Durer was one of the first artists to take advantage of printing technology. He carved drawings into blocks of wood, which were then inked and put onto a printing press, which then made thousands of copies. Others had done woodcuts before, but Durer turned the “print” into great art.
Cranach too made prints of great quality. He added an innovation: making prints in color, first by just coloring them in and later developing printing with multiple blocks. Furthermore, Cranach owned a printing press. Not only did he churn out prints that expressed the message of the Reformation. He made illustrations for Luther’s vernacular translations of the Bible. And he was its first publisher.
What this means is that Durer and Cranach turned visual art into a mass medium. Now, people didn’t have to go to church or to a palace to see a picture. They could own pictures themselves and tack them up on the walls of their homes. The mechanical reproduction of images–and print technology, which eventually made use of chemicals on metal plates–would eventually lead to other mass media, including photography, motion pictures, television, and what we now take for granted on the internet.
So the next time you see a mass produced image, thank a Reformation artist.
Durer’s “Last Supper”:
Cranach’s “Law & Gospel”: