The Printed Book

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

Book illustrations Part 5

The woodcut border to the title page also disappears, and, instead, the book is 'adorn'd' with an engraved title page in which the brief title of the work is more or less lost in an elaborate design, frequently consisting of architectural features or heavy draperies in combination with allegorical figures and other 'properties' deemed appropriate to the subject of the book. An engraved portrait of the author was an obviously suitable vis-a-vi8 to the engraved title page. From this date bordered title pages become increasingly common in English books, though illustrations were by no means freely used. Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563) was one of the most popular illustrated books of the time, and John Day, who printed it, also brought out A Booke of Christian Prayers, commonly called Queen Elizabeth's Prayer Book. This book, which has a pictorial border to each page after the manner of the French Horae, is a curious revival and the only English representative of that style.

The sixteenth century saw the woodcut at its best; but by the middle of the century a rival craft was beginning to assert itself. The art of metal engraving had occasionally been used for the illustration of books as early as the fifteenth century, but its sporadic employment in this connexion in no appreciable degree threatened the early supremacy of the woodcut, which held its own, aided, no doubt, by the fact that it could be printed with the text. But copper-plate engraving, which appealed to the artist-engraver as a more sympathetic vehicle for rendering half-tones and shadow, steadily won its way, so that by the end of the sixteenth century it had nearly displaced the woodcut, which then practically disappears for the next two hundred years.

The effect of the use of metal engraving for book illustration was more than a mere change in the method of producing the pictures. It involved changed relations between text and illustrations, and resulted in a loss of homogeneity in the printed book. Metal engravings belong, as has already been mentioned, to the intaglio group of processes, and, since they require a different kind of printing machine, cannot be printed at the same time as the letter-press. Consequently, it will be found that the illustrated book of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries possesses certain new features.

Sometimes, and more particularly in 'the case of fine books, the engravings were printed in blank spaces left for that purpose in the page of text, or were printed on thin paper and pasted into their places on the page. But since it was less trouble to print the engravings apart from the letter-press, they were usually worked on separate sheets. of paper which were afterwards inserted between the leaves of the book or gathered together at the end of the volume. In this form, familiarly known as (plates,' the illustrations are no longer an integral part of the printed book. This practice was further encouraged by the circumstance that the inferior paper which had come into general use was unsuitable for the printing of line engravings.