Unknown Netherlandish artist
active medio 15th century
Saturn, Ca. 1460
Woodcut, hand-coloured through, 270 × 183 mm
The Coloured Woodcut
This work is an example of a coloured woodcut. It comes from the so-called Planet Book from the 1460s. It consists of seven leaves showing the consequences of being born under a specific planet.
Colouring woodcuts by hand was a timeconsuming task. A faster — and hence cheaper — method applied colour by means of stencils. A stencil was used for each colour to be applied; the pigments would only tint the paper in those places where holes had been cut in the stencil. It is evident that the colours by no means always hit the right spots, thereby creating what to our modern eyes can seem a somewhat sloppy effect.
The use of stencil never became a major success, and in the late 15th and early 16th centuries experiments were conducted in order to find other methods that could compete with hand-coloured woodcuts in both aesthetic and economic terms. Erhard Ratdolt (1442-1528) was a major figure within this field. In 1486 he set up a printing press in Augsburg where he printed the first coloured woodcut illustrations in books by using multiple blocks; examples include Hans Burgkmair’s Crucifixion from 1494, which was featured in a book of prayers. Four blocks were used for that particular woodcut.