true, these engravers have won success in so far as they have attended
to form and texture as the main business of their art, and they have
failed in so far as they have destroyed these. From its peculiar and
original powers in the interpretation of form and texture by line-work,
either black or white, wood-engraving has derived its value and earned
the respect due it as an art, both through its great works in the past
and, so far as yet appears, through its best works in the present.
Wood-engravers, if the design given them to reproduce is in black line,
fit for engraving in wood, must copy it simply, and then, should
artist-draughtsmen arise, the art in this manner will again produce
works of permanent value as in the days of Holbein; if, on the other
hand, the design given them is in color or washed tints, or anything of
that sort, they must interpret it by lines of their own creation, and
then, too, should any engraver-draughtsmen arise among them, the art
will possess a similarly high value; but in no other way than by
attending to these two kinds of line-work, separately or together, can
wood-engraving remain artistic; and even then its success will depend on
the knowledge and skill of the designer, whether artist or engraver, in
the use and arrangement of the special lines which are best adapted to
the art.

[Illustration: FIG. 88.--The Spanish Peasant. Engraved by F. Juengling.]

[Illustration: FIG. 89.--James Russell Lowell. Engraved by Thomas

[Illustration: FIG. 90.--Arthur Penrhyn Stanley. Engraved by G. Kruell.]

The history of wood-engraving, as it is recorded in the chief monuments
of the art, has now been told from its beginning down to the present
moment. Its historic and artistic value has been mainly dwelt upon, with
the view of showing its utility as a democratic art and its powers as a
fine art. It has had an illustrious career. It has shared in the
great social movements which transformed mediæval into modern
civilization. It entered into the popular life, in its earliest days, by
representing the saints whom the people worshipped. It contributed to
the cause of popular civilization in the spread of literature. It
assisted the introduction of realism into art, and gave powerful aid in
the gradual secularization of art. It lent itself to the Italian genius,
and was able to preserve something of the loveliness of the Italian
Renaissance. It helped the Reformation. It gave enduring form to the
imagination and thought of Dürer and Holbein. It fell into inevitable
decline; but, when the development of democracy again began in the new
age, it entered into the work of popular civilization with
ever-increasing vigor and ever-widening influence. It seems still to
possess unlimited capacities for usefulness in the future in both the
intellectual and artistic education of the people. It may yet crown its
career by making this country an art-loving as well as a book-reading




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UMBREIT (A. E.). Ueber die Eigenhändigkeit der Malerformschnitte.
Leipzig, 1840. 8vo.

VRIES (A. DE). Éclaircissemens sur l’Histoire de l’Imprimerie. La Haye,
1843. 8vo.

WAAGEN (G. F.). Treasures of Art in Great Britain, with Supplement.
London, 1854-’57. 4 vols. 8vo.

WEIGEL (RUDOLPH). Holzschnitte berühmter Meister in treuen Copien.
Leipzig, 1851-’54. Folio.

WEIGEL (T. O.) and ZESTERMANN (A. C. A.). Die Anfänge der Drucker-Kunst
in Bild und Schrift. Leipzig, 1866. 2 Bände. Folio.

WILLSHIRE (W. H.). An Introduction to the Study and Collection of
ancient Prints. 2d ed. London, 1877. 2 vols. 8vo.

WOLTMANN (ALFRED). Holbein und seine Zeit. Leipzig. 1866-’68. 2 Th. 8vo.

WORNUM (R. N.). Some Account of the Life and Works of Holbein. London,
1867. 8vo.

ZANI (P.). Materiali per servire alla Storia dell’Origine e de’
Progressi dell’Incisione in Rame e in Legno, etc. Parma, 1802. 8vo.

ZORN (PETER). Historia Bibliorum pictorum. Lipsiæ, 1743. 4to.


Adams, Joseph Alexander, 173.

Altdorfer, Albrecht, 111.

  earlier history and characteristics of the art, 171-177;
  present position and influence, 177, 178;
  works in imitation of other arts, 185;
  errors in practice 190, 202;
  future of the art, 202-206.

Amman, Jobst, 114.

Anderson, Alexander, 172.

Andreani, Andrea, 146.

Anthony, A. V. S., 176.

Ars Memorandi, 43.

Ars Moriendi, 43.

  prints, 26;
  playing-cards, 27;
  Bible, 52;
  press, 46, 57.

