The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Book illustrations Part 2

Italy was somewhat later in adopting illustrations. The Meditationes of Turrecremata, printed at Rome by UJrich Hahn in 1467, is the first Italian book in which woodcuts occur; but much better work may be seen in the eighty-two cuts which illustrate the edition of the De re militari of Valturius printed at Verona in 1472. Erhard Ratdolt, who printed at Venice from 1476 to 1485, is celebrated for his beautiful borders and initial letters; and a few books with pictures appeared both at Venice and other towns during that period. The use of woodcuts did not, however, become common in Italian books until about 1490, in which year Lucantonio Giunta published at Venice the first illustrated edition of Malermi's Italian version of the Bible. Some of the cuts in this book-there are nearly four hundred of them-were adaptations from the German Bible.

Copyright was as little recognized in pictorial art as in the world of letters, and a successful illustrated book was quickly copied or imitated, generally in other towns than that of its origin. The Aesop, printed by Johann Zainer at Ulm and containing two hundred woodcuts, was followed by half-a-score other German editions, most of which were frankly copies; and the popular Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools) of Sebastian Brant, first published at Basel by Johann Bergmann von Olpe, in 1494, with over one hundred illustrations, was paid the compliment of being reprinted in three other towns in the same year. Sometimes the pirated cuts were mere slavish imitations of the originals, perhaps copied by pasting one of the original pictures on the wood-block, in which case the copy would appear in a reversed form in the new book and so betray its origin. But the object was easy reproduction of pictures rather than fraudulent imitation, and details were freely paraphrased. Copies by a poor craftsman would shew a distinct inferiority to the originals; but in the hands of a capable artist the new version might be a great improvement both in the handling of the subject and in technical execution.

The illustrations in Breydenbach's Peregrinationes in Montem Syon (Mainz, 1486) shew a marked advance upon previous efforts in the art of woodcutting. The book also possesses a modern touch in that the illustrator, Erhard Reuwich, joined the pilgrimage as special artist to the expedition; but the page of animals 'veraciter depicta sicut vidimus in terra sancta' includes a salamander, a unicorn, and a baboon leading a camel. Shortly after this two of the most noted illustrated German books made their appearance at Nuremberg from the office of Anton Koberger: the Schatzbehalter of 1491, and Hartmann Schedel's Liber Ohronicarum of 1493. Michael Wohlgemuth was the artist responsible for the cuts in both. The latter, usually called the Nuremberg Ohronicle, and perhaps the best-known illustrated book of the fifteenth century, has elbowed its way to the front by sheer bulk and a blustering profusion of woodcuts, many of the portraits being repeated over and over again for different personal. The Schatzbehalter, with its full-page pictures, each with a story to tell, is really the more attractive book.