Printmaking and Print Collecting up to 1840 | A Concise History of Prints & Printmaking Techniques up to 1800

In the online talk A Concise History of Prints & Printmaking Techniques up to 1800, Ad Stijnman provides an overview of the history of prints and printmaking techniques up to 1800.

The history of prints (i.e. images printed with ink from a matrix onto paper) starts in Europe shortly after 1400. Forerunners go back to pre-history, such as impressions of hands on cave walls. Impressions of woodcuts with colour inks on fabric were produced in the Middle East and Egypt in the 6th/7th century CE, while woodcuts printed in black on paper were produced in China from the 8th century. After sketching these antecedents, the talk provides a concise overview of the different printmaking techniques used in Europe from the 1400s-1800.

The earliest European prints were woodcuts in black printed in relief. Copper engravings printed in intaglio appeared from the 1430s. From the 1450s a series of printmaking experiments took place, resulting in new graphic techniques, such as metalcut and pasteprint, and the development of colour printing, of which chiaroscuro printing is best known. From the late 16th century the importance of woodcuts declined, although they never disappeared, to make way for engravings and etchings. This first took care of further technical and esthetical refinement of intaglio prints, followed by the development of completely new processes, such as mezzotint and multi-colour intaglio printing during the 17th century.

Real strides forward were taken from 1700 with the invention of crayon engraving and aquatint for the reproduction of drawings as well as for the making of original print works, and trichromatic (blue/yellow/red) printing. their combination lead to the finest colour prints ever made until then, as well as to magnificently produced folio volumes on natural history and anatomy. the Napoleonic War drew an end to this due to economic collapse. At the same time the new printmaking techniques wood engraving and lithography rose to prominence, combining with the construction of metal printing presses that allowed printing editions of tens of thousands of sheets. The further combination of photography with printmaking created a world scale graphic industry and made manual printmaking withdraw within the arts.

Ad Stijnman is a print historian and printmaker. He completed his PhD at the University of Amsterdam.

This lecture is the first in a series of six lectures exploring ‘Printmaking and Print Collecting up to 1840‘, organised by Armagh Robinson Library in May 2022. The Library is grateful to the Paul Mellon Centre for its support for the lecture series and an accompanying project to catalogue and research the collection of over 4,000 16th-18th century prints bequeathed to the Library by its founder, Archbishop Richard Robinson (1708-1794).