Baldung, Hans, 110.

Bamberg: press, 56.

  characteristics of the city in Holbein’s time, 117.

Behaim, Hans Sebald, 112-114.

Bernard, St.:
  his rebuke of art, 14.

Best, Adolphe, 169.

Bewick, Thomas:
  the father of modern wood-engraving, 151;
  sketch of his life, 154;
  reforms effected by him, 154;
  character of his genius, 154-160;
  his works, 161;
  influence on the art in America, 172.

  the Cologne, 49;
  the Nuremberg, 50;
  the Augsburg, 52;
  the Strasburg, 50;
  Coverdale’s, 132;
  Le Clerc’s, 139;
  Jean de Tournes’, 141;
  Harper’s, 173.

Bible cuts:
  Behaim’s, 113;
  Holbein’s, 129-131;
  Jean Moni’s, 141.

_Biblia Pauperum_:
  their use, 31;
  designs not original, 32;
  description, 33;
  place of issue, 37.

Blake, William, 162.

  invention, 30, 31, 42;
  decline, 45.

Boldrini, Nicolo, 144.

Bouts, Diedrick, 39.

Branston, Robert, 164, 167.

Bray, Theodore de, 147.

Brevière, Henri, 169.

Breydenbach’s Travels, 55.

Brontë, Charlotte, criticism of Bewick, 159-161.

Brosamer, Hans, 114.

Brothers of the Common Lot:
  their claim to the authorship of the block-books, 39.

Brussels: print of 1418, 23.

Burgkmaier, Hans:
  genius and works, 99-106;
  influence on Holbein, 117

Calcar, Jean, 146.

Carpi, Ugo da, 87, 146.

Caxton, William:
  Game and Playe of the Chesse, 63.

Chiaroscuro-engraving, 87-89, 146, 148, 187-189.

Christopher, St.:
  print of 1423, 22.

  general description, 52;
  the Cologne, 53;
  the Nuremberg, 53;
  the Saxon, 53.

Clennell, Luke, 164, 167.

Cole, T., 197, 200.

  early school of art, 42, 43;
  Bible, 49;
  Chronicle, 53;
  press, 57.

  in the holy prints, 26 _note_;
  in early German books, 52;
  in the _Livres d’Heures_, 60, 61;
  in chiaroscuro-engraving, 87.

Color, conventional, 55, 151, 152.

  influence on wood-engraving, 47, 91, 112, 141, 149, 164, 176, 182.

Coriolano, Bartolemeo, 146.

Coster, Lawrence:
  claim to the invention of wood-engraving, 21.

Cousin, Jean, 136-139.

Cranach, Lukas, 110.

  description, 18;
  in France, 62, 63.

  first use in Germany, 55;
  in Italy, 86;
  its propriety in wood-engraving, 152, 186.

Cunio, Isabella and Alexander Alberico, 20.

Dalziel, the Brothers, 168.

Dance of Death:
  typical mediæval idea, 121;
  Holbein’s, 123-129;
  Guyot Marchand’s, 62.

Davis, J. P., 197.

Day, John, 147.

Didot, Firmin (père):
  his influence on the French revival of the art, 163.

Dream of Poliphilo, 70-81, 137, 138.

Du Pré, Jean, 60.

Dürer, Albert:
  influence on the art, 90;
  character of his genius, 91, 92;
  Apocalypse of St. John, 93, 94;
  Larger Passion, Smaller Passion, Life of the Virgin, 95-97;
  single prints, 97;
  Car and Gate of Triumph, 97-99.

  early woodcuts, 63;
  the art in Holbein’s time, 132, 147, 148;
  modern revival, 151, 164.

Evans, Edmund, 168.

Form, value of, in wood-engraving, 193.

  early books in French, 58;
  early woodcuts, 59-63;
  influence of Germany and Italy, 62, 135;
  character of the French Renaissance and its art, 135-141;
  the modern revival, 163, 169.

French, Frank, 196.

Genre art, first appearance in wood-engraving, 121.

  German block-books, 42, 43;
  activity and influence of the early printers, 46, 47;
  the free cities, 48;
  character of the early press, 48, 56, 57;
  influence on France, 62;
  on Italy, 67;
  on Venice, 68;
  chiaroscuro-engraving, 87;
  the Renaissance, 91, 97, 110, 111, 115;
  decline, 148;
  the modern revival, 163, 169.

