Review Essay of Printing Colour Project, L’Illustrazione

The latest issue of L’Illustrazione, the first journal dedicated to the history of book illustrations, praises the Printing Colour Project for leading ‘a remarkable change of perspective’ (103) in a seven-page review essay that spans its history from 2011, assessing its conferences, publications, exhibitions, and training events.

It’s thrilling to know that these activities deliver on the aim to ‘present a picture as complete as possible of the current state of research, according to a deeply interdisciplinary approach that includes the history of art, the history of the book, bibliography, conservation science, and research on technical sources and printing practice’ (104).

The review essay is a thoughtful, careful assessment of so many people’s work over so many years. It’s a great honour.  Thank you, Ilaria Andreoli and L’Illustrazione. We hope to see you at our next events!

Ilaria Andreoli, review of Printing Colour 1400-1700, L’Illustrazione 2/2 (2018), 103–110

Exhibition: Chiaroscuro Printmaking, Louvre (Oct 2018–Jan 2019)

Chiaroscuro Printmaking: Cranach, Raphael, Rubens
Rotonde, Sully, Musée du Louvre, 18 October 2018–14 January 2019

In a pioneering miscellany of 120 prints preserved in the most significant Parisian collections (Edmond de Rothschild collection, Musée du Louvre; Bibliothèque Nationale de France; Fondation Custodia; École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts), as well as loans from French museums (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Besançon) and institutions abroad (British Museum, Ashmolean Museum, Rijksmuseum), this exhibition retraces one particular technique and aesthetic approach in the realm of printmaking: chiaroscuro printmaking, also known as color woodcuts.

It offers a chronological and geographic panorama of this medium via the most notable prints by or after the leading masters of the Renaissance and European Mannerism, such as Cranach, Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Parmigianino, Domenico Beccafumi, and Hans Baldung Grien.

Color woodcuts, known as chiaroscuro prints in Italy, first emerged in Germany in 1508–1510, and subsequently spread throughout Europe, where it was practiced with increasing sophistication until around 1650. The outcome of technical and artistic attempts to impart subtle nuances of color in printed form, chiaroscuro printmaking fascinated artists, who used it to explore the art of light and shade, a question dear to Leonardo da Vinci and Giorgio Vasari.

The effort to create this distinctive aesthetic placed chiaroscuro prints at the crossroads of other artistic practices, including tinted-paper and wash drawing, sgraffito mural painting, and stone mosaic; it is nevertheless a medium in its own right, using monochrome as another way of representing the world.

Beyond this dialogue between chiaroscuro prints and other art forms, the exhibition also addresses the questions of its production and reception. Printmaking was often the fruit of collaboration between the inventor of the composition—frequently a painter and draftsman—and an woodcutter or printer, who handled the color inking techniques, matrix size and superposition, and final rendering. The precious nature of these prints appealed to aficionados, who began collecting them in the 16th century.

The exhibition is part of a wider research project focused on the analysis of pigments and dyes from some forty chiaroscuro prints, funded by the Fondation des Sciences du Patrimoine, and involving the joint collaboration of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France (C2RMF).

Visit: October 18, 2018–January 14, 2019, Rotonde Sully, Musée du Louvre, tickets at

Exhibition curator: Séverine Lepape, Department of Prints and Drawings, Musée du Louvre

Publication: exhibition catalogue, co-published by Musée du Louvre Éditions / Liénart Éditions. French, 224 pages, 150 illustrations, €29.

Presentation of the exhibition (French): Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 12:30 p.m., at the Louvre Auditorium.

Colour Printing by Example, by Nora Epstein

This blog post comes from Nora Epstein, PhD Student at the University of St Andrews, who co-organised and attended the Colour Printing by Example workshop, held at the University of Glasgow earlier this year as a taster of the specialist training offered by the Printing Colour Project  at London Rare Books School, Institute of English Studies. It was originally posted by the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities, Reposted with permission.



Introductions from Bob MacLean from University of Glasgow Archives & Special Collections.

On May 2, PhD students, alongside librarians, and lecturers from universities around Scotland, took a breakneck tour of the history of colour printing. Thanks to generous funding provided by SGSAH, Dr Elizabeth Savage presented her cutting-edge research for the first time in Scotland. From her vantage point at the vanguard of the field, Savage is uniquely qualified to unpack the methodological challenges of studying colour printing. While revisiting the historiography of colour printing, she also shared practical methods for identifying and describing colour illustrations. Although colour printing has been underrepresented by generations of bibliographers and art historians, Savage’s extensive research shows that even from its earliest days, printing has been a colourful affair.


Dr Elizabeth Savage introduces the first set of examples.

As we moved chronologically from fifteenth-century incunabular woodcuts to nineteenth-century chromolithographs, participants witnessed how colour printing techniques built upon and informed each other. Primary source examples from the University of Glasgow Special Collections Library punctuated the sessions and allowed the group to test our newly acquired skills. While examining the dozens of rare books, heated debated over ink opacity and plate-marks underscored why these items are frequently misidentified and the pressing need for this type of training.


Mhairi Rutherford takes a closer look at one of the examples.

Each attendee walked away from the training session with newly honed eyes and a heightened understanding of this evolving field of research. From exotic flora to the coloration of veins and arteries in anatomy texts, it is clear that colour played a major role in knowledge production, a role that is only starting to be appreciated. As Savage explained, seminal bibliographers such as R. W. McKerrow saw colour as a nuisance. Art historians like Erwin Panofsky were equally likely to disregard colour as a significant formal element in printmaking. As Savage challenged these long-held assumptions and biases, she identified the barriers that have allowed them to persist. The underdeveloped vocabulary and cataloging standards for colour illustrations influence how historians conduct research. Similarly, when a colour printed item is investigated, it is often understood as an outlier and not, more accurately, as participating in a broader spectrum of image-making techniques.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this daylong session is that the story of colour printing is still being written. Thanks to librarians and historians like Savage, there is growing recognition of the importance of colour in printing images. As these items are accurately described and made more discoverable, previous presumptions about the subordinate role of colour in printed images fall away. Thanks to the colour printing training session, the participants are armed with the tools to identify, describe, and challenge established narratives about the use of colour in early modern print.


Just announced! The PiCoBoo project aims to assess the significance of 19th-century European picture-books, printed in colour for children, as a catalyst for major cultural and social changes. Hosted by Newcastle University, in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum and with Seven Stories The National Centre for Children’s Books.