Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Prague Haggadah
About the Prague Haggadah
     The contents of the Passover Haggadah comprises the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the vision of the vision of the future redemption from all exiles.  This double nature is reflected in its literary construction, its illustration additions, songs and commentaries.  Our ancestors became slaves in Egypt: G-d broughts us out of this slavery, through many miracles, to be free to settle in Israel. The Haggadah explains that without the miracle of this great deliverance, we, the descendants would still be slaves in Egypt. It is therefore a drama, which is reenacted annually on Passover eve.  Part of the text presents the ritual, while other parts include prescriptions for the actions and the reasons for them.  Artists who illustrated the Haggadah through the ages, depicted the slavery and the Exodus from Egypt, and added illustrations of the visions of the redemption, with creative and artistic impulse. The lively illustrations expressed the sentiments of freedom and joy felt by every Jew.  The text and illustrations had also a practical purpose to provoke questions from the children and thus give the father an opportunity to relate the story of the Exodus.

     The first printed Hebre2w book after the invention of printing, came off the press in 1475, and only a few years later, c. 1482 the Passover Haggadah was printed in Spain.  The Prague Haggadah was the first Haggadah to be printed in Central Europe after the Jews were expelled for Spain.  As the first printed illustrated Haggadah in Central Europe it was used as a prototype for many illustrated editions of the Haggadah printed later in Europe.  The Prague Haggadah is the first illustrated Haggadah to be preserved in its entirety, and till nowadays it is considerered as one of the most beautiful editions of the Haggadah. It isn't the first illustrated Haggadah, but it is the first to be executed with a care for aesthetic taste and feeling, apparent not only in the attractive woodcuts but also in the fine lettering, splendid initials and the general layout. mainly because it was competting with hand written Haggadahs.   The printer was Gershom Cohen, who reports that with the help of his brother Grenem Katz, finished the Prague Haggadah on the last day of the year 1526.  The artist who made the woodcuts was a man named Hayyim Shachor he signed four of the blocks with the hebrew letter shin It isn't know if he did all the blocks or had help from other unknown  artists.   The printers were competting with the artist who were still illuminating Haggadahs which is one of the reasons for the quality of printing and illustration.  There are four groups of woodcuts; the decorative words, the full page borders, the wide sceans, the marginal figures.  However, the artist economized on the number of woodcuts by reusing quite a number of them more than once.  Traditional Jewish subjects, motifs and iconography were fused with the more fashionable styles and layouts of contemporary religious illuminations and regional views, according to personal modern taste of the artist.  the Illuminated Haggadot before the invention of printing.  Illustrations of the symbols of the Passover holiday are found in fragments of Haggadot dating from the 9th and 10th ceenturies.  For example, we have the stylized representations of matza and maror in fragments of the Haggadah found in the Cairo Geniza.  Actual illustrated haggadot were created, apparently, only after the Haggadah became the independent composition.  The earliest ones seem to date from the 13th century, although no illustrated Haggadah earlier than the 14th century has come down to us.  At that time, the high point of theGothic style, when profound social and economic changes took place and urban centers began to prosper, workshops were established specializing in the production of books, especially religious ones.  This was the great period of Books of Hours- prayer books for the private use of the nobility and of wealthy bourgeois.

     Wealthy Jews imitated this fashion and began to commission illuminated manuscripts.  The Haggadah was particularly suitable for this purpose, in that it was smal and meant for home us.  In fact, there were more Haggadot written and illustrated before the 16th century in the communities of Spain, Germany, France and Italy than any other Hebrew manuscripts except for the Bible. in medieval Haggadot, traditional Jewish subjects and motifs are generally rendered in the style of pictures in Gentile manuscripts, except in the case of details describing specifically Jewish Elements (matza, maror and the like) or depictions in decidedly popular style.  At the same time, different kinds of illuminated Haggadot emerged in the different countries, the three main types are recongnized; Spanish, German, and Italian  Although all there share many traits, they are distiguishable by various local characteristics.