Gilbert, Sir John, 168.

Goldsmiths, mediæval:
  their art-works, 14-16;
  position in France and the Netherlands, 17;
  their claim to the invention of wood-engraving, 18, 19.

Goltzius, Hendrick, 147.

Goujon, Jean, 139.

Greche, Domenico delle, 145.

Gregory the Great:
  his defence of art, 31.

Groups, modern, 195-200.

Gubitz, Friedrich Wilhelm, 163.

Harvey, William, 167.

_Historia Johannis Evangelistæ ejusque Visiones Apocalypticæ_, 42.

_Historia Virginis Mariæ_, 41.

History of the Kings of Hungary, 53, 54.

Holbein, Hans:
  the first modern artist, 116;
  character and development of his genius, 117-120;
  early work, 120; Dance of Death, 123-128;
  his democratic, reforming, and sceptical spirit, dramatic and artistic power, 120-127;
  Figures of the Bible, 129-131;
  his English portraits, 131;
  his English woodcuts, 132;
  summary of his powers and influence, 132-134.

Holy prints, 21-26.

Hoskin, Robert, 195.

Hypnerotomachia Poliphili:
  illustration of the Italian Renaissance, 70-81;
  the French reproduction, 137, 138.

Initial letters:
  in Faust and Scheffer’s Psalter, 46;
  in the Augsburg Bible, 52;
  in Italy, 86;
  in Holbein’s alphabets, 120, 121.

  artistic spirit, 65;
  democratic civilization, 66;
  the Renaissance, 67;
  introduction of printing, 68;
  early cuts, 68;
  general characterization of the engraved work, 85;
  decline, 86;
  chiaroscuro-engraving, 87-89;
  influence on Holbein, 117, 118.

Jackson, John Baptist, 148.

Jegher, Christopher, 147.

Jerome, St., Epistles of, 70, 71.

Juengling, F., 195, 200.

Kerver, Thielman, 62.

King, F. S., 189, 193.

Kirkall, Edward, 148.

Kruell, G., 200.

Landscape, modern, 186-195.

Lavoignat, H., 169.

Le Caron, Pierre, 60.

Le Clerc, Jean, 139, 140.

Leech, John, 168.

Leloir, Auguste, 169.

Le Rouge, Pierre, 60.

Le Sueur, Pierre, 148.

Leyden, Lukas van, 110, 147.

Linton, W. J., 168, 176, 200.

Little Masters, 111.

Livens, Jean, 147.

_Livres d’Heures_, 60-62.

Lorch, Melchior, 114.

Lorme, Philibert de, 140.

Lucchesini, 148.

Lützelburger, Hans, 129.

  earliest seat of the art in France, 59;
  character of the earlier press, 59;
  the later press, 140.

Magazines: use and influence, 167.

Marchand, Guyot, 60, 62.

Marsh, Henry, 176, 186.

Maximilian, Emperor:
  life and character, 97;
  works executed by his order--the Triumphal Car, 98;
  Gate of Triumph, 99;
  the Triumphal Procession, 99-105;
  The Adventures of Sir Tewrdannckh, 106;
  The Wise King, 106;
  influence of his patronage, 109.

Mayence press, 46, 53, 55, 57.

Metal-engraving earlier than wood-engraving, 18.

Middle Ages:
  position of goldsmiths, 14-18;
  impersonal spirit, 26;
  value of painting, 28, 31;
  immobility of mind, 32;
  religious temper and intellectual life, 40, 41;
  art, typical, 53;
  illustrated by Dürer, 92;
  by Maximilian’s works, 99-105;
  by the Dance of Death, 121.

Moni, Jean, 141.

Nanto, Francesco da, 145.

Nesbit, Charlton, 164.

  civilization in, 37;
  wood-engraving probably invented in, 38;
  decline of, 47, 57, 147.

Nicolo, Giuseppe, 146.

  prints, 26;
  playing-cards, 27;
  Bible, 50;
  Chronicle, 53;
  press, 57, 114.

Painting, place of, in mediæval popular civilization, 28, 31.

Papillon, Jean, the Elder, 148;
  the Younger, 20.

  character of the Parisian press, 59, 60;
  early books and printers, 60;
  the _Livres d’Heures_, 60,
    secular books, 62, 63.

Périssin, Jacques, 140.

