A Brief History of Wood-engraving/Chapter 10

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CHAPTER X

IN ITALY AND FRANCE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY

In the early years of the sixteenth century, the printers of Florence issued many cheap popular books, chiefly Rappresentazioni, i.e. Plays, sacred or secular. These plays are generally badly printed in double columns, but they are illustrated with numerous cuts, some of which are of peculiar merit. The earliest known printer of them was Francesco Benvenuto (c. 1516-1545), but the majority appear to have been issued between 1550 and 1580, anonymously, though we know that Giovanni Baleni of Florence was the printer of some of these.

There were also many quaint little tracts, metrical Novelle and Istorie, of which a collection has been found at the University Library, Erlangen; a valuable description of them was published by Dr. Varnhagen. The poems are, as a rule, illustrated with small cuts, inclosed within a neat border, the subjects are usually well chosen, and the drawing very good; the treatment of some of the domestic scenes is worthy of Bewick.

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FRONTISPIECE OF 'LE SORTI DI MARCOLINI' By Giuseppe Porta Venice 1540

FRONTISPIECE OF 'LE SORTI DI MARCOLINI'
By Giuseppe Porta Venice 1540

LE POT-CASSÉ (Device of Geoffroy Tory)

LE POT-CASSÉ
(Device of Geoffroy Tory)

In striking contrast to the simplicity of these popular wood-engravings are the elaborate engravings which appeared in the more expensive books issued in the latter half of the same century, when illustrated editions of Dante, Boccaccio, Ovid, Æsop's Fables, and Alciat's 'Emblems,' appeared, one after the other, but not one of these calls for [ 91 ] special notice; nor did the best of their wood-engravings equal the work of Lützelburger. The frontispiece of a curious book, Le Sorti di Marcolini da Forli, printed at Venice in 1540, of which we offer a reduced copy, gives us a good idea of the prevailing art of the period. It is said to be taken from a design by Raphael for his celebrated picture 'The School of Athens,' and we see by the tablet in the foreground that it was either drawn on the wood or engraved by Joseph (Giuseppe) Porta, known as Salviati, after his more celebrated master whom he accompanied to Venice.

In Paris, in the first half of the sixteenth century, there lived a very celebrated printer, 'Geoffroy Tory, Peintre et Graveur, Premier Imprimeur Royal, Reformateur de l'Orthographe, et de la Typographie,' as he is described by his biographer, M. A. Bernard (Paris, 1857). He was born at Bourges in 1480, and in early life went to Paris, where he not only wrote books and printed them, but designed ornamental borders and engraved them. He also studied his profession in Italy, and brought back with him new ideas about printing and illustrating books. Such a man had great influence at that time, for he had much inborn taste and excellent skill, and publishers should all be proud of him as one of their most praiseworthy ancestors. He adopted the singular design the Pot-cassé, of which we give a copy, as his somewhat enigmatical device; and some writers maintain that the little 'Cross of Lorraine' (‡) found on many of the cuts of this period is also his mark. [ 92 ]

FROM 'LES HEURES' PRINTED BY SIMON DE COLINES Engraved by Geoffroy Tory

FROM 'LES HEURES' PRINTED BY SIMON DE COLINES
Engraved by Geoffroy Tory

[ 93 ] In our illustration, taken from the Heures, printed by Simon de Colines, this Cross of Lorraine will be seen under the kneeling priest. He made antique letters, he himself tells us, for Monseigneur the Treasurer for War, Master Jehan Grolier, whom we know as one of the best patrons of book-binding; and wrote a book which he called 'Champfleury, auquel est contenu l'art et science de la deue proportion des lettres ... selon le corps et le visage humain,' a very learned and amusing treatise. Some of the initial letters in this book are very cleverly designed and engraved—probably by the ingenious author. The picture of 'Antoine Macault reading his translation of Diodorus Siculus to the King' is said to have been engraved by Tory; it is evidently either from a design by Hans Holbein or by an artist who copied his style. All the figures in this excellent engraving are portraits—the King (Francis I.), his three sons, and his favourite nobles. It is the best cut that was issued at Paris at this time. Geoffroy Tory died in 1533, though his workshop was carried on for many years afterwards.

Among other woodcuts of this period we find a small portrait of the poet Nicholas Bourbon, dated 1535. As this is a direct copy of the portrait of the same individual, undoubtedly by Holbein, which is now at Windsor Castle, and as the ornamentation is quite in Holbein's style, we cannot doubt that this celebrated painter had frequent relations with the publishers on the Continent in the first half of the sixteenth century.

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ANTOINE MACAULT READING HIS TRANSLATION OF DIODORUS SICULUS TO KING FRANCIS I. Designed by Holbein. Engraved by Geoffroy Tory?

ANTOINE MACAULT READING HIS TRANSLATION OF DIODORUS SICULUS TO KING FRANCIS I.
Designed by Holbein. Engraved by Geoffroy Tory?

