The Printed Book

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

Book illustrations Part 3

An enumeration of the cuts shews that the book contains 1809 pictures printed from 645 different blocks. See A. W. Pollard: Fine Books (1912), p. 117. printed at Cologne by Heinrich Quentell some ten years earlier. The most remarkable Italian illustrated book of the fifteenth century was the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili of Francesco Colonna, which Aldus, who was not given to the use of pictures, printed for Leonardo Crassus in 1499. This fine folio in its rich array of graceful and well-executed woodcuts is a striking contrast to the little Savonarola tracts and Rappresentazioni, or miracle-plays, which form the most characteristic illustrated productions of the Florentine press. These popular booklets, with their charming little woodcuts generally surrounded by a border having a white design on a black ground, had a vogue which lasted from 1490 to the middle of the sixteenth century.

In Paris, a stronghold of the trade in manuscripts, the printing press ousted the scribe less easily; and it was here, more than in most other places, that the printed book kept touch with the art of the illuminator. This is specially observable in the Horae, or Books of Hours, of which innumerable editions were printed in France between 1486 and the middle of the sixteenth century. In these books nearly every page is surrounded by an elaborate border, generally made up of small pictures enclosed by intertwining foliage or other decorative framework. The subjects may be either Old Testament types, biblical scenes, histories of saints, the dance of death, or even rural scenes and daily occupations. The small pictures were frequently on separate blocks, and so lent themselves to an almost infinite variety of combinations. Besides the borders, a larger picture, occupying nearly the whole page, was placed at the beginning of the several sections of the work, each of which had its appropriate subject. Many copies were printed on vellum, and the borders and pictures were often gilded and colored in the style of manuscripts by an illuminator, who, when occasion demanded or fancy prompted, would overlay the printed ornament or picture with some entirely different design.

Some of the best of these books of private prayers are among the editions printed at Paris by Philippe Pigouchet for Simon Vostre during the twenty years from about 1490. Other prominent printers and publishers of them were Jean du Pre, Thielman Kerver, Gilles Hardouyn, and Antoine Verard. The last of these was one of the greatest of the early French publishers, and his numerous books are freely illustrated with cuts both new and old. In the Horae (1525) of the artist-printer GeoffroyTory the tradition of manuscript decoration is no longer dominant and the ornamentation is in full Renaissance style.