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ART. VI.-1. Notice sur le Speculum humanæ Salvationis. Par
J. MARIE GUICHARD. Paris, 1840. 8vo. 2. La plus ancienne Gravure connue avec une date. Mémoire par
le Baron de REIFFENBERG, de l'Institut de France, Présenté
dans la séance du 7 Mai 1845. 4to. 3. Opinion d'un Bibliophile sur l'Estampe de 1418 conservée à la
Bibliothéque Royale de Bruxelles. Par M. J. A. C. Bruxelles,
1846. 4to. 4. Quelques Mots sur la Gravure au Millésime de 1418. Par C.
D. B. Bruxelles, 1846. 4to.
THERE is a natural tendency in the mind of man to endeavour to eternize, a restless activity that leads him to reproduce, his mimic effort at creation. Hastening on to corruption and decay, fain would he leave behind him some memento of his earthly passage, or preserve the image of something loved or admired. In default of these two incentives, if not in conjunction with them, the insatiable desire to materialize the workings of his brain is ever active. The different branches of the fine arts are but so many various modes of embodying thought and feeling, dressing them up in a form appropriated to the infinite diversity of intelligences. Some individuals are more susceptible to impressions from mind as conveyed by words, others seek rather the medium of music, and others of painting. This latter art forms one of many that may alike be classed as appertaining to the science of delineation in general.
To us all things in this world are more or less valuable, according as they more or less embody that complex idea called mind. But each manifestation of mind is important, first in its own particular sphere, and then as forming part of a great whole ; moreover, each one has its peculiar advantage or utility. A simple drawing oft-times conveys a more accurate representation than can be effected by painting. Engraving, which certainly cannot compete with painting, wanting the beauty of colouring, nor even with drawing for softness of expression, yet offers in some respects particular advantages over those two branches of
It reproduces to an infinite numerical amount the compositions of those able masters in the art of design who enrich the age in which they live with the productions of their genius. Engraving multiplies the workings of talent; it contributes to diffuse a general taste for art, by presenting the cheap acquisition
of prints to those whose fortunes would not permit them to indulge a love for fine pictures.
The date of this useful invention is wholly unknown, and its early progress remains wrapt in obscurity; yet may we be sure that the art of engraving forms, in some rude manner, prevailed at the remotest period of time. The love of imitation, so natural to the human breast, prompted a rough attempt at portraying an object that struck the fancy, of tracing upon the sand some frail and fleeting manifestation of thought. Then arose the desire of retaining these impressions, and then of multiplying copies of them.
It is not alone as an abstract history of art that the study of engraving becomes interesting; we may also pry into its early records, as into a store-house filled with the ideas and sentiments of another age. A curious no less than an instructive spectacle is presented to us, when we mark the various purposes to which it was at different times applied, the arts to which it gave rise, and how amid so many changes it has pursued its course through centuries down to our time.
We may comprise all the various branches of this art in three great divisions: 1. Engraving in hollow or upon metal. 2. Engraving in relief whether upon wood or upon metal. 3. Engraving in bas-relief, or of medals and fine stones. Under the division of engraving in relief are comprised,—-1. Engraving on wood with a single block. 2. Engraving on wood with two or more blocks, or engraving in chiaro-oscuro. 3. Engraving in relief upon copper or upon steel.
The three branches we have mentioned, each of which partakes more or less of the nature of sculpture, carving, and chasing, belong to the most remote antiquity. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans engraved upon stone and upon metal. This art existed even among the Hebrews, a people little given to the fine arts; the cap of their high-priest was decorated with a plate of gold on which the name of God, Jehovah, was traced. Moses frequently makes use of the words engraving and to engrave. But, as M. M. Bartsch and Duchesne have observed, there is a wide difference between the term engraving as applied by the ancients, and the sarne term in the more complicated sense in which we understand it; although modern invention has only refined upon the primitive art, not substituted another in its stead. Engraving has not been discovered of later centuries; but improving upon a foundation already laid, the more important årt of multiplying copies of engravings has been superadded.
There is every reason to believe that printing from wooden blocks prevailed among the Indians at the very earliest period of their history to which we have any clue. Then, as now, they
contrived to ornament their bodies by means of instruments on which were engraven in relief flowers, shells, or figures relative to their religion. * Herodotus, Strabo, Arrian, and others, mention the gaudy-coloured stuffs manufactured by the Indians, under the name of painted or flowered tissues. Now, it is well known that the Indians at the present day still continue to practise a rude method of printing their manufactures from wooden blocks. No record exists to indicate when this custom was first introduced among them, and be it remembered that the Hindoos more than any other race of men, pertinaciously cling to the customs and traditions of their ancestors. We find on their printed manufactures the same flowers and figures of animals mentioned by ancient authors, sometimes diversified, as was also the case in olden time, with representations of their religious worship. Their designs still retain the same imperfection, their impressions are still executed at a single stroke, or enriched with but a slight number of hatchings. How natural, then, to conclude that the process now used in the production of their painted or printed manufactures, is the same as that formerly employed for similar purposes.
