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Early Colour Printing:  German Renaissance Woodcuts at the British Museum

Early Colour Printing: German Renaissance Woodcuts at the British Museum


Available as a fixed-page e-book through University of Chicago Press


This richly illustrated publication reproduces and describes effectively every early modern German colour print held at the British Museum. It is one of the world’s most significant collections of these rare milestones of cultural heritage and technology. New photography reveals 150 impressions in jaw-dropping detail, most life-size. Some have never been seen in public or reproduced. It is the first major study of the first wave of German colour printing. It spans medieval printing in the late 1400s through the Renaissance and Reformation of the 1500s.  


Early Colour Printing features masterpieces by leading figures like Erhard Ratdolt, Lucas Cranach, Hans Baldung Grien, and Hans Burgkmair, as well as unfairly overlooked entrepreneurs and innovators like Erasmus Loy (and his daughter Anna). Their breakthroughs reproduced artworks and simplified astronomical calculations. They created trends in interior design and signalled ‘red-letter days’. They helped musicians sight-read and they colour-coded metals for goldsmiths. These diverse new functions and markets might seem unrelated. But they are connected, and they cannot be understood in isolation. From artworks to missals, icons to wallpapers, this book breaks new ground by revealing the fascinating underlying technologies that enabled the production of these colour-printed objects. 


The many inventions of colour printing in the German-speaking lands began with medieval novel solutions. They were devised long before colour printing inks could be formulated. Then, colour printing techniques transformed how printed material could be used during the technological and cultural revolutions of the sixteenth century. Later designers and artists around Europe celebrated these techniques’ heritage for centuries, from the ‘Dürer Renaissance’ until chromolithography revolutionised the print market in the nineteenth century. Early Colour Printing captures this story in rich detail. It sets the stage for second wave of German colour woodcut, which was triggered by the Expressionist revival at the turn of the twentieth century. Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, this collection guide will be a standard reference on German graphic art, early modern visual culture, and the history of printing itself. 


Early Colour Printing: German Renaissance Woodcuts at the British Museum offers significant new research, including previously unidentified examples of early modern colour-printing. Some are believed to be unique in the world; others were made decades before the landmark invention of colourful chiaroscuro woodcut in Italy in 1516. By modelling a printer- and technology-based approach to the history of printing, it contributes to scholarship by pinpointing attributions to printers—not just to artists or designers. In doing so, it lays the groundwork for a new understanding of the history of print, one that encompasses all forms of printed material. This publication derives from an exhibition at the British Museum curated by Elizabeth Savage.

  • Elizabeth Savage; foreword by Olenka Horbatsch

    April 2021

    Hardback, 260 x 216 mm

    256 pages, over 150 colour illus.

    ISBN: 978-1-911300-75-5

  • About the author

    Elizabeth Savage is Senior Lecturer in Book History and Communications, School of Advanced Study, University of London.

  • In the press

    "With its contextualising approach, this lucid study provides a detailed understanding of...sixteenth-century colour woodcut printing..." —The Burlington Magazine


    "This beautifully accessible, exhibition-style catalogue marks Elizabeth Savage’s latest installment in her reinvention of early modern color printing history. Gorgeously produced and illustrated in full-page color with numerous detailed views, it persuasively argues for a more inclusive narrative of pre-1600 Germanic color woodcuts." — Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture


    "From works of art and missals to wallpaper, German printers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were colorfully creative marvels. Their work is explored in detail for the first time..." —Fine Books & Collections


    "Early Colour Printing analyses at considerable depth the technical aspects of this important group of early woodcuts and justly stresses the fundamental contribution of their highly-skilled block cutters."—Bibliotheque d’Humanisme et Renaissance


    "comprehensive and scholarly" —Historians of Netherlandish Art Reviews


    "The design, printing and choice of paper of the catalogue...are to be praised"—Jahrbuch für Kommunikationsgeschichte

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