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Series the fifth.
Art. I.-An Inquiry into the Origin and early History of
Engraving upon Copper and Wood; with an Account of Engravers and their Works, from the Invention of Chalcography by Masso Finiguerra, to the Time of Marc Antonio Raimondí. By WILLIAM YOUNG Ortley, F. S. A.
London, J. and A. Arch, 2 vol. 4to. 1816. Pp. 836. This instructive and elegant work is by the author of " The Italian School of Design,' exemplified in a series of fac similes from subjects in his own collection, in folio, published in 1809, and of “ The British Gallery of Engravings,” in quarto, which appeared in 1813, and was divided into parts, according to the order of the different schools. His attention having been attracted by the painting and sculpture of the early Italian masters, and especially of those of Florence, he was induced to visit Italy, in order to procure drawings of their works from the dawn of the arts of design in the 13th and 14th centuries, to the æra of their meridian splendour under the second Julius and the tenth Leo. By careful examination and diligent'enquiry, he became so far a connoisseur in the very early pictures commonly known under the opprobrious term Gothic, that he sometimes found himself in a situation to pronounce as to the authenticity of a picture attributed to Cimabue, Giotto, Fiesole, or Signo, relli, with the same confidence that others feel in deciding as to the originality of a work of Raffaele, Titian, or Domenichino.
It was first intended by the author to have confioed him. self to chalcography, or copper-plate engraving, and not at all to have touched upon xylography, or wood-engrav. ing; but having collected some useful materials as to the latter, he determined to prefix a single chapter on that subject, which was afterwards extended to three; and his materials of information still growing upon him, subsequently we find him, somewhat out of its place, resuming the enquiry as to engraving on wood, in order to add some interesting and curious particulars,
CRIT. Rev. VOL. IV. August, 1816.
As to the general contents of this publication, the first five chapters refer chiefly to documents on the antiquity of wood and copper engraving: and in this part of the undertaking, there is a great deal that is novel to the English reader, if not to the foreign student, and certainly much im portant information that was not within the knowledge of Mr. Strutt when he published his biographical work, which he has entitled a Dictionary of all the Engravers from the earliest period to the present time. But in speaking of the merits of Mr. Ottley, we by no means intend to detract from the well-earned reputation of his predecessor, who has augmented the list of M. Besan by the names of two thousand artists, and wliose work contains a body of curious and valuable research supplied in no other publication. The sixth and following chapters of Mr. Ottley, are principally devoted to an account of the early engravers on copper, with extended catalogues of their engravings; and here, if we have not the same originality, we have what is at least equally desirable, great precision, and perfect fidelity. If the author have not pursued a new direction, it is because the path has been so often trodden by others; and he has always taken care to conduct his followers over the best ground, and to present to them the most agreeable prospects.
The documents on which Mr. Ottley rests the antiquity of engraving in Europe, we will notice seriatim. The earliest is that recorded by Papillon of the wood-cuts of “The Actions of Alexander;" which, it is said, were engraved by the two Cunio at Ravenna, and about the year 1285, dedicated by them to their kinsman Pope Honorius the Fourth. An attempt has been made by Heineken, a writer of high authority, to detract from the character of Papillon, but he has since found a defender in Zani, whose learning and deep research entitle him to peculiar respect and attention. • From the year 1285 to 1441, an interval occurs in which there is not any precise document; and it is so considerable a period, that it would be very remarkable indeed if no illustration in regard to engraving could be supplied. Under the difficulty our author conceives that the mention of cards in the Trattato del Governo della Famiglia of Sandro di Pipozzo, written about 1299, and in the Romance of Renart le Contrefait, which was finished in 1341, and also the prohibition in 1987 by John the First, King of Castille, may be fairly admitted as sufficient testimony of the practice of wood-engraving at those respective dates in Italy, France, and Spain (Spain, Italy, and France, we should rather have said, if priority of position indicate priority of time); and he adds, that the smallness of the price paid for three packs of cards, gilt and coloured for King Charles the Sixth by Jaquemin Gringonneur about 1392, and recorded in a book of accounts of the court of France of the time, is competent evidence that they must have been first printed, and afterwards finished by hand.*
Mr. Ottley farther conceives, that there is adequate ground to conclude, that the interval may be otherwise filled up than by a mere reference to the use of cards, as long previous to the introduction of those expedients of amusement; the art had been applied in different parts of Europe to the purpose of administering to the superstition of the people by the images of saints, and other the like representations. These, he says, are found inconsiderable numbers in the convents of Germany, seldom indeed accompanied with dates, but often bearing the marks of high antiquity.
