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Introduction of Printmaking

The first known matrix of woodcut in Europe was found in Macon, France and dates back to 1370 (the side with the angel probably back to approximately 1450). This is a piece of walnut wood cut in both sides by an anonymous printmaker. Part of a bigger plate, it represents on the one side the centurion Longinus next to the cross and an angel on the other side, probably the Angel of Annunciation.
Since the 15th century, printmaking has been offering all over Europe cheap printed pictures, black and white woodcuts first, monochrome or coloured, as well as intaglio prints since the 18th century, before the triumph of co-loured lithography in the second half of the 19th century. Pictures of saints and religious scenes, accompanied by prayers for pilgrims and the poor, pictures with moral and historical content as a propaganda tool of the political regime, with local mythical heroes and folk literature, satires of society, instructive and fun pictures with aspects of distant lands, images of the everyday life of the ordinary people.

Woodcutting was developed in the 15th century and at a very fast paste in the 16th century, at the same time with printing. Its main purpose was the illustration of books, as well as the creation of playing cards. Since the beginning it represented various subjects, usually religious ones. Woodcutting was embraced by great artists, amongst others the famous German artist Albrecht Dürer, who create valuable independent printmaking works, as well as series. The subjects of the independent prints and series and illustrated books are evolving: even though many of them (40%) remain religious in the beginning of the 16th century, many works of men of letters, historians, philosophers, authors from antiquity to the Middle-Ages are published. With the progress of printmaking techniques, the publication of medical books is developed (anatomy with woodcuts in De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Vesalius, surgery with books by Ambroise Paré illustrated with woodcuts) and the natural sciences, especially botany.

Intaglio printing becomes a more and more used technique in the 16th century, providing a more fine and exact image, in particular for images that needed to be accurate and detailed such as cartography and scientific images. Marcantonio Raimondi is known as the first reproductive printmaker since 1505.

The art of Renaissance combines the return to antiquity with innovations in techniques. Printmakers find an endless source of inspiration in ancient legends, Greek and Roman literature, but also in ancient monuments. And the progress in the printmaking methods enables them to create masterpieces, reproducing both drawings and modern painting works. Even though the religious inspiration with traditional subjects remains predominant in printmaking, a new trend shows up which was used in a few illustrations of the previous century: in the 16th century, prints forming images with various scenes are multiplied.

In the 17th century, the role of prints is spreading. The art of printmaking is the mean of expression selected exclusively or partially by great artists, such as Rembrandt, who etches approximately 300 plates. However, most of the prints reproduce drawings or paintings, decorating books and houses. Works with decorative patterns and courtiers’ dresses are all over Europe. The kings use the art of printmaking to advertise their great palaces and projects constructed both for war and peace purposes. The Church is addressed to all social classes with artistic and popular prints. In general, it allows the spread of ideas and sciences. While woodcutting remains almost unchanged and is limited to the illustration of cheap books, many printmakers improve and vary the intaglio technique combining its methods, while the new method of mezzotint encourages the rendering of tones.

The mighty buildings, the wars of the kings of that era with besieged cities and battles stimulate the interest of famous printmakers all over Europe, who create independent prints or series of prints, with buildings, cities and military scenes, spreading the splendour of powerful people of that era. Others respond to the will of the people to learn geography and get to know other countries. Printmaking helps the publication of illustrated books with these subjects.

Reproductive printmaking dominates the 17th century. The most famous creators are copied countless times in prints of unequal quality. Some of them are a poor version of the original work, but some others often look like masterpieces and manage to yield both the details and the tones of the work. The so-called Landscape with a Lute Player is, in addition to its artistic and technical quality, a good example of reproductive printmaking. The original design remains completely unknown, even though Titian’s name is engraved on the plate.

The works, both the creations of the printmaker himself and those that copy paintings, follow the same artistic trends as those that dominate painting: the scenes of the Raphael’s Bible belong to Mannerism, Virgin Mary with the Infant by Antonio Balestra combines the stream of Rococo that dominates Italy in his era with a personal tendency toward classicism.

