Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Faculty Women's Club Monthly Meeting

This is Cecil Green Park, a lovely old house on the University of British Columbia campus which was given to the University in 1966 to be used for the Alumni Society and it is in this building that the Faculty Women's Club have their club rooms and hold their meetings and many of their social events. You can see it has a wonderful view of the harbour and the mountains, so it is indeed in a prime location.

Every month, between September and April, we meet here in fellowship and to hear a speaker who has been invited to talk to us. Today our speaker was actually the daughter of one of our members, Dr Erin Blake, who is the Curator of Art at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. and also a faculty member of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia. She has spoken to us before and was a very interesting speaker. Today she chose to speak of the History of Illustration in the Printed Book, using mainly examples from the treasures in the Folger Library. I took notes and am about to tell you a little of what I learned.

Woodcuts or wood block printing began to be used to illustrate printed books in the 15th century in Germany. They were meant to be printed in black and white and then hand coloured. Initially the printing of the text was done first and the woodcut in a second process, consequently they often did not line up quite correctly. In a short time, they began to print the two at the same time on each page. Often spaces were left for hand painted capital letters to be added later, but sometimes the books were sold before completion and only little notations about where some letters were to be placed appeared in the book. Erin used reproductions from a bible, printed in 1483 and in German, to illustrate this, with the bible having 109 different woodcuts.

Woodcuts were very expensive to produce but they were very durable and very valuable so that they would be used over and over and circulated amongst various printers. One of these early books, the Nuremberg Chronicle, which was a History of the World from the Beginning until 1493, when it was printed, contains the same engraving of a city used for 11 different cities, with only the name being changed. Anton Koberger, godfather of Albrect Durer, was the printer. There were actually 645 woodcuts used for 1809 prints, so there were often duplications. Sometimes they used a generic figure for different people although there are some examples of a specific representation. The scene of Noah and the Arc, right, is taken from a Nuremberg Chronicle.

Erin showed us photos of pages of the 1518 publication, in Latin, of Thomas Moore's Utopia, in which the woodcuts had a medieval aesthete. Not only were the illustrations woodcuts but also the printed alphabet of the language, which Moore had invented for Utopia. She also said that the Renaissance style of art was spread by the illustrations in books published in Italy, which is an interesting concept, since books could be moved around from place to place, enabling the ideas to become widespread.

In 1482 the printing of Euclid's Elements was printed for the first time with diagrams, which certainly made the concepts easier to understand. In 1511 appeared the first illustrated edition of the Roman architect, Vitruvius' Ten Books on Architecture, including illustrations of architectural detail, and which influenced the great Italian architect Palladio. An early herbal with illustrations was published in London in 1529, the Grete Herbal, which certainly made it simpler to recognize the plants in the field.

The golden age of woodcuts was in the mid 1500s but they were replaced by copper plate illustrations, a process which provided much more detail, however the two stage method of printing was necessary once more, the text first followed by the illustrations. In addition the copper plates were soft and easily worn down, giving only approximately 1500 good prints although later they improved to 3000 copies.

However at the close of the 18th century the process of wood engraving, which used end grain wood began to be used since it gave the capability of much finer detail and had the advantage of being very durable. This process was invented by Thomas Bewick and his greatest achievement, the wood engravings in his History of British Birds, which is mentioned in Jane Eyre.

An interesting development of this process was used in 1849 by the Illustrated News, the first London newspaper to use this technique. The illustration blocks were made in pieces by many different engravers and then bolted together into a whole for printing. This enabled the illustrations to be made quickly as was required for a newspaper.

Finally in the early 20th century prints began to be made from photos and this gave the ability to change the size of the original and also the ability to achieve a good solid black in a print rather than the uneven black produced by wood engravings.

Now I had five pages of notes from this talk and I hope I have not bored the sox off you. I also hope that I have not made any gross misstatements and that you have found it at least a little interesting. If not, it is my fault, and not the fault of Dr Blake who certainly did make it very interesting for her audience today.

14 comments:

Ian Lidster said...

Loved the photo of Cecil Green Park and it took me back to my UBC days more years ago than I care to mention. The talk also sounds intriguing.

Ian

George said...

Hi Nice site. Well I hope you don't mind I have tagged you with a meme.

jmb said...

Hi Ian,
It was an especially beautiful day yesterday so the view was spectacular. The talk very interesting. We are lucky to get some very good speakers and they do it just for a token gift, which they don't even know about.
Regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi George,
You must have seen me checking out your photo blog, the dive pictures were spectacular. I couldn't see where to leave a comment so snuck off again.
I'll have to think about the meme. Will definitely answer but don't know if I'll tag or donate, well not out of the revenue since there isn't any, but out of my pocket.
Regards
jmb

Eurodog said...

Hello jmb,
Cecil Green Park. I came to BC 25 years ago (from Brussels, Belgium) to visit a relative in Victoria on Vancouver Island. She was an old lady and she took us out to lunch at a golfclub near Victoria because she liked the view. The building looked very similar to your picture. I can only assume it must have been built around the same time. I suppose Cecil Green Park is in Vancouver.
I am sorry but I really cannot remember more than that and have not thought about that lunch for years and years.

Crunchy Carpets said...

wow...interesting stuff...and nice to see something like that in vancouver too.

I attended a wedding at cecil green..it is lovely

Lee said...

Very interesting post, as usual, jmb. Love the pic...so stately. Thanks...:)

Dr Michelle Tempest said...

Wow what a house, plus glad you enjoyed the talk. Michelle

jmb said...

Hi Eurodog,
Yes Cecil Green Park is in Vancouver but it resembles houses you might see in Victoria. That too is a beautiful city although no mountains close by, but lovely gardens and they get a little less rain.
Regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Crunchy,
Cecil Green Park is a lovely spot for a wedding and we are so lucky to use it some many times in a year. We have all our meetings on the main floor and half a dozen evening functions as well as our Christmas luncheon there. The view is the best in Vancouver, although it is a bit close to the crumbling cliff.
Regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Michelle, it is a beautiful house and once was a private home. View is one of the best in Vancouver. Every month we get to hear a good speaker and gaze out at the mountains while having tea and refreshments after.
Regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
I see I skipped right over you. It is a nice house, it has a huge entry hall, a lovely library and three huge rooms facing the view, a dining room and two living areas, each with mammoth fireplaces. The kitchen is huge too but very institutionalized now since there are so many weddings there and many catered events, although we do all our own catering.
Regards
jmb

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

You have certainly not bored me! I have read this lovely and interesting post twice. I do that, too - take copious notes when I go to talks. But you do retain the information for long afterwards this way. You've given us a fascinating history here and that's really interesting about Renaissance art concepts being spread via books - I'd never thought of that before or read it anywhere. So thank you, thank you for this post. It IS a lovely house, btw.

jmb said...

Hi WCLC,
I find that taking notes focuses my attention and I don't wander off in my mind. I think everyone there thinks I'm nuts, although they all enjoyed the talk.
It really was an overview talk so quite suitable for abridging for a post. She talked a lot more about copper plate printing which I glossed over since the post would have been too long otherwise. But I wanted to give the complete history of wood engraving.
Regards
jmb