Pfister, Book of Fables, 56.

Pigouchet, Philippe, 62.

Playing-cards, 27.

Pleydenwurff, William, 53.

Pliny, reference to Varro’s portraits, 20.

Porret, 169.

Porto, Giovanni Battista del, 145.

Portraits, modern, 198, 200-202.

Principles of wood-engraving, 180-185.

  engraving in relief on wood known to the ancients, 13;
  of taking impressions, 17;
  _en manière criblée_, 18;
  of taking off the holy prints, 21, 22;
  of block-printing, 30;
  of cross-hatching, 55;
  of chiaroscuro-engraving, 87-89;
  white-line and Bewick’s other reforms, 151-155.

Pynson, Richard, 64.

Raimondi, Marc Antonio, 96, 142.

Reformation reflected in wood-engraving, 51, 112, 117, 120, 126, 132.

Rembrandt, 147.

Renaissance: in Italy, 67-85;
  in Germany, 91, 97, 110, 111, 115;
  in France, 135-141.

Romances, popular, 59, 141.

Rubens, P. P.:
  reproductions after his designs, 147.

Ruskin, John:
  criticism on Holbein, 126;
  on Bewick, 155.

Saints’ images, 21-26.

Salomon, Bernard, 140-141.

Sand, George, criticism of Holbein, 124.

Satire: in Bible-cuts, 50, 51;
  in the Little Masters, 112;
  in Holbein, 120, 132.

Saxony: Chronicle, 53.

_Schatzbehalter_, 54.

Schäuffelin, Hans, 106.

Schön, Erhard, 114.

Scolari, Giuseppe, 145.

Sebastian, St.:
  print of 1437, 23.

Secularization of art, 50, 110, 111.

Smith, Orrin, 167.

Solis, Virgil, 114.

_Speculum Humanæ Salvationis_:
  description, 34;
  place of issue, 36;
  authorship, 38, _note_, 39;
  character of the cuts, 40.

_Spirituale Pomerium_, 39.

Springinklee, Hans, 106, 110.

Stamps, engraved, early use, 13.

Stimmer, Tobias, 114.

  Bible, 50;
  press, 57.

Suger, defence of art, 15.

Tenniel, John, 168.

Tewrdannckh, Sir, Adventures of, 106.

Thompson, John, 164.

Titian, reproductions after his designs, 144-146.

Tortorel, Jean, 140.

Tory, Geoffrey, influence on French engraving, 135.

Trento, Antonio da, 146.

Turrecremata’s, Cardinal, Meditations, 68.

  prints, 26;
  press, 57.

Unger, Johann Georg, and Johann Gottlieb Friedrich, 163.

Van der Weyden, Roger, 42.

Van Eyck, 36, 37, 42.

Varro, portraits in his works, 20.

Vecellio, Cesare, 146.

  claim to the origin of wood-engraving, 20;
  decree forbidding importation of prints from Germany, 27;
  early cuts, 68;
  early views of the city, 69;
   later cuts, 82-87, 143-147.

Verard, Antoine, 60, 62.

Vesalius’s Anatomy, 145.

Vinci, Leonardo da, 142.

Vostre, Simon, 62.

White line:
  description, 151;
  influence on the art in Bewick’s hands, 153;
  the engraver’s province, 154, 184.

Wise King, The, 106.

Woeiriot, Pierre, 140.

Wohlgemuth, Michael, 53, 54.

Worde, Wynkyn de, 64.

Zainer Gunther, 46, 52.


       *       *       *       *       *

Typographical errors corrected by the etext transcriber:

appendix von Albert Ilg. Wein=> appendix von Albert Ilg. Wien {pg 19}

Guyot Marchand’s La Dance Macabre, first published in 1485=> Guyot
Marchand’s La Danse Macabre, first published in 1485 {pg 62}

its bloom in sun difers=> its bloom in sun differs {pg 181}

       *       *       *       *       *


[1] “Documents, Iconographiques et Typographiques de la Bibliothèque
Royale de Belgique,” Deuxième Livr. Gravure Criblée, par M. H. Hymans.
Bruxelles, 1864-1873. Quoted in Willshire, “An Introduction to the Study
and Collection of Ancient Prints.” London. 1877; 2 vols.; vol. ii., p.