The art of printing stuffs has prevailed in China from time immemorial, and the Chinese themselves are of opinion that this custom led the way amongst them to printing of books. Some historians assert that printed books existed in China 300 years before Christ, that the art of block-printing already flourished under the reign of the celebrated Emperor Von Vang, upwards of eleven centuries before Christ. Palmer confidently speaks of this invention as having been known in China and Japan at least four centuries before it reached Europe. However this may be, it appears incontestable that the art of taking off impressions from wooden blocks was practised in China in the
year A.D. 932. The process then employed to print books in that country was exactly similar to the method still in use. Each page was engraved in relief on a wooden block, one side only of the paper received an impression, which impression was made by means of two brushes. One brush was used to apply the colour to the block, and the other to rub the paper when laid upon the block until it had received the impression. European engravers of old followed nearly a similar process, $ and it is still employed by manufacturers of playing-cards. At the period of which we
* Tieffenthaler, Géog. de l'Indoustan.
I Ricci, p. 19 and 20. Grosier, Suppl. à l'Histoire Générale de la Chine, par Moyriac de Mailla. Vol. xiii. p. 742.
§ Eméric David, Traité sur la Gravure,
have been speaking the Chinese ornamented their books with prints also engraved on wood and in relief.*
It is probable that the Egyptians, who sought to rival the beauty of Indian manufactures, carried home from the nations of the Ganges a knowledge of printing upon stuffs ; for Petronius speaking of their tissues, says that the Egyptians invented an abridgement of painting. Even after Syria had been overrun by the warlike Saracens, the towns of Damascus, Antioch, and Tyre still presented to the admiration of western travellers, precious remnants of antiquity, in the shape of their painted and printed stuffs. So late as the nineteenth century, we still find existing in the environs of Aleppo manufactures of common printed stuffs called chafarcanis, which were formerly bought up in large quantities in the southern provinces of France.f
It is inexplicable how wood-engraving, so long cultivated by the nations of the East, should have been for so many centuries neglected in Europe. Nor have we any evidence to prove whether the practice of this art, when at last adopted, was imported from Asia, or the invention took place anew on our own continent. There are probabilities in favour of the former hypothesis. The activity of Indian trade did not slacken during the middle ages; we find, on the contrary, that the printed stuffs of the East formed at that period an important branch of commerce with the Arabs, Italians, and inhabitants of the Mediterranean coasts in general. These tissues are constantly named in the accounts given by travellers between the 6th and 15th centuries.
Still we cannot thence draw any positive conclusion that the introduction of these manufactures throughout Europe, ultimately led to the practice amongst us of taking off impressions from wood-engravings. No writer with whom we are acquainted, has ever mentioned engraving as a new art, and therefore we naturally infer, that it must be more ancient than the period at which we can date the earliest record transmitted to us. Yet are the earliest specimens we possess so very rude and imperfect, as to afford abundant testimony that the art of engraving must then have been in its first stage of infancy. It is interesting to trace these primitive attempts. We find many proofs that engraving in relief prevailed in Europe during the middle ages. A number of seals, with names engraved in relief, still exist in the private collections of amateurs ; the ground part was hollowed out, and the letters, after being cut in relief, were covered over with some coloured substance, which, by means of pressure, was trans
* De Guignes.
+ Eméric David, Traité sur la Gravure.
with a sword and a wheel; near her shoulder a bird is perched. On the left of the Virgin is St. Barbara holding a tower. In front, to the right hand, St. Dorothy holds a nosegay and a basket of fruit; on the left is St. Margaret, with a cross and a book.
All the figures are seated, and their heads encircled with the nimbus, as are all the figures of saints represented even by modern painters. The hair of the Virgin is thrown back; that of the four saints streams over their shoulders. Four scrolls present their names in Gothic characters. The paper-mark is an anchor placed horizontally in the upper division of the leaf. In the middle, near the bottom, we find the date MCCCCXVIII.
In point of execution, this print is very tolerable, the composition is good, and the attitudes are easy and graceful. Without entering into the question whether the date of this print be genuine or not, we cannot but notice a most striking resemblance between the gate and palisaded circle in the Brussels print, and the same objects in the first plate of a very beautiful copy of the Historia seu Providentia Virginis Mariæ, now in the library of the British Museum. We do not pretend to assign a date to the Historia Virginis Mariæ, but we feel little doubt that this and the Brussels print were executed nearly at the same time, and probably by the same artist.
The St. Christopher, which before the discovery we have just mentioned, had long been considered as the earliest print bearing a date, was found by Heinecken in the Carthusian monastery of Buxheim, near Memmingen, one of the oldest convents in Germany. It is dated 1423, and was pasted inside the cover of an old Latin manuscript of the 15th century. It represents St. Christopher, bearing the infant Jesus across the sea; opposite the saint is a hermit holding up a lantern to light the way, and behind, a peasant with his back turned, carrying a sack and climbing the side of a mountain. This piece, of a folio size, is engraved from wood and coloured. The style of drawing is un doubtedly German.
Pasted in the same old manuscript is another wood-print representing the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, and this print, says Ottley, is evidently by the same hand as that which produced the St. Christopher. Many engravings of a like nature are to be found in the ancient German convents, the monks having preserved them in the few books that constituted their libraries at that period, by pasting them inside the covers. Two remarkable specimens of this kind are now in the British Museum : one, 15į inches high by 11 inches wide, representing the seven ages of man, with the wheel of fortune in the centre. The other, occupying half the opposite cover, containing the Virgin Mary