In the 18th century, the golden century of printmaking in Europe, intaglio printmaking dominates and its methods are being perfected with colour print-making, the appearance of the crayon manner etching and the aquatint. The abundant variety of subjects, which reflect the needs of all strata of society and the artists’ quests, as well as the proliferation of prints characterizes the printmaking production. Far from adopting an attitude of contempt, the painters themselves create prints and illustrate the great literary texts. The profession of illustrator specializing in artistic or scientific illustration appears. The great art collectors pay the most important printmakers to reproduce their collection into impressive albums, while large prints, reproductions of the painting creations, are sold each year on art markets.
Countless etchings and engravings having for subject the antiquity and myths give the opportunity to a wider range of people to travel in time and space, illustrating rich publications of travellers-designers and well-known literary texts. More than ever, mythology is also a source for artists to demonstrate their craftsmanship and aesthetic choices.
Large scale intaglio prints reproducing paintings of various European artistic schools are made by famous print-makers, whose technique – the accuracy of the design, the rendering of the tones, the sense of depth and the expression of persons – stands out. Genre scenes (representation of aspects of everyday life) is fashionable, influenced by the tradition of the Flemish school.
Some painters-printmakers, wishing to give their prints the colours of painting, invent new techniques and use two or more plates. Generally, by perfecting the techniques, the creators’ prints acquire an excellent quality and the creators manage to express themselves in a very personal language.
Western Europe’s passion for exoticism, especially for China, flourishes in the 18th century: engravings which illustrate books and independent etchings “perspective views”, which through an optical device (zograscope) offer the illusion of a 3-dimensional representation of monuments, palaces, gardens, ports etc.
Francisco de Goya, using mainly etching and aquatint, elevates printmaking as an artistic language.

The 19th century can be described as the century of the picture. The improvements of two new techniques that appeared at the end of the 18th century – lithography and wood engraving – help to increase the number of printed pictures and of copies that circulate. Thanks to new techniques, the public is expanding and the art of printmaking is increasingly attracting artists for whom it is a full-fledged medium of expression.
Printmaking as an original creation – as seen in the majority of works – first embraces lithography, which also marks the triumph of romanticism, then, after 1860, etching, which allows a free black and white writing, while we see over the last decades that the colour gradually takes the place of the black. At the end of the century, printmaker artists start to sign and number their prints.
At the same time, scientific discoveries follow one another. With photography and the successive methods invented, photoengraving marks the beginning of a new era in the history of illustrated books and the big printmaking workshops specialised in the reproduction of paintings gradually abandon the burin and the simple line etching to perfect various industrial techniques which produce high precision matrices for relief printing and intaglio printing.
However, the prints are no longer the result of the printmaker’s work. Soon, the world of publications leaves behind the reproductive printmaking for a reproduction without printmaking. Napoleon’s legend, first in France and then all over Europe, fascinates the artists of romanticism and appears in literature, painting and printmaking – as a dominant mean of disseminating the image in that era – offering to all social classes scenes from the modern epic. Popular printmaking embraces it and integrates it into its subjects.
Aloys Senefelder’s invention in 1796, lithography, revolutionises printmaking. Litho-graphers keep perfecting this technique during the whole century, from monochrome prints (that could be coloured) to colour prints, on stone and rapidly on zinc, and with photographically transferred representation. Lithography dominates as a mean of expression for painters since it offers easy tonal transitions, a rich range of colours, and does not require the difficult technique of relief or intaglio printing. Financially, it is cost-efficient since it allows a high number of copies. Sketch artists and editorial cartoonists adopt this technique in the Press or in albums, famous artists draw posters on stone or on zinc. Skilful lithographers replicate old paintings or paintings of their time with remarkable vivacity.
Thomas Bewick, an English printmaker, was the first one to use wood engraving systematically in his book A General History of Quadrupeds, published in 1790. With this technique relief printing is reborn for books illustration. It combines the ease of printing with the text, the high strength of the block that can withstand many printings and the detailed rendering of the image, similar to engraving. Born in England, this technique is spread all over Europe, the blocks are circulated everywhere, magnificent images illustrate both the Press and literary and scientific books. Up to the 20th century there are printmakers that choose wood engraving, due to the quality of the rendering of the details, despite the fact that this technique is extremely demanding.
After 1840, brothers George and Edward Dalziel, leading printmakers and publishers of the 19th century in England, cooperate with all famous designers of their country for the illustration of books with wood engravings. Their artistic prints decorate among others Shakespeare’s plays, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
At the end of the 19th century, Gauguin engraves wood for two marvellous series, the Noa Noa series and the so-called Vollard series, along with paintings with the same subjects.

