- Printing Colour, 1400–1700: History, Techniques, Functions and Receptions ed. by Ad Stijnman, Elizabeth Savage
Histories of printed colour have generally concentrated on full-colour printing where a limited number of pure colours combine to reproduce the full spectrum, pioneered in the early eighteenth century by Jacob Christoph Le Blon. Printing Colour is about the period before 1700. The title is well chosen: this is about printing colour rather than colour printing. The appreciation of the role of colour in early modern graphic art was given a huge boost in Susan Dackerman’s eye-opening exhibition Painted Prints: The Revelation of Colour in Northern Renaissance and Baroque Engravings, Etchings and Woodcuts at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2002. The editors of Printing Colour take the position that the colour blindness of art history to the hand-colouring of prints is equally apparent in studies of printed colour.
Advertised as ‘the first handbook of early modern colour printing before 1700 (when most such histories begin)’, Printing Colour brings together the study of arte-facts with distinct historiographies, printed books, and single sheet prints, the separate worlds of bibliographers and art historians. The ‘material turn’ in historical studies demands that we look at physical objects and their production. In this case, the editors propose that the interpretation of books and single sheets with printed colour should be based on their production, where previous studies have privileged authors and artists. The emphasis is not on style in an art-historical sense, but on the techniques the printmakers used to achieve the effects we see in the surviving books and prints. The argument is that since the two technologies available for picture printing in this period, relief and intaglio, were used for making both books and single sheet prints, it makes sense to study them in parallel and look for connections. The assumption is that book printers who used colour also printed single sheet prints with colour.
The editors have brought together twenty-three contributors (including themselves) to write twenty-two short chapters (Preface, Introduction, nineteen numbered chapters, and a Conclusion). The organization is chronological after the first three chapters which draw out general themes across genres and time periods. [End Page 453]
The first chapter lays out the three approaches to printing in more than one colour—including black and one colour—whether from relief surfaces or intaglio, printing defined in this case as printing using a press, either a screw press for relief printing or a rolling press for intaglio printing. The three methods are described as ‘jigsaw printing’ in which the pieces of the jigsaw are inked separately and brought together for printing; ‘à la poupée printing’ where one surface is inked with several colours and printed at one pass through the press; and ‘printing in register’ where each colour is applied from a separate printing surface and printed one on top of another, and exactly aligned. The history of these methods is elaborated for relief printing by Savage and for intaglio printing by Stijnman. These historical overviews give brief descriptions of the techniques involved with references to the more detailed studies of particular aspects which are to follow in later chapters.
After these introductory chapters, the first section of the book, ‘The Advent of Colour Printing’, includes only one chapter on colour printing in the sense of printing with a press, on the famous initials in the Mainz Psalter. Before this, there is an excellent article by Doris Oltrogge on the inks used for stamping cloth and leather in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries based on the analysis of some twenty-six manuscript sources. These are compared with the inks on surviving textiles and Oltrage’s own experiments. Many pigments are listed in the documents but, interestingly, greater attention is given in them to the medium for the ink, the pure oil varnishes and oil-resin varnishes with...