As its title’s use of the word “reception” suggests, this anthology presents essays on responses to prints. The foregrounding of reception may daunt some scholars. After all, as an interpretive model, reception is notoriously slippery. Many early modern images – especially prints – embed multivalence, inviting a range of responses. While tracking varied responses to artworks is not difficult, articulating tenable conclusions from such findings surely is. Some reception-based interpretations have thus tended to whistle past the contradictions in their findings. Moreover, scholars have blanched at the implication in reception-theory that audiences produce meaning rather than the objects they read or view. However, this book’s emphasis on reception should not deter would-be readers. Editors Grażyna Jurkowlaniec and Magdalena Herman signal their awareness of its pitfalls, noting that “the reception of one particular image varied depending on expectations [and the] beholder’s background.” Accordingly, these essays present manageably scoped case studies that consider varied discursive and artistic reactions to printed matter as valued historical evidence. Our editors deserve praise for compiling an engaging set of essays, carefully grouped for thematic unity. Topics address prints across Europe. The pool of contributors is correspondingly diverse, introducing many new voices from central and eastern Europe.
Jurkowlaniec and Herman have placed essays into sections entitled “Things,” “People,” and “Images.” Their introduction explains this parsing via a few briefly elaborated exempla. We read, for example, of an episode that repeated itself across Europe during the 16th century: a Polish printmaker named Johannes found himself before inquisitors under suspicion of heresy due to the possession of materials aligned with Luther. Records show that he defended himself by contending that his possession of prints by one “Olbricht Direr” were for viewing. By invoking the famous Dürer, the editors suppose, Johannes made his defense more acceptable. Thus, it seems that by mid-century, the broadest reception of printed matter included regard for its recently established status as a vehicle for artistry.
Essays in Part 1, “Things,” focus on the medium’s physical aspect. Suzanne Karr Schmidt weighs in with more of her findings on the physical condition of interactive prints: a Vera Icon pasted into a manuscript, a paper astrolabe, and a Memento Mori flap. For Karr Schmidt, what is missing from these images due to the wear and tear of repeated use is as important as what has remained of them. Olenka Horbatsch’s essay on prints after Lucas van Leyden pasted into an early sixteenth-century prayer book signals the medium’s importance for late illuminated manuscripts. False distinctions between singular manuscripts, incunabula, and stand-alone prints receive nuance. Other essays in this section explore late 15th-century Italian playing cards as evidence for prevailing figural modes (Loretta Vandi), the medium’s capacity for the transmission of ornamental designs in central Europe (James Wehn), and the use of prints as underdrawings in early 16th-century France (Maureen Warren).
Part 2, “People,” presents essays on the individuals involved in print production and reception. Giuseppi Capriotti charts responses to erotic Italian woodcuts illustrating Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Some images receive censorial alterations; others receive alterations heightening their erotic charge to the point of obscenity. Karolina Mroziewicz tracks the use of Maciej of Miechów’s Chronica Polonorum (1519) among Poland’s elite. We learn from Femke Speelberg about a mid-16th-century London printmaker, Thomas Gemini. Speelberg maps Gemini’s career trajectory onto his production of Marysse and Damashin Renewed and Encreased, which, she argues, comprised a crucial component in his bid to remain employed at the Tudor court. Mid-16th-century prints from Antonio Lafreri’s Roman press form the focus of Alexandra Kocsis’s essay. For Kocsis, Lafreri’s curation of a canon of printed religious images – many reproductive of Raphael, Michelangelo, and their followers – indicates his sensitivity to a market inflected by Counter Reform.
The essays in Part 3, “Images,” focus on prints’ role in the transmission of images across regions, media, and iconography as a marker of reception. Joanna Sikorska’s essay explores the use of Dürer’s St. George for the tomb of Ambroży Pampowski, a Jagiellonian court cleric. She links Pampowski’s high valuation of commemoration, his interest in print, and his Reform leanings with the selection of a Dürer motif for his tomb. Małgorzata Łazicka examines Dürer’s revisions in Hans Sebald Beham’s allegorical prints of Fortune and Misfortune. The transmission of Goltzius’s Four Elements to other media, including furniture and tiles, is the topic of Júlia Tátrai’s essay. Similarly, András Hándl traces the appearance of an image of the Adoration of God’s Lamb in several media. Jean Michel Massing closes the proceedings with the volume’s only globally-scoped essay, providing visual evidence for the reception of Jerome Nadal’s Evangelicae Historiae Imagines in Africa, Asia, and the Americas via Jesuit missions.
Problems are few, but notable. The inclusion of a single essay on a global topic risks criticisms of tokenism. Some essays present strong new findings without synthesis into compelling arguments. And some content suggests that Jurkowlaniec and Herman tried to shape a comprehensive, stand-alone volume, but did not follow through; some sections explain aspects of print that are conspicuously general in the context of the case-studies they support. Horbatsch’s essay, for example, signposts separate sections on the fundamentals of pasted and painted prints, despite this information’s general availability elsewhere. More organized insertions of this general sort, perhaps in the introduction or as prefaces to each part, would have aided intermediate-level readers. Some aspects of production are also problematic. Typographical errors are easy to find. Too many of Routledge’s images are murky, inexcusable for print, usually so easily reproduced in black and white. The plates at book’s end are not in color; their separation from the images appearing in each essay is therefore puzzling, unnecessary.
Still, the scholarship is strong. New findings abound. Essays cohere, giving a holistic sense of print’s pervasive effects on European culture beyond art. By the end of the 16th century, the print had indelibly altered discursive spheres great and small in Italy, the Low Countries, and beyond. Though we already knew this, this book shows us so much more about how it happened and includes much new material from unfamiliar regions of Europe.
Arthur J. DiFuria
Savannah College of Art and Design