     The  Spanish Haggadah is generally composed of three parts;  the text, biblical miniatures taking up entire pages, and a collection of piyyutim (liturgical poems) to be sung in the synagogue.  The few illustrations are mainly of biblical scenes taking up whole pages.  Among extant Spanish Haggadot we should mention the
Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, 14th century), the Kaufmann Haggadah (Spain, end of the 14th century), and the Golden Haggadah (spain probably Barcelona, c. 1320)

     The "German" Haggadot originated in Germany and France. They are decorated with illuminations in the margins around the text.  In an early group of these Haggadot, amoung them the Dragon Haggadah (France 13th century) and the "birds' Head Haggadah" (south Germany, c. `1300), biblical scenes and depictions of customs appear in the margins together with detailed illustrations of the text itself.  A later group of Haggadot, the Yahuda Haggadah (south Germany, mid 15th century) among others, contains a continous series of biblical isllustrations with no direct relation to the text.  An exception in this group is the Darmstadt Haggadah ( Germany first half of the 15th century)  which contains very few illustrations of the text and customs, and no biblical illustrations at all..

       The third group is that of the Italian Haggadot.  Evidence suggests that these Haggadot are perhaps the earliest and it is possible that they served as a prototype for the Spanish and German types.  However, the earlier specimens were not preserved and those that have come down to us are relatively late.  The were created during the 15th century and apparently were influenced by German Haggadot in that they are decorated only in the margins of the text. TH migrations of German Jews (often violently expelled for example Nuremberg 1498) to Italy brought about the development of a new type of Italo-German Haggadah in which the style of the illustrations is Italian and the layout and script German.  The structure of the Haggadah in the "Rothschild Manuscript 24" (c 1470) is German, but the illuminations are in the style of the School of Ferrara.. Many manuscripts belonging to this group were produced in the workshop of Joel ben Simon and by the artists whom he influenced. 

     The first Jewish printing houses were established at the end of the 15th century.  The flourishing of the art of printing during 15th century.  The flourishing of the art of printing during the 16th and 17th centuries produced printed Haggadot accompanied by woodcuts which continued the tradition of the illuminated manuscripts.  However, alongside the printed Haggadot, the tradition of decorating and iluminating manuscripts did not die out, and, in fact, it  flourishs even today. Two examples the Torah is always hand written and on the other hand it is very popular to hand write Katubot, Jewish marriage lic.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

just finished cutting this maple wood block
the quality and the number of different kinds of had wood working tools has declined a great deal in the last 100 year back in 1880 for example there were doz's of different engraving tool manf. co.s now i think we are down to 2. some of the engraving tools no longer are produced at all. for example a ruling machine. the same thing applies to other types of wood working tools not just in the printing area.

the only new kind of engraving tool that was invented was the multi line tool and it was invented to rework photo etched plates. it just happens that the tool also works for wood engraving. remember all the different electric tools we have today had there hand powered versions a 100 years earlier and many of them now adays can only be found in antique stores and sometimes we have to take a guess what they were used for. they just took for granted that we would know what they were used for so like many moundain things they weren't written or illustrated
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  • John P Center one example i used to own was a chissel that had a backwards cut 'u' that when used left a positive 'u' shape as opposed to the normal 'u' you would get. then there were planes that had custom shapes that were used to make mouldings things we buy at the lumber yard or make with a router. they had all of these things in quebec and the american coloneies back in 1700 you can be sure they had a lot more in the old countries back in 1500.
     I have been a printmaker since 1970. I first discovered wood engraving in 1973, when i found a copy of Lynd Wards's Gods' Man and much later other works by this fine narrative artist. Gods' Man  is a novel without words; it is cut in an artistic style that was approachable to some one with a printmaking background. It is at this point that  I entered the world of wood engraving.  At times it is a self-centered art community with a history that has been influenced by other art movements but has kept to itself in a number of ways.  My early wood engeraving was very figurative and influenced by Lynd Ward and Kathe Kolowitz especially in regard to the political, radical subject matter.  At this point  I stopped doing art for personal reasons. except for a few years in the late seventies. About eight years ago (1992) with the helop of one of my sons I reentered the art world.  At this time I stared to do watercolors. It is a very difficult medium to do well especially if you don't do the typical subject matter of water colors.  About the same time I found a book on printmaking written by Ross, with modern verison of Albrect Durer's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse a print I have always been fond of.  I was in love with Eichenberg version of this print but I had forgotten that I owned a copy of it many years before.  It could be said that there is a connection between my work and Albrect  Durer's that goes back to my early undergraduate days when I came across Eichenberg's modern interpretation of the Four Horsemen. It was at this point that I again picked up a burin and engraved a piece of end grain maple.  You can engrave and print a completed wood engraving with a very limited amount of equipment.  A few engraving tools, a end grain maple block, a brayer, ink slab and a wooden spoon are all that you really need.  At this point that was all that I had.