The 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, for printmaking, are characterised by the rapid evolution of technology with an increasingly difficult answer to the question: What an authentic print is today? Printed images are everywhere available to the public following the development of offset. And we hear about an “artistic offset”. Moreover, years ago, artists understood that with traditional lithography – on zinc and printed in the offset press – and the new technique of screen printing, they can easily multiply, thanks to the photo-transfer of their works that the public likes, without the slightest interference on their behalf. Some of them sign and number them. But, are they original prints? This becomes more difficult to answer with the appearance of digital images.
Printmakers’ intense questioning and experimentation are much more positive. They continue using the techniques which are today traditional, but they also create with the new ones – authentic screen printing and digital art – and combine various techniques and methods to create a print. At the same time, many of the most famous artists of the 20th century create prints and their works, that are signed and numbered, become envied objects for rich collectors. The social role of printmaking tends to disappear.
Posters – authentic prints, usually litho-graphs and screen prints, continue to play this role, from the lithographed posters of World War I to the actual authentic creations of young artists. Before handing them over for the illustration of books, in the form of clichés, and subsequently of zinc offset, illustrators-printmakers create woodcuts or wood engravings, linocuts, engravings, lithographs, which become envied series.
Woodcutting and wood engraving are no longer privileged means of expression for printmakers, because of their demanding technique and the time-consuming and difficult process for rendering the colourful design with various plates and printing registration. However, important printmakers embrace this relief technique even in our days. With a strong rendering of contrasts and the purity of lines, woodcutting and engraving is one of the preferred means of expression of expressionists.
Similar technique to woodcutting and wood engraving, linocutting, which was considered “the xylography of the poor” or “printmaking for students and amateurs”, appears in the early years of the 20th century and becomes the technique par excellence of printmakers committed to the service of people.
Intaglio printing remains in the 20th century, together with lithography, the technique embraced by most creators-printmakers. Even though the hard lines of the burin are not attracting artists, drypoint, with its velvet lines, and the etching methods, linear, tonal, soft ground etching, the various types of aquatint, inkless intaglio printing (emboss), as well as the countless combinations of methods to create a work and the easy printing of a plate with various colours, fascinate printmakers.
To this day, top painters and sculptors adopt printmaking where they find other artistic approaches to their themes, another language. Even though their prints differ from the works for which they are more famous, their style and authentic expression is the same. James Ensor and René Magritte in Belgium, cosmopolitan Wassily Kandinsky, Edvard Munch, Frans Masereel, Salvador Dali, Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, all of them, at some point, are moving towards printmaking. Pablo Picasso, after a few woodcuts and vivid “fluid” aquatints for Tauromaquia, in 1954 discovers the language of monochrome or colour linocut, for strong and expressive prints with big solid colour surfaces and simplified lines.
The list of painters-printmakers may not be exhaustive without Henri Matisse who created almost 800 prints in his whole life: a few relief prints, on wood and linoleum, monoprints, ink and sugar aquatints, and above all drypoints and etchings, as well as lithographs. Throughout Europe, prints are born with traditional and new techniques. Gradually, their creators, who often are also painters, leave behind the artistic movements for a totally new personal expression, both figurative and abstract.


