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PRINTS
AND
VISUAL COMMUNICATION
by
WILLIAM M.
JtVINS, JR.
EMERITUS CURATOR OF PRINTS
THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
First published in
U.S.A. 1953
Press
by Harvard University
Cambridge Massachusetts
Printed in Great Britain
by Butler & Tanner Limited
Frame and London
TO
THE MEMORY
OF
F.W.I.
CONTENTS
PREFACE
I.
II.
HI.
IV.
V.
VI.
INTRODUCTION
MUNICATION
page
THE BLOCKED ROAD TO PICTORIAL COM-
1
THE ROAD BLOCK BROKEN
THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY
SYMBOLISM AND SYNTAX
SIXTEENTH CENTURY
A RULE OF THE ROAD
THE TYRANNY BROKEN
21
THE
51
THE TYRANNY OF THE RULE
EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
PICTORIAL
THE SEVENTEENTH AND
71
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
STATEMENT WITHOUT SYNTAX
NEW
REPORTS
AND NEW
113
VISION
CENTURY
Vin.
93
THE NINE-
TEENTH CENTURY
VII.
Vll
THE
NINETEENTH
135
RECAPITULATION
158
INDEX
181
IX
I
INTRODUCTION
THE BLOCKED ROAD TO
PICTORIAL COMMUNICATION
1916 and 1917,
Metropolitan
started, there
IN
when
Museum
was much
the department of prints of the
of Art in New York was being
talk
and argument about what the
character of its collection should be. In the course of those
discussions I
became aware that the backward countries of the
world are and have been those that have not learned to take
full
advantage of the possibilities of pictorial statement and communication, and that many of the most characteristic ideas and
abilities of our western civilization have been intimately related to
our skills exactly to repeat pictorial statements and communications.
experience during the following years led me to the belief
that the principal function of the printed picture in western
Europe and America has been obscured by the persistent habit of
My
regarding prints as of interest and value only in so far as they can
be regarded as works of art. Actually the various ways of making
P.V.C.
1
C
INTRODUCTION
photography) are the only methods by which
can be made about anyexactly repeatable pictorial statements
of being able exactly to repeat pictorial
thing. The importance
prints (including
undoubtedly greater for science, technology, and
general information than it is for art.
Historians of art and writers on aesthetic theory have ignored
statements
is
the fact that most of their thought has been based on exactly
repeatable pictorial statements about works of art rather than
upon
first-hand acquaintance with them.
Had they paid
to that fact they might have recognized the extent to
own
attention
which
their
thinking and theorizing have been shaped by the limitations
imposed on those statements by the graphic techniques. Photography and photographic process, the last of the long succession
of such techniques, have been responsible for one of the greatest
changes in visual habit and knowledge that has ever taken place,
and have led to an almost complete rewriting of the history of art
as well as a most thoroughgoing revaluation of the arts of the past.
makes much
of the invention in the mid-fifteenth century of ways to print words
from movable types, it is customary in those histories to ignore the
slightly earlier discovery of ways to print pictures and diagrams.
Although every history of European
civilization
A book, so far as it contains a text, is a container of exactly repeatan exactly repeatable order. Men
have been using such containers for at least five thousand years.
Because of this it can be argued that the printing of books was no
more than a way of making very old and familiar things more
able
word symbols arranged
even be said that for a while type printing was
more than a way to do with a much smaller number of proof
cheaply. It
little
in
may
readings. Prior to 1501
few books were printed in editions larger
than that handwritten one of a thousand copies to which Pliny the
Younger referred in the second century of our era. The printing of
pictures,
however, unlike the printing of words from movable
brought a completely new thing into existence it made
possible for the first time pictorial statements of a kind that could
be exactly repeated, during the effective life of the
surface.
types,
printing
2
THE BLOCKED ROAD
This exact repetition of pictorial statements has had incalculable
effects
upon knowledge and thought, upon science and technology,
It is hardly too much to
say that since the invention
of writing there has been no more important invention than that
of the exactly repeatable pictorial statement.
of every kind.
Our
failure to realize this
comes
in large
measure from the
meaning and implications of the word ‘print* during
the last hundred years. For our great grandfathers, and for their
fathers back to the Renaissance, prints were no more and no less
change in the
than the only exactly repeatable pictorial statements they knew.
Before the Renaissance there were no exactly repeatable pictorial
statements. Until a century ago, prints made in the old techniques
the functions that are now filled by our line cuts and half
filled all
by our photographs and blueprints, by our various colour
processes, and by our political cartoons and pictorial advertisements. If we define prints from the functional point of view so
tones,
by any restriction of process or aesthetic
becomes obvious that without prints we should have very
indicated, rather than
value,
it
few of our modern
logies
for. all
sciences, technologies, archaeologies, or ethno-
of these are dependent,
first
or
last,
upon informa-
by exactly repeatable visual or pictorial statements.