I am a self-taught engraver & formschnider, I would study the book illustrations that wood engraving is know for.  The modern artist' engraving was much more approachable than the commerical engraving of the 19th century.  At first I was studying Lynd Ward and Fritz Eichenberg among others.  After I felt sure of my craft I wanted study the commerical engravers such as Tim Cole.  Most wood engraving is done in a traditional manner; even artist who approach it in a different manner such as Misch Kohn are still controlled by the traditional technique to a degree.Most wood engraving is done in black and white. I wanted to print some of mine in color. I then asked myself how to go about it? Any of the methods used in relief printmaking would work but some of them have their own drawbacks. I  found I could use the the color reduction method to print a photo in a realist manner.  I was at this point that I fell into the book arts world throught the M.C.B.A.  They were astounded that I was from Chicago and did not know of the Chicago Center for Book and Paper.  Currentl I am interested in abstract and reproductive printmakers both current ones and those from the beginning of western printmaking. Many artist from Albrect Durer to Rosenberg are influences upon the style of my work.  My work is becoming a little more abstract with details from printmaking'sfigurative past thrown into the mix. Some of these  figurative details are of a auto biographical nature.

The most important thing for the introduction of printmaking and printing in general in Europe was the introduction of papermaking  Both block printing, which was used in printing textiles, and metal engraving which was used in the decoration  of armor and by jeweleres were widely practiced art forms.  Note A. Durer's father was a goldsmith.  For example it was known to put ink into engraved lines on the armor and then rub it to preserve it for the next customer.

What is the role of printmaking in history and the present?

My craft had its beginnings with the block books, which were printed in the first half of the 15th century.  The first important early block books were the Biblia Pauperum or the preachers's Bible and the Speculum.  These are good examples of the early Book and they are the beginning of a type of work that leads to my art in the present. The two examples from my work in the block book format are the Passover Hagaddot  & the Book of Esther  that i did after my MFA degree.  With The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Durer tied to turn the print medium into a serious space for art.  What was the effect of the changing relationship between the manuscript and the printed book production?  Were the changes in the means of production caused by the various changes in the social organization of the times in Europe or did thse changes cause the  break up of the normative culture of the time?  It is my belief that the changes in the means of production of books and other things such as maps and prints caused many of the changes we will see in the European social development.  It was this change that we can chart in the various changes in social organization, politics and economics from feudalism of the pre-industrial period to the advent and advance of early capitalism in the 15th century.

     In 1452 Gutenberg discovered the idea of moveable type in Europe (the Chinese had been doing it for years before).  Gutenberg gets credit for this even though it can be shown that it developed elsewhere at the same time in places as diverse as Holland and in Prague.  But we should look at what he really did. First he improved upon the screw type press that was being used in wine making.  He took from the textile manufacture the idea of using wood blocks in printing and the idea that was also being used in block books at this time.  So why is  Gutenbert important?  Before his time, most books were written by the church.  The movable type press made "mass production" of books possible at a time when knowledge and literacy were not widespread.  In the 15th century, the rise of book publishing surely helped increase the number of people who could read.  (In the Jewish community reading was much more common at this time)  his invention lead to modern book publishing as we know it today.  But first we should understand that early printers were generally very small firms.  In the 16th century the press was of  modest operations-generally they might have five workers three working the press and two compositors.  The work was undoubtedly laborious (but less so than block book printing) and it became established in more than 250 cities around Europe.  Most printing was in the form of books and pamphlets.  So few technological changes were made between Gutenberg's time and the invention of Lithography in the late 18th century, that printed matter remained and expansive acquistion enjoyed by relatively few.  The jobbing printer was basically unknown, as the vast majority of the gentile european population remained illiterate.  It was still a slow and tedious process to print a book.  Saints pictures were popular with the unread population.

     In my work I ask the question is it art?  And what about the issue of originality?  Can work be reproductive and still be original?  This is clearly with in the history of printmaking as shown by the work of Hans Buldring Grurin  did do work in a Durer like manner.  An Example of this would be my interpretation of  Melancholy I   My work is entering a period of autobiographical study not unlike the self-portraits that were very important in Albrect Durer's art work.  (date 2000)

     What are the effects of reproductive printmaking on current printmaking practices and on my own work?