Printmaking in Greece and Cyprus is closely related, although Greek printmaking is older that the Cypriot one. The anonymous lithograph representing Archbishop Kyprianos testifies this: the portrait of a martyr of the history of orthodox Cyprus is integrated in a framework that accompanies portraits of other personalities of the «Greek Pantheon». A Cypriot association ordered it and it was printed in Corfu by the lithographic printing house “Aspiotis”.

Printmaking is not known in Greece under Ottoman rule, although in the 18th century, as in whole Europe, icons on paper are released as devotional objects, and there are a few prints with secular subjects in the Ionian Islands, under the cultural influence of Italy. In the 19th century, printmakers-craftsmen create wood engravings to reproduce drawings of foreign artists for the illustration of books and magazines. Artistic printmaking appears in the late 19th century when Greek painters begin to study in Western Europe, often in Paris where they learn printmaking. The first woodcuts are printed and the first intaglio prints appear after 1900. After 1930, Yiannis Kefallinos becomes the first Professor of Printmaking at the Athens School of Fine Arts and opens a workshop where the first generation of printmakers of the Greek school is educated, with printmakers from Greece and Cyprus such as Α. Tassos, Vaso Katraki, Telemachos Kanthos, whose works belong to our collection.

In general, the experience from Metaxas’ dictatorship, the civil war and junta is echoing in the works of many printmakers whose ideals are being violated. Woodcuts and wood engravings, lino-cuts, lithographs created by printmakers who often acquired a wide experience in printmaking in Greece and abroad, testify the variety of both the techniques and the personal language of Greek printmakers.

Established painters and sculptors are also shifting towards printmaking, completing their experiments by the use of different intaglio techniques – often combined in their works. The generations of younger printmakers continue the rich tradition, following the trends of European printmaking, creating works with a free inspiration and using various and mixed techniques.


Printmaking is almost unknown in Cyprus during the whole period of foreign domination, i.e. since the 12th century. While foreign prints, first religious and cartographic (from the 15th to the 17th century), and subsequently with archaeological, folkloric and historical content (from the 17th to the 19th century) are created for Cyprus, and carved wooden matrices are printed traditionally on bread (“typarka”) and fabric, for stamped scarfs, there are no printmakers in the artistic sense of the word.
In World War II, Telemachos Kanthos, following his studies in Athens where he studies printmaking at G. Kefallinos’ workshop, starts creating prints, mainly woodcuts, printing by hand. Both self-learning and educated artists from the same generation of Kanthos but also from the next generation are experimenting with various printmaking techniques, mainly woodcutting and linocutting. In the 70s, Stelios Votsis and Stass Paraskos, important painters and “revolutionary” artists in Cyprus, who have both studied in London, are marginally engaged in screen printing that enables them to use their painting language in printmaking. Since, other artists, with knowledge acquired through their artistic experience abroad, create – among other art works – prints using various techniques.
Young self-taught painter and printmaker, Hambis, meets with A. Tassos who gives him his first printmaking lessons. After his studies in Moscow, he dedicates all of his life in printmaking, creating woodcuts, lithographs, etchings but mainly linocuts and screen prints. Modern Cypriot artists – painters, sculptors etc., as well as exclusively printmakers – adopt all techniques and methods of printmaking in their printed graphic work. In particular, the young ones are experimenting, combining techniques, creating 3D prints and prints-objects. Of course, the collection of Hambis Printmaking Museum has also works of Turkish Cypriot printmakers who, as modern artists, follow the same trends.


The first prints in Japan appear in the 13th century. Between the 13th and the 16th century, woodcuts – always with a religious subject – are found in temples and monasteries. There are also illustrated texts amulets (o-fuda) for pilgrims. At the beginning of the 17th century, Japan enters the Edo period and the production of prints changes radically. The artists represent “ukiyo”, i.e. the “floating world”. The word contains the Buddhist sense of a world without permanence, and the pictures represent the hedonistic lifestyle as it develops itself in front of our eyes, its precarity and shakiness. Yet, without religious content. From the very first works of Ukiyo-e (“e” means “picture”) of the 17th century, the artists represent the furious life of a society that changes and tends towards the pleasure of everyday life. This meaning goes through centuries and the Ukiyo-e, although the subjects are evolving with the history, the society and its occupations. Woodblock printing, with the special technique of “Mokuhanga” plays then the role of the technique that allows a cheap reproduction and dissemination of the artists’ works.

