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A new study of woodcuts in the incunabula of the Netherlands

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A century ago, in 1882, the art historian William Conway published the chief results of his research into the woodcuts in the incunabula of the Low Countries, in a series of articles in The Bibliographer. Two years later his book The woodcutters of the Netherlands in the fifteenth century appeared. Conway's approach is that of an art historian: he classifies the woodcuts according to their artists and then groups these together in schools. Two general surveys of this area have appeared since Conway, Delen (1924) and Schretlen (1925), both likewise written from the angle of art history. Unlike Conway, however, they make no attempt at completeness, so that even today for an overall view one has to turn to Conway. Despite the progress that has been made in the field of bibliography in our own century and the new discoveries of Netherlandic illustrated incunabula, there has so far been no new study of the subject in bibliographical terms. Work is now in progress on such an investigation at the Department of Book and Library Science at the University of Amsterdam. Besides a census of all woodcuts and the books in which they appear, the project is intended, through a study of the sorts of edition that were illustrated and the association between illustration and text, to gain an insight into the nature and function of the illustrations. Study of the technical aspects of the woodcuts is designed to provide greater insight into the practice of printing with woodcuts in the fifteenth century and the wanderings of the wood blocks from printer to printer. An extensive collection of photographic reproductions of pages with woodcuts has now been brought together, and work has started on preliminary ordering and analysis.


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