Painted or printed – in colour with gold or in black and white – images on parchment and paper served many purposes in the late Middle Ages. They illustrated and embellished books, but they were also served to heighten the emotional experience of religious devotion and to give sensual pleasure to the reader.
The acquisition of seven early hand-coloured engravings from the prayer book of an Utrecht nun and the return of a wartime loss, the Book of Hours for Autun printed in 1506 and illustrated with metalcuts, provide a welcome opportunity to take a closer look at the subject of books and images. The exhibition opens with examples of hand-painted book illuminations, followed by printed images for handwritten books like the recently acquired engravings by the Master of the Dutuit Mount of Olives and the Master of the Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand. The woodcuts in incunabula like the Ulm Aesop were also frequently hand-coloured.
Representative examples of important techniques and themes – large-format images of Christ Crucified, singe-sheet prints, coloured woodcuts of popular saints as well as special printing techniques such as dotted prints and white-line woodcuts – shed more light on this development. None of the artists who produced these works are known by name. At the profane end of the development is the oldest known printed playing card.