"The trade wood-engravers were an important feature of the 19th century printing industry, Thomas Bewich (1753-1828) had revolutionized the techique of wood-engraving by working on the end of the grain of the wood, instead of along the grain, and with a burin instead of a knife, and given the art a great new impetus.  He was indeed, the founder of that school of engravers whose finest work is to be seen  in the illustrated books of the 1860's.  These men were more than successful interpreters of the drawings of the eminent illustrators for whom they worked were; many of them were creative artist in their own right.  An examination of engravings by the brothers Delziel will soon prove the truth of this statement." 2 Printers Progress 1851-1951  Charles Rosner Cambridge, Harvard University press 1951

"Dore's drawings on the wood were done in a very hasty and slovenly way, mussed up and slopped over with India ink, Chinese white and pencil, and leaft to the engravers to clean up.  The engravers of the French school translated the drawings by Dore according to their individual styles, but not according to the drawings themselves. Pisan, Dannemaker and Jonnard absorbed most of 
Dore's output, which was prodigious.  These engravers kept apprentices to help out, and some of the work crossed the channel to London and was engraved by Linton.  The French engravers were making of Dore, and he in turn kept them on the go with a drawing every hour, and sometimes two and three."  3 pp 27 Timothy Cole  Wood Engraver.  N. Y., N.Y. the pioneer Associates

     The role of the wood-engraver was unlike the role of the formschnider and the woodcutter in Japanese woodcuts. The difference was that at the higher level of the craft he was given more latitude in how the finished product would look like.  The other two craftsmen just followed the artist's instruction or in some cases with the Japanese prints the dictates of the publisher.  On creativity; I haveno choice but to be creative and being an artist as I am compelled to do it by my very nature  It is some internal demand that i do not even control that commands me to creat.  The only thing that I control is the use of the the material and the related techniques and the content.  But the most important thing is the releasing of the message.  It is this idea the geoes into the essence of my making art.  It is this that is my artistic voice, the making public of my personal feelings and ideas.   When I am creative this is my nature.  At other times it is just my ideal of 'High' form of craftsmanship.  It is these ideas of craftsmanship that led me to a point where I hand no choice but to choose the media that i work in.  It is not an accident that I am an engraver/formschnider woodcutter.  The tight formalism that is part and parcel with this media is also a part of my very nature.  I feel I can get my message out the way I want to sometimes the nature of printmaking change, I would like to combine in my work the view of printmaking as it was in the past with the present.  I utilize techniques of the past that are not commonly used today, such as steel engraving and mezzotint, and ring them into m work now. I feel much has been lost.  The techniques of the craftsmen of the past are not being used now because the time to learn the and the people to teach them do not exist today.  So my study of the reproductive past in printmaking will hopefully bring forth fruit that I can use today and in the future.  I believe strongly that the styles and history of European art are important to my art.  It is very important for me to understand what went before.  In the future either using steel wood, or copper engraving (all of which came from past commerical printing) orusing the computer in my work (not)  to all of this it is just a tool like the ruling machine of the reproductive printmaker.

     Printmakers often feel that the print is the most important thing It is outside the normative view to make the matrix have an equal place with the print.  The shape of the pieces is as fellows. the  prints are framed in a modern interpretation of historical frames hand made by the artist.  The naure of their hanging will raise the historical issues I am concerned with.  The Block book will be chained to the lectern and the Post-Mortum Collaboration will be contained in a 19th century bookcase.  The matrices will be contaiined in a chest or curiosity cabinet.  All woodwork will be within historical norms for the craft.  I am trying to push my abil8ity in this area, using furniture-building techniques to compliment the prints  Each part of the piece will contain wooden hand made objects either as frames,(which will reeadily be apparent as an important part of the exhibit, not just to hole artwork).My method is to cut the matrix very meticulously either in wood, copper or steel and to print rather loosely.  Craftsmanship is a big component of the concept.


