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A History of Wood-Engraving by Woodberry

From Schedel's Liber Chronicarum


FIG. 11.--The Dancing Deaths. From Schedel's "Liber Chronicarum." Nuremberg, 1493.]

To describe the hundreds of illustrated books which the German printers published before the end of the century belongs to the bibliographer. Should any one turn to them, he would find in the cuts that they contain much diversity in character, but little in merit; he would meet at Bamberg, in the works printed by Pfister, whose Book of Fables, published 1461, is the first dated volume with woodcuts of figures, designs so rude that they are generally believed to have been hacked out by apprentices wholly destitute of training in the craft; he would notice in the books of Cologne the greater self-restraint and sense of proportion, in those of Augsburg the greater variety, vivacity, and vigor, in those of Nuremberg the greater exaggeration and grotesqueness. In the publications of some cities he would come upon the burning questions of that generation: the siege of Rhodes by the Turks, the wars of Charles the Bold against Switzerland, the martyrdom of John Huss; elsewhere he would see na?ve conceptions of medi?val romance and chivalry, and not infrequently, as in the Boccaccio of Ulm, grossnesses not to be described; at Strasburg he would hardly recognize Horace and Virgil with their Teutonic features and barbaric garb; while at Mayence botanical works, which strangely mingle science, medicine, and superstition, would excite his wonder, and at Ulm military works

would picture the forgotten engines of medi?val warfare; in the Netherlands, too, he would discern little difference in literature or in design; everywhere he would find the unevenness of Gothic taste--one moment creating works with a certain boldness and grandeur of conception, the next moment falling into the inane and the ludicrous; everywhere German realism making each person appear as if born in a Rhine city, and each event as if taking place within its walls; everywhere, too, an ever-widening interest in the affairs of past times and distant countries, in the thought and life of the generations that were gone, in the pursuits of the living, and the multiform problems of that age of the Reformation then coming on. It is impossible to turn from this wide survey without a recognition of the large share which wood-engraving, as the suggester and servant of printing, had in the progress made toward civilization in the North during that century. Woltmann does not over-state the fact when he says: "Wood-engraving and copperplate-engraving were not alone of use in the advance of art; they form an epoch in the entire life of mind and culture. The idea embodied and multiplied in pictures became, like that embodied in the printed word, the herald of every intellectual movement."

[Illustration: FIG. 12.--Jews Sacrificing a Christian Child. From Schedel's "Liber Chronicarum." Nuremberg, 1493.]

As typography spread from Germany through the other countries of Europe, the art of wood-engraving accompanied it. The first books printed in the French language appeared about 1475, at Bruges, where the Dukes of Burgundy had long favored the vulgar tongue, and had collected many manuscripts written in it in their great library, then one of the finest in Europe. The first French city to issue French books from its presses was Lyons, which had learned the arts of printing and of wood-engraving

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