Book Review: The Print before Photography

This Dutch engraving was a toy, intended to be cut out and glued to a card disc to spin round and create an illusion of a running rabbit. 

A new book has been published that I’d like to let you know about in this post. I’ll nail my colours to the mast: I think it’s brilliant.  However, its appearance is tinged with a little bit of sadness, since this is the final book to be published by British Museum Press, one the world’s largest museum publisher but now a victim of the ongoing financial squeeze that started with the downturn of 2008.  

What a way to bow out though. The book is hefty – 560 pages and over 300 illustrations.  Written by Antony Griffiths, former Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, the book is based on eight lectures that he delivered at Oxford while Slade Professor of Art there. It discusses(thoroughly) so many different details of the print industry throughout Europe during the years 1550 to 1820, that I hardly know how to start listing them. Just a few examples:

  • How engravings were set in with text, and who by
  • How prints were packed and shipped
  • Relationships between painters and engravers 
  • The technology and materials 
  • The printselling trade from the elite down to pedlars
  • Prints intended for cutting out, colouring in, playing with 
  • Formats

The slant is obviously toward engraving which was the dominant method during this period, although hardly taught today. Woodcuts and woodblocks though are discussed extensively. It’s an amazing piece of scholarship but not at all dry to read. I’ve dipped in and out and find something new every time. The book is gradually becoming covered in Post-it notes as I find fresh gems. 

At £60, it is not cheap. But I see my own copy as worth every penny and actually will be invaluable in my researches. 

Well if I have convinced you with this plug, here is a link to the page where you can buy it! 

http://www.britishmuseumshoponline.org/invt/cmc26951

Probably to be put outside a house that has the plague. Thought to be French, 18th century.

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