[2] “Fulget ecclesia in parietibus, et in pauperibus eget. Suos lapides
induit auro; et suos filios nudos deserit. * * * Tam multa denique,
tamque mira diversarium formarum ubique varietas apparet ut magis legere
libeat in marmoribus, quam in codicibus, totum diem occupare singula
ista mirando quam in lege Dei meditando.” Sancti Bernardi opera omnia.
Recognita, etc., curis Dom. J. Mabillon. 4 vols. Paris, 1839; vol. i.,
col. 1242-1244, Apologia ad Guillelmum, cap. xii.

[3] “Abundet unusquisque in suo sensu, mihi fateor hoc potissimum
placuisse ut quæcumque cariora, quæcumque carissima, sacrosanctæ
Eucharistiæ amministrationi super omnia deservire debeant. Si libatoria
aurea, si fialæ aureæ et si mortariola aurea ad collectam sanguinis
hircorum aut vitulorum aut vaccæ ruffæ, ore Dei aut prophetæ jussu,
deserviebant; quanto magis ad susceptionem sanguinis Jesu Christi vasa
aurea, lapides preciosi, quæque inter omnes creaturas carissima continuo
famulatu, plena devotione exponi debeat.” Œuvres complètes de Suger
recueillies, etc., par A. L. de la Marche. Paris, 1867. Sur son
administration Abbatiale, p. 199 _et seq._

[4] La Barte, “Histoire des Arts Industriels au Moyen Age et a l’époque
de la Renaissance.” 4 tom. (Album, 2 tom.). Paris, 1864. Tom. i., pp.
391-513; tom. ii., pp. 1-592.

[5] Leon Delaborde, “Notice des Emaux et Objets divers exposés au
Louvre.” Paris, 1853; p. 84.

[6] Leon Delaborde, “La plus ancienne Gravure du Cabinet des Estampes de
la Bibliothèque Royale, est-elle ancienne?” Paris, 1840. Quoted in
Willshire, vol. ii., p. 64.

[7] Theophilus Presbyter, “Schedula Diversarum Artium.” Revidirter text,
ubersetzung und appendix von Albert Ilg. Wien, 1874; cap. lxxi., lxxii.,
pp. 281-283.

[8] Renouvier, “Histoire de l’Origine et des Progrès de la Gravure dans
les Pays-Bas et en Allemagne, jusqu’à la fin du quinzième Siècle.”
Bruxelles, 1860.

[9] The date of 1406 has been assigned to two examples at Paris with
great ingenuity, but not unquestionably, by M. le Vte. Henri Delaborde,
“Notice sur Deux Estampes de 1406 et sur les commencements de la Gravure
Criblée.”--_Gazette des Beaux Arts_, Mars 1, 1869.

[10] Willshire, vol. ii., pp. 62, 63.

[11] Pliny, “Nat. Hist.,” liber xxxv., c. 2.

[12] W. Y. Ottley, “An Inquiry into the Origin and Early History of
Engraving upon Copper and in Wood.” London, 1816; 2 vols.; vol. i., pp.

[13] Papillon, “Traité Historique de la Gravure en Bois.” Paris, 1766.
Trois parties en deux tomes; tom. i., p. 83.

[14] Von Murr, Zani, Émeric David, Ottley.

[15] Heinecken, Lanzi, Mariette, Didot.

[16] Jackson and Chatto, “A Treatise on Wood-engraving.” London, 1839;
p. 39.

[17] Meerman, “Orig. Typogr.” Hagæ, Comit., 1765.

[18] Hadriani Junii Batavia. Lugdunum Batavorum, 1588.

[19] S. Sotheby, “Principia Typographica.” The block-books issued in
Holland, Flanders, and Germany during the 15th century. London, 1858; 3
vols.; vol. i., p. 179.

[20] Heinecken, “Idée Générale d’une Collection complette d’Estampes.”
Leipsic et Vienne, 1771; p. 250.

[21] Those who are curious may consult on this print “Quelques Mots sur
la Gravure au millésime de 1418,” par C. D. B. (M. de Brou). Bruxelles,
1846. “La Plus Ancienne Gravure connue avec une date,” Mémoire par M. le
Baron de Reiffenberg. Bruxelles, 1845; also, in favor of the date, the
works of Ruelens, Luthereau, Renouvier, Berjeau, and against it, the
works of Passavant, LaCroix, and Chatto.

