Tag Archives: plates

Looking at Dürer in the British Museum

Ok, let’s get into something a bit meaty, that has nothing to do with bookbinding and all to do with plates.

At the National Library of Australia we have plates of Dürer’s Little Passion (RBRS 13), which you can view here. It was printed in 1511 and rebound in a non-contempory calf binding, with blind tooling along perimeter.

This is what I saw at the British Museum:

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35 of 36 wood blocks. And we were also shown some corresponding impressions. What deliciousness! Yes, you can handle the book, look at the plates, but when you are confronted with the medium, which may have been engraved by the Master himself and most certainly drawn on by him, then you marvel at the skills that were available in 1511.

My interest in Dürer is this, of course:

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We were asked to examine the blocks closely; could we detect different hands in the relief structure of the matrix?

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I took photos of the signatures; I figured that you might be able to tell one worker from another by the way he/she carved the AD. If we look closely are the ADs similarly different?

It’s not every day you get to see the plate and its impression.

That was all I had time to photograph I’m afraid.

I haven’t had the time to properly examine these photos; I am just reporting our day. I feel very privileged to have seen these. However these were seen in a reading room, and if you are going to London, I believe if you make an appointment well before hand, you may be able to experienced these for yourself.

The Print and Drawing reading room, very light but not airy. In the summer bring your own fan.

cheers

 

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Introductions at Senate House Library

Today is Monday and I will not be shy.  Roll out of bed, go downstairs for breakfast and sit with Ollie (NZ) and an American woman  (whose name I have forgotten) who knew London like the back of her hand.  Ollie talks a lot. But it makes breakfast fun. I spot Donato, ask about his Japanese exam, take an extra coffee back to my room and await the appointed time.

There is the usual registration, and I see Nicole Gilroy from the Bodleian. She is taking the European Bookbinding course. She does remember me. After Dr Karen Attard’s riveting talk on what we could expect to see during our course, we are sent off to our various rooms.

Dr Elizabeth Savage, is a delightful and enthusiastic educator. But I am not sure this course is quite what I expected, hoped for or needed. It is very cerebral; I am having to think, as opposed to taking down notes and being shown slides of items on a screen (as in 5 years ago).

We begin with the usual introductions, and it really seems like a course in art history.  We are a pretty diverse group: librarians, collectors, bookseller, curator, art historian, student. We rapidly cover the history of printing techniques, and we enjoy some discussion. Wish I had taken the time to do more of the prelim reading…..

The usual tea-time, but in the afternoon we get our hands on blocks. I am here to study what printers’ blocks and plates can tell us in and of themselves, as opposed to what the printed impression might tell us. There is a lot of discussion about nomenclature and inter disciplinary vocab that affects the cataloguing of these items. Are they realia I wonder? Wish I knew cataloguing…..

We explore the differences in the lines that each method, relief and intaglio produce. I learn a cool new word: flong.

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sorry it’s blurry; a flong is a papier mache-like sheet that gets impressed onto the set-up plate. Type metal will be poured into this, duplicating the plate…

We have 2 sessions and then the hands-on. Here we are asked to describe to the others what techniques may have been used to create the blocks.

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Anna discovering that there was type “hiding” within  the block. These were numbers, and the block was a generic pattern for a series. As the series changed, you just changed the little numbers. This was the block for an “assignat”, a type of currency.

The dark blocks are made from very hard boxwood; they look nearly petrified. The Queen block is double sided. They are cut and shaped in order to be able to join with others on the form.

Handling these items is amazing. I’ve never seen blocks quite like these. I am sure to my printer friends back in Canberra, these are not so surprising, but as printing is not my particular area of interest, they are fascinating.

This next set were of particular interest to me:

The bound title page is date 1632, but it is more likely that the plate was produced in the 1930s at the request of the collector; where is the original plate? And we can tell this by the material used and the nails that hold the plate on the block. I used to wonder what kind of type was used for the lettering, but it is etched in. And of course, the engraver doesn’t necessarily prepare the writing.

Time was running short and we were left with the perplexing questions:

  1. What can the printing surfaces reveal that is not evident on the impression on paper?
  2. Can a vocabulary common to bibliographers, art historians and book historical research ever be generated and how would this change the face of cataloguing?

There was a welcome reception in the Chancellor’s Hall and a few of us left for dinner shortly afterwards.

I think we are an interesting group, and being thrown into a pot like this can either be scary or refreshing.

see you tomorrow.

 

 

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