Speaking of woodblock printing in Europe during the Renaissance…
Jost Amman was born in Zurich, Switzerland on June 13, 1539. He was the son of a distinguished professor of logic, rhetoric, Latin, and Greek. As many young men did because of opportunity, Jost moved to Nuremberg, Germany around 1961 (about the age of forty-seven). Although it appears he was reticent to give up his Swiss citizenship, he eventually became naturalized in order to take advantage of legal and financial benefits. The city, proud to claim such an important artist as one of its own, awarded him a rather lavish house. As a bonus, Amman was exempt from having to pay certain taxes on the property. (The philosophy of the one percent seems alive and well even as early as the German Renaissance!)
Amman was highly prolific as an artist. His illustrations graced many publications and books, and were used and re-used as reference illustrations repeatedly through the years in subsequent publications. Although it is verifiable that Amman knew the trade and techniques of woodblock carving—and indeed, produced a fair amount which can be attributed directly to him—it is not thought to be his primary artistic medium. Like so many masters in their workshops, it is thought that he provided his drawings to several of his workshop apprentices and craftsmen, who executed the carvings in his stead. Amman’s forté was apparently in the invention of the image and in drawing. Many witness reports attest to his prolific output.
Jost Amman held that certain special place is society that broached convention regarding social class. In other words, his familial background placed him from the scholarly and academic realm (thus undoubtedly instilling an appreciation for classical studies and what we today would call Renaissance Humanism); but his brother was a goldsmith (and Jost himself married the daughter of another goldsmith), and his artistic and experience in the publishing trade placed him securely within the merchant business class. Not only that, but his artistic success placed him in a higher class altogether, giving him genteel privileges.
The images below are a small representation of Allegorical images (personifications of the immaterial—in the words of Plato—or personifications of the Virtues—in terms of Middle Age moral pedagogy). These images come from one of Jost Amman’s most famous publications, his Kunstbüchlin, originally published by Sigmund Feyerabend in 1578 (in both Latin and German). The original title of the book was actually Kunst und Lehrbüchlein für die anfahenden Jungen Daraus reissen und Malen zu lernen Darinnen allerley Art lustige und artliche fürreissung von Manns und Weibsbildern Desgleichen von Kindlein Thierlein und anderen stücklein. Allen liebhabenden Jungen dieser Kunst zum besten an tag geben. (Translated as: Art and instruction book for young beginners, from which to learn how to draw and paint; containing all sorts of cheerful and pleasant illustrations of men and women, also of little children, little animals, and other subjects; published for the benefit of all young people who love this art.)
These particular images come from the fourth edition published in 1599 (after Amman’s death).* Click on any image for a larger view. Within the light box, click on the “i” at the bottom of the picture to generate further commentary on each image.
*Amman, Jost. 293 Renaissance Woodcuts for Artists and Illustrators: Jost Amman’s Kunstbüchlin with a new introduction by Alfred Werner. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1968). [an unabridged and unaltered republication of Jost Amman’s Kunstbüchlin, as published by Johann Feyerabend, Frankfurt a. M., in 1599.] The publication specifically indicates that reproduction of illustrations is permitted.