Prints in Northern Europe: History, Processes & Functions Video

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  • 0:01 Hot Off the Press
  • 0:51 Old Master Prints
  • 2:03 Master Printmakers
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the history of printmaking as an art form in Northern Europe and discover how this influenced Northern European art. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Hot Off the Press

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Johannes Gutenberg invents the printing press, making it possible to print off all these extra newspapers! Read all about it!

Hey there! Looking for today's headlines? As anyone in Northern Europe can tell you, the buzz is all about printing. After all, we're in a Renaissance, more specifically, the Northern European Renaissance, where new wealth, education, and technology have created a culture of education and art.

We Northern Europeans have our own styles of painting and sculpture, but our proudest innovation is printing. Not only can we produce books at a rate never before imagined, we've started using printing presses to create artwork as well. But don't just take my word for it. Here, take a copy, and read all about it.

Old Master Prints

Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, prints have become a major part of our lives here in Northern Europe. So, it seems only right that we take the time to understand what these are and how they are made. In general, we're going to be talking about old master prints, artistic prints made from the 15th century to the Industrial Revolution. These prints are low-cost works of art that average people here in Northern Europe can afford to purchase, so their popularity is no mystery.

Old master prints are typically made on paper, a material that only arrived here in Europe in the 1400s, but can be printed through a variety of different methods. The most common is perhaps the woodcut, where an artist carves an image in relief from a block of wood. When ink is applied, the raised areas hold the most ink, and the image is transferred onto paper.

Engraving is another form of printing. In this technique, a design is made by cutting grooves into a flat, hard surface like copper. This technique is the exact opposite of woodcut, since the carved area, not the raised area, holds the ink. When an engraving is made using acid to cut into the material, it's called an etching, and as terrifying as it sounds, this is also one of the most popular ways to make our beloved old master prints.

Master Printmakers

Well, Northern Europe, the 16th century has been a great time for us. We're making prints at an unbelievable rate, so how about a nod to our greatest artists! And, where do we start? Well, it's really no question - we start with Albrecht Dürer, German painter and printmaker who revolutionized Northern European art.

It was Dürer who really brought all of the ideas of Renaissance art into the world of printmaking, making this a true, internationally respected art form for the first time. Prints were always popular, but before Dürer, they were essentially cheap posters and not really seen as art. This is what woodcuts and engravings looked like before Dürer.

A traditional woodcut engraving
Woodcut engraving before Durer

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