18 October 2010 § Leave a comment

Albrecht Dürer - Rhinoceros woodcut, 1515

(Dutch: houtsnede, French: Estampe, German: Holzschnitt) Mankind has used wooden blocks to make impressions on different kinds of material for over fourthousand years. The earliest known piece of printed fabric dates from the fourth century AD, and by the sixth century the techique was widely applied, especially, but not solely, in Egypt. With the invention of paper in China around 100 AD a new material for printing with wooden blocks became available. However, it was not until the seventh century that the Chinese started using wooden blocks to print on paper on a large scale.
These new techniques started to resemble those that would be used in Europe, centuries later. In stead of a stampingmethod -pressing wooden blocks impregnated with ink onto paper – a new method was developed, called ‘rubbing’. Rubbing meant placing a piece of paper on the inky surface of a wooden block and then rubbing it, thus creating an impression in ink. The earliest examples of rubbing were found in Japan, dating back to 770 AD.
Paper was being imported into Europe from about 950 AD, but it were the Spaniards who first started to produce paper in the twelfth century. In 1276 the first papermill in Fabriano, Italy, was installed, and it were the mills from this city that would provide high quality paper for the rest of Europe throughout the 14th century. In the 15th century papermills started to appear in France and Germany as well. Due to this wider availability of paper in Europe it was not surprising that printing with wooden or metal appliances started to take flight.
Initially, engraving wooden blocks was not considered an artistic process -woodcutters didn’t belong to the same class as goldsmiths but were considered carpenters. The woodcut is a relief printing technique, where the image is carved into the surface of a block of wood. The technice was efficient, because the image would become lifelike, and it was less expensive to produce a woodcut than an engraving in copper or any other kind of metal. De earliest European woodcuts from the beginning of the 15th century were crude with little to no use of shading. The outer lines of the woodcut were clear to facilitate the artisans that would later apply colour onto the image by hand. As the 15th century progressed, woodcuts became more refined. Consider for instance the work of Albrecht Dürer. The process of printing complete books from woodcuts, the so-called blockbooks, was in use for a short period in the beginning of the 15th century. Yet the invention of the printing press in the middle of that century made that process superfluous. Nevertheless, the woodcut would become imbedded in the printed book because it could be incorporated in the text, among other things. Type and illustration could be printed onto the paper in one pass.
Further reading:

Bamber Gascoigne, How to identify prints (London 1986) 5-6.
Walter Chamberlain, Manual of woodcut printmaking and related techniques (London 1978).
John Buckland-Wright, Etching and engraving and the modern trend (London 1953) 172-203.
Fons van der Linden, De grafische technieken (de Bilt 1979) 30-42.
Walter Ziegler, Die Manuellen graphischen Techniken (Halle 1912) 92-125.

By: Trude Dijkstra



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Woodcut at PRINTING ILLUSTRATED.


%d bloggers like this: