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Woodcut Illustrations

Woodcut illustration in "Elementa geometriae" Woodcut illustration in "De claris mulieribus" Facsimile of woodcut illustration by G. Zainer seen in G. W. Zapf: "Augsburgs Buchdrukergeschichte" (1786)

Medieval manuscripts often included illustrations. In the incunabula period, woodcuts were used for illustrations because the text pages and woodcut illustrations could be printed at the same time. The first illustrated incunabulum was Edelstein, a collection of fables printed by A. Pfister in Bamberg in 1461, and it appears that at that time, the text was printed first, followed by the illustrations. Some of the woodcut illustrations were manually colored after they were printed. In Germany, G. Zainer, J. Zainer, A. Sorg, A. Koberger and other printers produced many illustrated books. Later William Morris, a great lover of such books, printed a number of books with woodcut illustrations at the Kelmscott Press, which he founded in Hammersmith. In Italy and France as well, a large number of illustrated books were printed.

In the 16th century, illustrations were also printed using metal engraving, and in the 17th and 18th centuries, they were printed using copperplates, an intaglio method. When lithographic printing was invented in the 19th century, illustrations started being printed with this method. Some lithographic illustrations used for books on plants or birds were hand colored.

Studies on illustrated books were also conducted. In the 18th century, G.W. Zapf studied the history of printing in Augsburg, and made facsimiles of woodcut illustrations from incunabula. During the period from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, a good many research books were published including W.L. Schreiber's Manuel de l'amateur de la gravure sur bois et sur métal au XVe siècle (1891-1911), V.M. d'Essling's Les livres à figures vénitiens de la fin du XVe siècle et du commencement du XVIe (1907-14) and A. Schramm's Der Bilderschmuck der Frühdrucke (1920-43). Among these books, Der Bilderschmuck der Frühdrucke (pictorial decorations of early printing) presents an exhaustive reproduction of woodcut illustrations (including border decorations, woodcut initials and printer's devices) used in German incunabula and contains over 10,000 woodcut illustrations in its 23 volumes.

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