The technique remains the same up to now. At the beginning, woodblock prints were monochrome and then they became colour prints with the perfection of the technique by Suzuki Harunobu around 1760, other than the illustration of cheap editions of books. Various subjects are used in Ukiyo-e. The initial subjects are representations of the urban life: entertainment scenes, sumo wrestlers, famous Kabuki actors, street sights, beautiful and well dressed prostitutes from the “green houses” (whore houses) of the famous Yoshiwara neighbourhood in Edo (modern Tokyo). The bijin-ga (pictures of female beauties) go through centuries and reach the 20th century. The same applies to shunga (erotic scenes) despite censorship. In the 18th century the range of subjects widens with more developed scenes that characterise a society of entertainment with scenes from everyday life and amusement. By applying the western perspective, during the first half of the 19th century, many artists, other than the subjects then in vogue – flora and fauna – create landscapes and develop the rendering of the everyday life with scenes from domestic and street life. At the end of the 19th century, concurrently with traditional subjects, the Ukiyo-e show also the penetration of western elements in the representations and the influence of the artistic currents on the artists’ style. With Hokusai and Hiroshige, around 1830, meisho-e (pictures from famous places) reached a level of unparalleled quality.

The copies of the first printing are few and valuable, protected in the collections of museums and collectors, they are rarely exhibited. However, the way these woodblock prints are made – the painter gives his drawing to the printmaking workshop, printmakers-craftsmen, often anonymous, and printers who undertake the printing of plates – as well as the great interest for Ukiyo-e of both the Japanese people and the Western world, request since the 19th century the “authentic” reproduction of woodblock prints: the work is accurately redrawn, usually with the same dimensions, the plates are similarly recut, and printed using the same technique and the same colours.

Modern young printmakers from Japan embody the trends and concerns of printmakers from all over the world. Although they all stand out due to their excellent technique, some follow closely the roads of local technique Mokuhanga, others experiment with western traditional and modern techniques, with combined techniques. Figurative or abstract, their prints are released from the standard subjects to express with their creator’s personal language their inner or outer world.


Over the centuries, printmaking in Russia is developed in parallel with the European one, under a great influence of political regimes and with specific characteristics. Since the 16th century, religious books are decorated with woodcuts, while Lubok has the same development with the popular printmaking of the rest of Europe, using subjects from religion, society and folk- literature. In the 19th century, it follows the development of techniques, from woodcutting to lithography. Intaglio printmaking appears in the era of Peter the Great, who at the beginning of the 18th century invites western artists to Saint Petersburg. Intaglio printmaking serves his objectives, especially with battle scenes, and especially portraits. With the Tsars who have succeeded him, the court scenes, portraits, views of palaces and magnificent buildings are multiplying. Enlightenment contributes to the printing of illustrated books, at least in the field ofscience. In the 19th century engraving declines, other than the illustration of books usingsteel engraving. On the other hand, lithography is adopted for landscapes, portraits andreproductions of Russian artists’ paintings. Editorial cartoons and scientific representations of antiquities are also part of the theme.
Just like in Western Europe, at the end of the 19th century etching comes back to life with printmakers-creators who combine it with other intaglio methods. During the period of the Soviet Union, printmaking has its own place. Other than the monumental works of Soviet realism (sculptures and paintings), lithography is an effective mean to spread the ideology. However, the “small dimension” printmaking, known in Europe thanks to many exhibitions, follows its own path: on the one hand, cheap materials – wood and linoleum – dominate in printmaking, which acquires an excellent quality. Linocutting and woodcutting are often combined to create works with excellent tonal range. On the other hand, printmakers who have studied before or after the revolution freely create: some of them create scenes and landscapes glorifying the regime, others continue the tradition of genre painting (depicting aspects of everyday life) and above all they glorify the beauty of landscapes, both in nature and the buildings and their cities.
Wood engraving which is preferred for the illustration of literary books reaches a higher grade of expressiveness and skill. Modern printmakers, who have studied in Soviet Union or in the Russian Federation, share the same concerns and experimentations as any other printmaker in the rest of the world.


