How Durer & Cranach helped invent the internet

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”:

Durer's Last Supper

Cranach’s “Law & Gospel”:

Cranach's Law & Gospel

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    I just finished reading Roland Bainton's excellent biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand, which is chalk full of Cranach's and other Sixteenth Century woodcuts, all of which tell Luther's great, story with fine graphics, surely an important part of the success of the Reformation. Bainton accumulated an impressive collection of these woodcuts that beautifully adorn his scholarship.

    Getting involved with this blog has caused me to read up on Luther whom I now, belatedly, see was a brilliant, courageous Heaven sent man who necessarily changed the course of world history.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/PeterLeavitt PeterLeavitt

    I just finished reading Roland Bainton's excellent biography of Martin Luther, Here I Stand, which is chalk full of Cranach's and other Sixteenth Century woodcuts, all of which tell Luther's great, story with fine graphics, surely an important part of the success of the Reformation. Bainton accumulated an impressive collection of these woodcuts that beautifully adorn his scholarship.

    Getting involved with this blog has caused me to read up on Luther whom I now, belatedly, see was a brilliant, courageous Heaven sent man who necessarily changed the course of world history.

  • Veith

    I'm glad of that, Peter. I'm glad you're here. Yes, Bainton's biography is a stunning piece of scholarship.

  • Veith

    I'm glad of that, Peter. I'm glad you're here. Yes, Bainton's biography is a stunning piece of scholarship.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ptmccain ptmccain

    Peter, you might enjoy seeing the woodcuts and illustrations in this book, including a number of Cranach paintings:

    http://www.cph.org/concordia

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ptmccain ptmccain

    Peter, you might enjoy seeing the woodcuts and illustrations in this book, including a number of Cranach paintings:

    http://www.cph.org/concordia

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    anyone have any idea how they transferred durer´s wood cuts to printed books? or is that a dumb question…..??

    durer rocks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    anyone have any idea how they transferred durer´s wood cuts to printed books? or is that a dumb question…..??

    durer rocks.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    They put the carved woodblocks on the printing press just as they did the lead type; inked them; pressed paper onto them; then, after all the paper was printed, assembled it into pages.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    They put the carved woodblocks on the printing press just as they did the lead type; inked them; pressed paper onto them; then, after all the paper was printed, assembled it into pages.

  • Veith

    They put the carved wood block on the printing press along with the tray that held the lead type. Then they put ink on the surfaces. Then they pressed sheets of paper onto them. Then they assembled the pages into books.

  • Veith

    They put the carved wood block on the printing press along with the tray that held the lead type. Then they put ink on the surfaces. Then they pressed sheets of paper onto them. Then they assembled the pages into books.


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