[22] This print is described by Ottley in his “Inquiry,” etc. London,
1863. There is another woodcut on the reverse side of the leaf,
representing the Virgin holding the dead Christ, of which Ottley gives a
fac-simile. The manuscript with these woodcuts is now in the possession
of Professor Norton, of Harvard College.

[23] Many fine examples of these prints are reproduced, with their
original colors, in Weigel and Zestermann’s “Die Anfänge der
Drucker-Kunst in Bild und Schrift.” 2 Bände. Leipzig, 1866.

[24] Four schools of coloring are reckoned: the Suabian School (Augsburg
and Ulm), marked by bright colors; the Franconian (Nuremberg and
Nördlingen), marked by less lively colors; the Bavarian (Friesing,
Tegernsee, Kaisersheim), marked by use of pure carmine and ochre; the
Lower Rhine (Cologne, and towns of Burgundy), marked by pure colors in
pale tints. See Willshire, vol. i., p. 175 _et seq._

[25] Merlin, “Origine des Cartes à Jouer, Recherches nouvelles,” etc.
Paris, 1869.

[26] Printed in Ottley, “An Inquiry,” etc., vol. i., p. 47.

[27] “Nam quod legentibus Scriptura, hoc idiotis præstat pictura
cernentibus, quia in ipsa etiam ignorantes vident quid sequi debeant, in
ipsa legunt qui litteras nesciunt; unde et præcipue gentibus pro
lectione pictura est.” Patrologiæ Cursus Completus, Accurante, J. P.
Migne, tom. lxxvii. Sancti Gregorii Magni, tom, iii., liber xi., epis.
xiii., col. 1128. _Vide_, also, idem, liber ix., epis. cv., col. 1027.

[28] “Biblia Pauperum.” Reproduced in fac-simile, from one of the copies
in the British Museum, with an historical and bibliographical
introduction by J. Ph. Berjeau. London, 1859.

[29] “Speculum Humanæ Salvationis.” Le Plus Ancien Monument de la
Xylographie et de la Typographie réunies. Reproduit en fac-simile, avec
introduction Historique et Bibliographique, par J. Ph. Berjeau. Londres,

[30] The composition of the poem which forms the text of the _Speculum_
has been attributed to Vincent de Beauvais, who could not have written
it, and to Conrad d’Altzheim, who might have written it; the designs
have been attributed to various artists, particularly to Steurbout, but
on the slightest grounds; the printing has been assigned to Lawrence
Coster, in whose doubtful if not fabulous name no confidence can be
placed, and to Veldener, Faust and Scheffer, Thierry Martens d’Alost,
and other early German and Flemish printers.

[31] Renouvier, “Origine,” etc., p. 91; and Berjeau’s preface to the
Fac-simile Reproduction of the _Speculum_. The claims of the Brotherhood
are supported most fully by Harzen in “Archiv für die Zeichnenden
Künste.” Leipsig, 1855.

[32] Didot, “Essai Typographique et Bibliographique sur l’Histoire de la
Gravure sur Bois,” col. 205. Paris, 1863.

[33] Renouvier, “Des Gravures sur Bois dans les Livres de Simon Vostre.”
Paris, 1862.

[34] See Duplessis on the works of Simon Vostre, and Brunet’s “Manuel du
Libraire,” tom v., at the end, for farther information on the devotional
books of the French printers.

[35] _Ante_, p. 18.

[36] _Vide_ Renouvier, Didot, Passavant.

[37] Vespas. Fior., p. 129. Quoted in Burckhardt, “The Civilization of
the Period of the Renaissance in Italy.” Translated by S. G. C.
Middlemore. Vol. i., p. 271. London, 1878.

[38] _The Academy_, October 15, 1872, pp. 383 _et seq._ _Vide_, also,
Albert Ilg, “Ueber den Kunsthistorischen Werth der Hypnerotomachia
Poliphili, ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Kunstliteratur in der
Renaissance.” Wien, 1872. The original edition of the Dream of Poliphilo
is rare and costly. It was re-issued in Venice, in 1545, and in Paris,
with some variations (of which some account is given on a later page),
in 1546. There is an abridged translation in French by Legrand, without
cuts, printed by Didot in 1804.

[39] “Le Triomphe de l’Empereur Maximilien. Vienne, 1796.”

[40] “La Mare au Diable, par George Sand,” pp. 5-7. Paris, 1869.

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