[ 95 ] Another celebrated printer who enjoyed the patronage of the King was Robert Estienne, who, by some curious perversity, is frequently spoken of by English scholars and biographers as Robert Stephens, simply because, following the fashion of the day, he often latinised his name and signed Robertus Stephanus. Estienne was, next to Aldo Manuzio of Venice, the most learned of printers, and deserves to be held in due reverence. The most important illustrated book he published was 'The Lives of the Dukes of Milan,' by Paulus Jovius (Paris, 1549). This work has sixteen portraits of the Dukes, well engraved, some say by Geoffroy Tory himself, but this is a matter of dispute, though they certainly were cut in his workshop.

Among the most characteristic works of the wood-engraver in the middle of the century were two large processions, 'The Triumphal Entry of King Henri II. into Paris,' published by Roville of Lyons, in 1548, and 'The Triumphal Entry into Lyons,' issued in the following year. These prints were designed either by Jean Cousin or Cornelis de la Haye, but the name of the engraver is nowhere mentioned. They are somewhat similar to 'The Triumph of Maximilian,' by Burgkmair, but are not nearly so important as works of art, and did nothing to raise the character of wood-engraving.

In the books published in the second half of the century we frequently meet with the name of Bernhard Salomon (born at Lyons in 1512), generally called Le Petit Bernard, who made designs for Alciat's 'Emblems' (A.D. 1560) and Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' (A.D. 1564), which were engraved in the workshop of Geoffroy Tory, and published by Jean (or Hans) de Tournes, of Lyons. Bernard's style was much influenced by the Italian painters Rosso and Primaticcio, who had been invited by the King to decorate Fontainebleau, and may be easily recognised by the extreme height and tenuity of his figures, and by the peculiar ornament which he used as framework for his drawings.

Another book containing equally good illustrations is Ghesneden Figuera wyten Niewen Testamente ('Engraved Figures from the New Testament'), adorned with ninety-two small cuts besides the title-page and initial letters; these were drawn and probably engraved by Guilliame Borluyt, [ 96 ] citizen of Ghent, and published by Jean de Tournes of Lyons in 1557. From the fineness of the lines and other indications we suspect these designs were cut on metal, which was much used at this time instead of wood. Through the kindness of Messrs. H. S. Nichols & Co., of Soho Square, who possess an excellent copy of this very rare book, we are enabled to offer our readers two cuts, 'The Woman of Samaria' and 'Christ Scourged,' of the same size as the originals. The publishers of Lyons were celebrated from the end of the fourteenth to the middle of the fifteenth century for their dainty little books, which were very prettily illustrated.

CHRIST AND THE WOMAN OF SAMARIA By Guilliame Borluyt

CHRIST AND THE WOMAN OF SAMARIA
By Guilliame Borluyt

We must not conclude this chapter without mentioning another celebrated publisher, Christophe Plantin of Antwerp. He was born at Saint-Avertin, near Tours, in 1514, and at an early age apprenticed to a printer and book-binder, Robert Macé, at Caen; thence he went to Paris, whence wars soon drove him away. He next took refuge at Antwerp, where he employed himself in binding books and making leather boxes, coffrets, curiously inlaid and gilt. [ 97 ]

THE SCOURGING OF CHRIST By Guilliame Borluyt

THE SCOURGING OF CHRIST
By Guilliame Borluyt

By mistake he was, one dark evening, stabbed with a sword, and he afterwards suffered so much pain from the wound that he could not stoop without feeling it: consequently he turned to the business of a printer, and soon became the most celebrated man of the day in that craft. Philip II. of Spain made him his chief printer, and under royal orders Plantin produced the well-known Polyglot Bible in eight folio volumes (1568-1573). He had previously printed some smaller books of Emblems (1564), and Devises Héroïques (1562), and had employed Pierre Huys, Lucas de Heere, Godefroid Ballain, and other artists, to illustrate them. He died in 1589. His second daughter married Jean Moret, one of the overseers of [ 98 ] the printing-office, and the business known as 'Plantin-Moretus' continued to prosper up to the present century. A few years since the offices were bought by the city authorities, and the Plantin Museum is now one of the principal attractions of Antwerp. In his various works Plantin used many woodcuts, but most of his title-pages have borders executed by Wierix, Pass, and other celebrated copperplate engravers. His device was a Hand with a pair of compasses, and his motto Labore et Constantia.

The history of wood-engraving and wood-engravers in Holland forms the subject of a monograph from the pen of Mr. W. M. Conway ('The Woodcutters of the Netherlands,' Cambridge, 1884). The list commences with a Louvain engraver, who worked for Veldener in 1475, and about the same time for John and Conrad de Westphalia.

Most of the greater Dutch towns had wood-engravers, and the work of these artists appears in many of the books printed in the Low Countries. As in France, many of the printers' marks are very good.

It was in this century that publishers began to illustrate their books with copperplate engravings, which soon came into general use, and these plates for many years, to a very great extent, superseded engraving on wood. Etchings by the artist's own hands are also frequently met with, and to these causes we may in a great measure attribute the decay of the Formschneider's art for at least two centuries.