John Center

Artist statement

Printmaking Working Consideration an Elegy




     Printmaking Working Considerations and Elegy includes artist's books, prints, blocks and wood working that refer to the work of Albrect Durer.  It is best understood as a dialogue with History, I seek to understand and respond to the craftsmanship of the past in the present.  In my work you can see the hand of a art historian, The study of northern European woodcuts and metal engravings has led me to take a Hegalian dialectical approach to looking at movements from the past and making my own contribution to the art of the future.
Wood, copper, & steel have one thing in common I have engraved them all. They are all shown in this show, but wood is the key component as it is in all parts of the work.  It is used as the block for thewood engraving and wood cut, as part of the lectern, as part of the frames or as part of the wood carving.  The craftsmanship in working with this materiais important to me.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It remains an open question whether Dürer cut his own woodblocks or drew the design on the block and commissioned a highly skilled woodcutter to do the actual carving. The unparalleled subtlety with which the image was chiseled into the surface has been used as evidence both for and against Dürer's participation. The intricacies involved in shaping the patterns of curving and tapering lines in order to create pictorial effects never before achieved in woodcut must certainly have required Dürer's close supervision, if not his hand on the knife. The block, still in use more than a century after the artist's death, was recut in places to strengthen the image, which had begun to wear away. This is one of two Dürer blocks in the Metropolitan Museum's collection.
When Durer opened his workshop in Nuremberg in 1495,  at the age of twenty-four and relatively few commissions for paintings came his way, he was easily able, with the assistance of his godfather, the highly experienced publisher Anton Koberger, to set himself up as a print maker producing woodcuts and engravings.  These were the main source of his income, Although he regularly carried out individual commissions for paintings and occasionally prints, he profited most from the producing prints for an open market. In August 1509, he complained in a letter to the wealthy Frankfurt cloth merchant, Jacob Heller, for whom he had just taken over a year to paint an altarpiece, that if he had stuck to producing prints he would have been considerably better off.  Giulia Bartrum p. 10
In 1349 the members of the guilds unsuccessfully rebelled against the patricians in the Handwerkeraufstand (Craftsmen's Uprising), supported by merchants and some councillors, leading to a ban on any self-organisation of the artisans in the city, abolishing the guilds that were customary elsewhere in Europe; the unions were then dissolved, and the oligarchs remained in power while Nuremberg was a free city.[3][4] Charles IV conferred upon the city the right to conclude alliances independently, thereby placing it upon a politically equal footing with the princes of the empire.[4] Frequent fights took place with the burgraves without, however, inflicting lasting damage upon the city. After the castle had been destroyed by fire in 1420 during a feud between Frederick IV (since 1417 margrave of Brandenburg) and the duke of Bavaria-Ingolstadt, the ruins and the forest belonging to the castle were purchased by the city (1427), resulting in the city's total sovereignty within its borders. Through these and other acquisitions the city accumulated considerable territory.[4] The Hussite Wars, recurrence of the Black Death in 1437, and the First Margrave War led to a severe fall in population in the mid-15th century.[4] At the beginning of the 16th century, siding with Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria-Munich, in the Landshut War of Succession led the city to gain substantial territory, resulting in lands of 25 sq mi (64.7 km2), becoming one of the largest Imperial cities.[4]
"But in fact Nurembergs patricians had banned the formation of guilds in the city after the cratsmen's rebellion of 1348-49"  Nuremberg the Imaginary Capital, Stephen Brockman   p 99
"Nuremberg was a city of great wealth, largely created by the high-quality goods, particularly metalware, produced by its craftsmen.  As a center of trade it was a focal point within the Holy Roman Empire. (which was neither holy or roman)* (a center joke) The imperial relics and regalia were housed in Nuremberg; they were displayed annually and attracted large numbers of prominent visitors to the city.  The arts and crafts were controlled in a manner that was conducive to Durer's spirit of free enterprise. Once he had completed the required period of training and experience, a journeyman became a master in his own right and was thereby qualified to open a workshop and employ apprentices.  In most cities, the strict conditions and regulations of training were set by the guilds, who required the production of a "masterpiece" before anyone could acquire the status of master.  There were, however, no guilds in Nuremberg.  Certain trades were known as 'sworn crafts' and controlled by the Rugamt, which was composed of delegates from the Lesser Council, but others, which included painting and sculpting, were known as the 'free arts' and answered directly to the city council."   German Renaissance prints 1490-1550  Giulia Bartrum.  page 9.

Sunday, February 10, 2013