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January 5, 2005
The Woodcut In Early Printed Books Is Subject of Library of Congress Publication
Accompanies Traveling Exhibition Now on View in New York City
"A Heavenly Craft: The Woodcut in Early Printed Books" has been published by the Library of Congress in association with George Braziller Inc. This fully illustrated catalog accompanies an exhibition of 84 rare items from the Library’s Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, which opened on Dec. 8 at the Grolier Club in New York City.
"The accomplished exhibition and catalog for ‘A Heavenly Craft: The Woodcut in Early Printed Books,’ increase out appreciation of the riches of Mr. Rosenwald’s legacy by exploring the power and meaning of woodcut images in the earliest European illustrated printed books," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "It is through his grand beneficence that these images can be brought to life."
Printed during the first century after Johannes Gutenberg introduced the art of movable type, these 15th and 16th century volumes are the predecessors of today’s illustrated books. They combined the woodcut technique, which grew out of the tradition of manuscript illumination (done painstakingly by hand), with Gutenberg’s mechanized system to print identical copies of books containing both text and images. Featured in "A Heavenly Craft" are the earliest surviving examples of these books from Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands. The catalog and exhibition pay tribute to the printers, artists and artisans who mastered the art form and contributed to this often overlooked but important field of book and art history.
With an introduction by Daniel De Simone, curator of the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection at the Library of Congress, "A Heavenly Craft" includes descriptions of all of the books in the exhibition of the same title, and three scholarly essays by noted experts in the field of early printed books, medieval manuscripts and old master prints.
Paul Needham, Scheide Librarian at Princeton University and Gutenberg scholar, describes the formation of this collection of woodcut books first assembled by C.W. Dyson Perrins (1864-1958), heir to the Lea and Perrins fortune. The collection was subsequently purchased at auction by Rosenwald (1891-1979), retired chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Needham provides insights into Rosenwald’s role in this auction and his methods for making purchases that complemented his growing collection of illustrated books.
A second article by art historian Lilian Armstrong, Mildred Lane Kemper Professor of Art at Wellesley College, focuses on the development of the woodcut in Venice and Florence during the late 15th century. Her essay traces the woodcut’s evolution from the illuminated manuscript tradition and describes the influence of miniature painters on Italian woodcut design.
The final essay, by Daniela Laube, a third-generation print seller from Zurich who specializes in old master woodcuts and engravings, outlines the stylistic development of German book illustration between 1460 and 1511. Using numerous examples from the Rosenwald Collection, Laube characterizes northern European design and discusses its impact on the evolution of the art across the continent.
The exhibition catalog was made possible by generous gifts from the Fellowship of Bibliophilic Societies (www.fabsbooks.org), Jonathan A. Hill, Ray and Lorraine Perryman, the Berkley Foundation Inc., Donna L. and Robert H. Jackson and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.
"A Heavenly Craft," a 224-page hardcover book with 100 illustrations, is available for $50 in bookstores and from the Library of Congress Sales Shop. The Library’s Sales Shop also offers a softcover edition of the book for $35 (credit card orders: 888-682-3557). Online orders can be made at www.loc.gov/shop/.
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