- The next written document in which positive mention is made of wood engraving, is a decree of the government of Venice, which was discovered by Tamanza amongst the archives of the old company of Venetian painters, and it is in these terms :
“ MCCCCXLI Oct. 11th: Whereas, the art and mystery of mak* ing cards and printed figures which is used at Venice, has fallen
• We beg leave here to refer to the Xth article of our Review for April last of Researches into the History of Playing Cards, with Illustrations of the Origin of printing and engraving on Wood, by Samuel Weller Singer," a writer very frequently adverted to by Mr. Ottley. We there observed, that " the first section of this work, upon which the attention and labours of the author seem to have been more especially bestowed, treats of the invention of playing-cards, and their first introduction into Europe. He separately speaks of their early employment in each country; and from all that he advances, we collect that the following are the periods at which they are said by writers, first to have been known in Spain as early as 1267, in Italy in 1299, Germany in 1300, in France in 1341. It appears, therefore, that of the European nations, cards were first practised in Spain; and Mr. Singer, after considerable discussion, comes to the conclusion, that the Spaniards derived them from the Moors, who, on their part, probably obtained them from the Egyptians, and the Egyptians from the Persians, Chinese, or some other eastern state. On this point he quotes the opinion of the Count de Gebelin, who states, that the Egyptians used cards as early as the 7th centary, before the Christian æra; and that the vulgar practice still prevailing among the Gypsies of telling fortunes by means of cards, is nothing but a relic of the same superstitious employment of them in the most remote ages."
" to total decay, and this in consequence of playing-cards and co“ loured figures printed which are made out of Venice, to which “ evil it is necessary to apply some remedy, in order that the said “ artists, who are a great many in family, may find encouragement “ rather than foreigners. Let it be ordered and established accord“ ing to that which the said masters have supplicated, that from this “ time in future, no work of the said art that is printed or painted on “ cloth or on paper, that is to say, altar-pieces (or images) and playing. “ cards, and whatever other work of the said art is done with a brush “ and printed, shall be allowed to be brought or imported into this “ city, under pain of forfeiting the works so imported, and xxx “ livres and xii soldi (page 6) of which fine, one-third shall go to the “ state, one-third to the Signori Justixieri Vechi, to whom the “ affair is committed, and one-third to the accuser. With this con. “ dition however, that the artists who make the said works in this city, “ may not expose the said works to sale in any other place but their “ own shops, under the pain aforesaid, except on the day of “ Wednesday at S. Paolo, and on Saturday at S. Marco, under the “ pain aforesaid."
This instrument is superscribed by the “ Provedatori de Coman,” and by the “ Signori Justiţieri Vechi.”
Mr. Ottley assumes, that from the tenor of this edict, ample proof is afforded, that wood-engraving, which was so circumstanced, as this document imports, in 1441, was known in Venice at least as early as 1400.
“ But this,” he says, “ is not all. It speaks of the art of making cards and printed figures in terms which would have been every way appropriate, had the edict had for its object the re-establishment of the oldest manufacture of Venice; and when coupled with other cir. cumstances, especially the account of the two Cunio, furnishes a strong ground for the conjecture, that engraving in wood had, from a very early period, been practised by the Venetians, who may easily be supposed to have learnt it in the course of their commerce with the Chinese, and that through their means it became at length promulgated in various parts of Europe.” (p. 49.)
The early and intimate intercourse between Venice and the nations of the east is abundantly proved, and this all is that is necessary to shew, that the supposition of the Venetians having acquired the art of engraving in wood through that channel, is not unreasonable.
The author proceeds to observe on a question of considerable importance as connected with the antiquity of engraving,
“ Some writers however have insisted, that the principle of this art, impression, was we!l known to the ancients; and that this is evi
dent from their stamps of iron and other metals, still preserved in our Museums, with which, as is supposed, they marked their names or other inscriptions on their bales of goods, and on various articles of their manufacture ; and moreover, that this practice of applying stamps continued to be used throughout Italy, and in other parts of Europe, during the low ages.
“ The art of taking impressions from engraved blocks of wood, according to those writers, is little else than a modified application of a principle of universal potoriety from time immemorial, and consequently, scarce merits the name of an invention. Nay, typography itself, it should seem, is no new invention; the idea of it, say they, was familiar to Cicero; and it is also known, that the ancient artists, in stamping their inscriptions upon their lamps of Terra Cotta, used each letter separately, as our book-binders do in lettering their volumes; the idea of moveable characters, therefore, say they, was no novelty.
“The stamps and signets of the ancients, their lamps, their vases, and their bassi-relievi of clay, which first being cast or pressed into form, by means of molds, were afterwards finished by the tools of the modeller--and often, in parts, marked with letters or ornaments, by the simple operation of stamping-sufficiently prove, I acknowledge, that they were po strangers to the art of impression. It also appears that they had stamps of separate letters.
“ But it is to be observed, that the mode of impression here spoken of, in which the effect is produced by the simple operation of pressing one body against another body of softer texture, and thereby oce casioning a change of form in its surface, is very distinct from that which is the subject of our inquiry: for the effect which is produced in the impressions taken from engraving on wood, is not that of a change of form in the surface of the paper on wbich such impressions are taken, but a change of colour; the parts impressed on the white paper, being rendered apparent, not by any indentation of the paper in those parts, but by the black tint, with which the projecting surface of the block was charged previous to the operation of printing it; which tint, by that operation, was transferred to the paper.
is Unless, therefore, some evidence be brought to prove that the ancients used their stamps, not only to impress wax, clay, and other soft bodies, but also that they applied them charged with ink or some other lint, for the purpose of stamping paper, parchment, or other substances, little or not at all capable of indentation (and we are hitherto without such evidence), we shall still have reason to believe, that they were totally unacquainted with the art of which we treat." (p. 58.)
From an irregularity, to which we have alluded, in the arrangement, and which we would wish to avoid in our review, we must here insert some very instructive remarks