Saturday, 21 April 2018

A pair of woodcuts by Jost Amman, featuring emblem figures set beside blank escutcheons, 1579


Jost Amman (aka Jost Ammon) (1539–1591)

Double-sided leaf with woodcut illustrations to Johann Posthius’ (1537–97) “Anthologia Gnomica”, 1579, featuring 162 woodcut illustrations, published in Frankfurt am Main by Sigmund Feierabend (1528–90) and printed by Georg Rab (fl.1580).

(left image/recto) “Male figure holding a lute beside a blank escutcheon” (description title only), 1579.

(right image/verso) “Two nude women standing on orbs beside a blank escutcheon, one holding a flaming torch and the other holding a chalice” (descriptive titles only), 1579.

Two woodcuts printed verso and recto on fine laid paper re-margined with a support sheet.
Size: (re-margined support sheet) 30.7 x 22 cm; (sheet) 13.3 x 9 cm

Andresen 1868 I.399.236.27 (A Andresen, 1868, “Beiträge zur älteren niederdeutschen Kupferstichkunde des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts, Archiv für die zeichnenden Künste [Naumanns Archiv]”, 14); New Hollstein (German) VI.152.29 (Jost Amman)

The British Museum offers the following description of the recto print:
“An empty shield with a male figure holding a lute; standing at right; illustration to Johann Posthius, 'Anthologia Gnomica', Frankfurt: Rab for Feyerabend, 1579. 1579 Woodcut”

Condition: both impressions (recto and verso on the same sheet) are well-inked and well-printed with little or no evidence of wear to the plates (i.e. the prints are probably lifetime impressions or at least from an early printing before the printing plates became worn). The sheet shows signs of use (i.e. there are minor surface marks, flattened folds and small fractures/holes), otherwise the sheet is in excellent condition for its considerable age and has been re-margined with a support sheet of archival (millennium quality) washi paper so that both sides of the sheet can be examined without damaging the delicate paper.

I am selling these rare early woodcut impressions from 1579 showing emblem figures beside empty escutcheons (i.e. shields without armorial crests) printed on both sides of the same sheet, for AU$154 in total (currently US$118.13/EUR96.14/GBP84.37 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.

If you are interested in purchasing these elegantly designed and skilfully executed woodcuts by one of the most famous and productive printmakers of the 16th century, please contact me (oz_jim@printsandprinciples.com) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This sheet of prints has been sold


Despite the small size of this pair of woodcuts that are printed on the two sides of the same sheet, the compositions are not cramped with line work and detail. Indeed, to my eyes there is a spirit of openness to the compositions wherein the blank paper becomes a critical design element.

Beyond Amman’s insight in allowing the blank paper to give emphasis to the important features in each composition, the blank paper contained by the shield shapes raises the interesting question: why did Amman not show an armorial crest signifying a particular noble family on each empty escutcheon? To be frank, I really don’t know the answer. I am happy to speculate nevertheless.

From my understanding of Amman’s practice as prolific printmaker, his designs often served as illustrations in more than a single publication. Mindful of this, I can appreciate the point of not furnishing a shield shape with the crest of only one family. After all, if he left the shield shape blank, each noble family could pay to have a fresh block cut and to be printed within the blank space. A sensible money-making business proposition!









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