Texts and images

In 1531, René Alciat invented the first emblem book.

By the end of the century line engraving was widely used. The technique was simple: a copper plate was engraved with a burin and inked, and all uncut surfaces were wiped clean. Two large wooden cylinders then pressed the paper down on the copper plate.

In the 17th century the etching technique had improved (see Abraham Bosse’s Treatise of 1645). Illustrations were frontispieces facing the title pages and were often produced by famous artists. Among them, Rubens, who worked for the Antwerp publisher, Moretus; the Frenchman Jacques Callot; and François Chauveau, the illustrator of La Fontaine’s Fables. Woodcut and metal-plate engravings, on the other hand, were used more for prints than for illustrating books.

Colour illustrations appeared during the Enlightenment. Until then, coloured images had been stencilled or hand-painted one by one. It was the German printer Jacob Christoph Leblon who invented the trichromy technique that was used by his student Gautier Dagoty to produce colour plates in his medical books.

Francesco Columna, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venise, Alde Manuce, 1499

Francesco Columna, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Venice, Aldus Manutius, 1499

Lithography (from the Greek lithos, stone) was invented by the German Aloys Senefelder c.1798. It is a flat, or planagraphic, printing technique, as opposed to embossed or relief engraving. The drawings are more intricate and more subtle. Although the technique was not used for printed texts, it was used by painters (e.g. Goya and Delacroix) and caricaturists (e.g. Gavarni, Grandville, Daumier).


Eugène Delacroix, Mephisto dans les airs, dessin pour Goethe, Faust,1882

Eugène Delacroix, Mephisto dans les airs, drawing for Goethe’s Faust, 1882

After 1830 wood engraving was widely used again thanks to the technique invented by the English engraver Thomas Bewick. The fineness of the lines and the subtleness of the colours were greatly appreciated by painters like Gustave Doré. Another advantage of this technique was that images and texts could be printed together, and images became an integral part of the text: it was the beginning of the illustrated book.

Photography, literally writing with light, was invented in 1839 and was gradually introduced into printing. The first French book illustrated with photographs (calotypes) was a 125-plate album by Maxime du Camp (Egypt, Nubia, Palestine and Syria, 1852).


The Industrial Revolution