Printmaking in Latin America seems to be closely connected to its very turbulent history. Until the 19th century, printmaking is a poor art exclusively imported from Europe, although during the end of the colonial rule lithography is spreading. The liberation struggle, the battles for democracy and the first militant movements for equality between indigenous people and settlers influence printmaking which, with poor means, is often militating for fairer regime. In the 20th century, along with works influenced by the aesthetic movements of the United States, an important, purely local, realistic current of militant artists who are also expressing themselves through printmaking, serves the political ideals for which they are fighting.

The important Mexican school, after Jose Posada, remains a popular school in the first half of the 20th century, with leading artists such as Leopoldo Mendez, with woodcuts, linocuts and lithographs, and Adolfo Mexiac, with woodcuts and linocuts. These two militant artists serve the people with realism. Contemporary printmaking is characterised by the double traditional popular trend towards expressionism and surrealism while the themes are taken from the local turbulent history, the oppression of indigenous people and the repeated struggle for freedom, democracy and human rights. A printmaking that expresses its concerns and is experimenting with its subjects and techniques, using irony, symbols and imagination.

In the United States, printmaking has an impressive development. Mainly commercial – illustration of magazines, reproduction of paintings glorifying the history of the new State – in the 19th century, with wood engravings, intaglio prints and lithographs, it acquires towards the end of the century an artistic identity with landscapes, lithographed or etched with an impressionistic trend. As from the 20th century, and in particular after World War II, the USA becomes a melting pot of authentic creativity, with countless printmakers experimenting first in lithography and intaglio printing and then in screen printing – with the artists of Pop Art – and in digital art.


The “Artist’s Book” concept, an expression that appeared at the end of the 19th century in England, changes over time and from country to country (mainly England, France and after 1960 the USA). If we limit ourselves to the artist’s book with prints, we can reach to a definition that contains various criteria. The first four are necessary; the others contribute to the quality of the work. Prints must be authentic, printed from the plate. The consequence of this criterion is the next one, a limited number of printings (sole copy or even less than five hundred copies, often numbered, signed by the printmaker). Moreover, the work has to be a book, i.e. pages that form a unit, with or without text. If there is a text, the dialogue between the author and the artist is necessary (virtual dialogue, when the printmaker interprets the text of an “absent” author, real dialogue when they cooperate, self-talk when the author and the printmaker are one and same person). The top Artist’s Book is the one that is invented, written (block-book or handly typesetted text), illustrated, set up, printed and published by the artist. Other criteria may be added which increase the value of the work: paper’s high quality and number of copies.


In the 15th century, the first illustrated books – block-books – serve as a model of the closest and most perfect union between the text and the picture, cut on the same side grain block. From the end of the 15th century, almost all illustrated books, starting from the incunabula, are printed using a combination of printing and printmaking. Mainly woodcuts, inside the text, the matrix of which was incorporated in the chase, but also full-page intaglio prints. The two sectors are developing at the same time, with new techniques and new achievements. The images “describe” or accompany narratives, poems, novels, or reinforce mainly scientific texts. Illustrating a book, the image is considered a work of art when produced from the authentic plate, as this has been the case till the end of the 18th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, stereotype, which is the first mean of reproduction of a form and of a printmaking matrix, is perfected and used for publications the number of which increases more and more. Then the authentic print starts to disappear from the illustrated books. Since, the image reproduction means are multiplied until digital printing. Illustrated book and printmaking went their separate ways. Books illustrated with authentic prints are very few and become objects for collectors.