Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/143

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Beginning of Wood-Engraving


the first wood-block prints (block-books) appeared, which united both text and pictures, in imitation of the popular illustrated manuscripts. In the beginning of the seventh decade of the same century, separate woodcuts were inserted as illustrations in books printed with movable types. From these unpretentious outline-drawings, serving chiefly as a basis for colouring, there were gradually evolved by the efforts of independent artists, especially Dürer, compositions completely elaborated in light and shade, and therefore able to dispense with colour. Wood-engraving was now ready to take the field, like copper-engraving, in the shape of single-sheet prints, and to make its way into the ranks of the people; nevertheless, some time elapsed before any one ventured on the production of coloured plates. It was not until 1506 that Cranach's "Venus" appeared; in 1508 Burgkmair produced his equestrian figures of St. George and the Emperor Maximilian; Ugo da Carpi soon followed in Venice with his chiaroscuro prints. But this method did not go beyond tinted sheets, and it was only occasionally employed. True polychrome woodcuts were first produced as late as the end of the eighteenth century by Gubitz, but found no wide or permanent circulation.

In both cases, therefore, the technique of wood-engraving grew out of the necessity of producing, in large quantity and with little effort, devotional pictures for the pious pilgrims to holy shrines; was then applied to the illustration of books; gradually won for itself an independent position by the side of the productions of the painting art; and finally, since the invention of colour-printing, even entered into a kind of competition with painting. While, then, in both countries, about the same space of time (somewhat more than a century) was required for wood-engraving to pass through the various stages of evolution during which it served mainly as a basis for subsequent colouring by hand, the polychrome print, in its final