Hand colouring of prints and illustrations from Nuremberg in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date29/07/2023
Smith, Julia Rosemary
The late fifteenth and early sixteenth century was a significant transitional period for printmaking, book printing, and manuscript production. Owners bought single-sheet illuminations and hand-coloured prints on the open market, and often pasted them into printed books and manuscripts; indeed, some books and prints were even designed to incorporate user interaction. Hand colouring in both printed books and single-leaf prints was one aspect of the blurred boundaries between mechanically produced and hand-crafted media. However, the relationship between hand-coloured books and hand-coloured single-leaf prints has yet to be thoroughly investigated in art-historical and bibliographic scholarship, despite the fact that fifteenth- and sixteenth-century artists, printers, and owners drew less of a distinction between the two than we do today. Thus, this thesis addresses how the broad proliferation of hand-coloured prints in this period aligned with the emerging printed book culture in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, focusing on the socio-cultural practice of hand colouring in Nuremberg in the work of the printmakers in the circle of Albrecht Dürer. The thesis is divided into two main parts: Objects, and People. The first section, Objects, is based on evidence from surviving prints and illustrated books. The three chapters in this section discuss printer-commissioned hand colouring in illustrated books and single-leaf woodcuts, and owner-commissioned colouring in engravings, as well as deluxe and devotional illustrated books. The second section, People, examines the colourists and collectors of coloured prints, using a broad range of evidence from surviving hand-coloured impressions, archival documents, and inventories. The thesis demonstrates that coloured prints aligned with coloured books in two ways: firstly, unique colouring visually mimicked the aesthetic of illuminated manuscripts, even more than a century after the introduction of print; secondly, and most importantly, both printed illustrated books and single-leaf prints with text were routinely coloured at the behest of printers, and were subject to standardised stylistic norms. I have termed this practice ‘batch colouring,’ whereby printers of illustrated books and single-leaf woodcuts commissioned identical colouring of either part or the entirety of a print run before sale. Hand colouring was therefore not a later addition to a print, but an inherent part of the production of printed images. The success of batch colouring as a phenomenon has profound implications for the impact of the printing press. The mechanised production of hundreds, and in some cases thousands of identical woodcut images led to a revolution in artistic production, whereby the colouring of these illustrations developed into a uniform and formulaic mode of application in order to provide polychromatic images in an economically efficient way. This thesis therefore sheds new light on the production and reception of printed images at the intersection of book printing, printmaking, and manuscript illumination.