Introduction to Woodcuts
St. Jerome in his Cell.
Woodcut. Nuremberg, 1511. (BRA1087)
The majority of the prints exhibited in this exhibition are woodcuts. Each was printed from a wooden block that was carved so that the lines of Dürer’s original drawing on its surface were left standing in relief after the empty spaces of the composition had been gouged away. The raised surface of the block was inked and then printed onto paper in a press. Readily used for book illustration, woodcuts could be printed simultaneously with the typographic text.
The first European books illustrated with woodcuts appeared in Germany c. 1460. Before Dürer, woodcut illustration was a minor craft, providing simple images that served as outlines for hand coloring. By the end of the fifteenth century, Dürer was the leading practitioner of this versatile, affordable, and widely available art form. He enhanced the artistic quality and importance of woodcut illustration to the point that the accompanying texts in his books often were considered secondary. Moreover, the visual impact of his designs was so strong that readers no longer necessarily considered adding color to his purely graphic compositions.