The Printed Book

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

Book illustrations Part 4

The early English press is not remarkable for its illustrations or its decorative qualities. Such pictures and ornaments as were used were mostly either imported from the continent or derived their inspiration from foreign originals. The first English books in which woodcuts occur are The Mirrour of the World and the third edition of the Parvus et Magnus Cato, both of which were printed by Caxton about 1481. Caxton used illustrations in several other books, notably the seeond edition of the Canterbury Tales, in which the designs were at least of English origin, the Fables of Esope (1484), turned into English by Caxton himself and illustrated by one hundred and six pictures, and the Golden Legend, the largest and most ambitious of all his books.

Wynkyn de W orde used woodcuts more freely than Caxton, but he seems to have valued them rather as adding to the commercial attractiveness of the book than as illustrating the text. Among the more prominent of his illustrated books are the fine folio edition of the De proprietatibus rerum of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, and the Morte d'Arthur of 1498. Several of his small quartos have woodcuts, and he also printed a Sarum Primer with borders to every page and a number of small cuts. Pynson, like Caxton and De W orde, also issued a pictorial edition of the Canterbury Tales, but his illustrated books are better represented by the 1494 edition of Lydgate's Falle of Princes and the Kalendar of Shephardes of 1506, though, it may be noted, the cuts in both are of French origin. The woodcuts, upwards of one hundred, in Barclay's English version of the Ship of Fools, which Pynson printed in 1509, are copies of those in the original Basel edition of 1494; sixty years later they were resuscitated for the edition which John Cawood published in 1570.

In the sixteenth century the talents of the foremost artists found expression in the service of the printed book, and the illustrations of that period still rank with the best ever produced. Durer, the greatest of these artists, served an apprenticeship to Wohlgemuth in his native town of Nuremberg. Hans Burgkmair, his contemporary, was of the celebrated art centre at Augsburg, as was also Hans Holbein, whose chief work was done at Basel; while Lucas Cranach made his home at Wittenberg. Jost Amman, best known by his clever delineations of trades and occupations in Schopper's Panoplia (Frankfort, 1568), belongs to the second half of the century; and at the end of it Theodore de Bry and his sons were bringing out at Frankfort their wonderful series of illustrated travel books.

Some of these artists, and notably Holbein, also designed book decorations in the form of initial letters and the beautiful borders which are characteristic of sixteenth-century title pages. In the latter part of his career Pynson frequently placed his title pages within ornamental borders, of which he possessed some good designs. This feature also appears in the books issued by the first Cambridge press; and the border on the title page of the present volume is, with the exception of the coat of arms, a reduced copy of that used by John Siberch in 1521.