This means that, far from being merely minor works of art,
tools of modern
prints are among the most important and powerful
tion conveyed
and thought. Certainly we cannot hope to realize their actual
we get away from the snobbery of modern print collectthem as exactly
ing notions and definitions and begin to think of
life
role unless
without regard
repeatable pictorial statements or communications,
to the accident of rarity or what for the moment we may regard as
We
must look at them from the point of view of
we must
general ideas and particular functions, and, especially,
think about the limitations which their techniques have imposed
on them as conveyors of information and on us as receivers of that
aesthetic merit.
information.
From
the making of
very ancient times materials suitable for
3
INTRODUCTION
have been available, and apposite skills and crafts have been
for the making
familiar, but they were not brought into conjunction
prints
of exactly repeatable pictorial statements in Europe until roughly
about A.D. 1400. In view of this it is worth while to try to think
about the situation as it was before there were any prints.
seems to be the usual custom to begin with the ancient
Greeks when discussing anything that has to do with culture, I
shall follow the precedent. There is no possible doubt about the
As
it
intelligence, the curiosity,
and the mental
agility
of a few of the
old Greeks. Neither can there be any doubt about the greatness of
their influence on subsequent European culture, even though for
the last five hundred years the world has been in active revolt
For a very long time we have been
against Greek ideas and ideals.
taught that after the Greeks there came long periods in which men
were not so intelligent as the Greeks had been, and that it was not
until the Renaissance that the so intelligent
was to some extent recovered.
Greek point of view
I believe that this teaching, like its
general acceptance, has come about because people have confused
their ideas of what constitutes intelligence with their ideas about
what they have thought of, in the Arnoldian sense, as culture.
Culture and intelligence are quite different things. In actual life,
people who exemplify Arnoldian culture are no more intelligent
than other people, and they have very rarely been among the great
creators, the discoverers of new ideas, or the leaders towards social
enlightenment.
Most of what we think of as
culture
is little
more
than the unquestioning acceptance of standardized values.
Historians until very recent times have been literary men and
As students of the past they have rarely found anywere
not looking for. They have been so full of wonder
thing they
at what the Greeks said, that they have paid little attention to what
philologues.
the Greeks did not do or know.
They have been so
full
of horror
Dark Ages did not say, that they have paid no attention
what they did do and know. Modern research, by men who are
aware of low subjects like economics and technology, is rapidly
at what the
to
4
2
S
Metal cut of
St.
Martin, Reduced.
THE BLOCKED ROAD
changing our ideas about these matters. In the Dark Ages, to use
their traditional
name, there was
of the niceties of literature,
but
many
minds to
little
assured leisure for pursuit
philosophy, and theoretical science,
people, nevertheless, addressed their perfectly good
art,
and mechanical problems. Moreover,
those
through
academically debased centuries, so far from there
having been any falling off in mechanical ability, there was an
social, agricultural,
all
of discoveries and inventions that gave the Dark
them the Middle Ages, a technology, and, therefore, a logic, that in many most important respects far surpassed
anything that had been known to the Greeks or to the Romans of
unbroken
series
Ages, and
after
the Western Empire.
As to the notorious degradation of the Dark Ages, it is to be
remembered that during them Byzantium was an integral part of
Europe and actually its great political centre of gravity. There was
no iron curtain between the East and the West. Intercourse between them was constant and unbroken, and for long periods
Byzantium was in actual control of large parts of Italy. We forget
word Romagna, and of the Byzantine arts of
Italy. These things should be borne in mind in
view of the silent implication that Byzantium, from which later on
so much of Greek learning came to the West, never lost that
the meaning of the
Venice and South
learning. This implication
is
probably quite an untrue one. Both
East and West saw a great decline in
letters.
The Academy
at
Athens was closed in A.D. 529. At Byzantium the university was
abolished in the first half of the eighth century. Psellos said that
in the reign of the
Emperor Romanes (1028-34) the learned
at
Constantinople had not reached further than the portals of Arisand only knew by rote a few catch words of Platonism. The
totle
Emperor Constantine (1042-54) revived the university on a small
scale and made Psellos its first professor of philosophy. Psellos
taught Platonism, which he personally preferred to the then reigning variety of Aristotelianism. So far as concerned intellectual
activity there
was probably much more in the West than
East, though directed at such different ends that
5
it
in the
evaded the
INTRODUCTION
Where
become
attention of students trained in the traditional classical lore.
the East let so
gradually
much
static
intelligence to
and
new
of the inherited culture as
dull,
retained
West turned from it and addressed its
new things.
it was the Dark Ages
values and
In spite of all this
practically
the
it
that transmitted to us
we have of Greek and Roman literature,
If the Dark Ages had not to a certain
all
philosophy.
interested in such things it
probable that
is
science,
and
extent been
we should have very
who
laboriously copy out
People
and Cicero,
by hand the works of Plato and Archimedes, Lucretius
of
accused
be
cannot
and
Plotinus
being completely
Augustine,
little
of
the classical literatures.
devoid of so-called intellectual interests.
themselves had forgotten
much
We forget that the Greeks
of their mathematics before the
easy to overlook such a thinker as
the middle of the eleventh centBerengar, in the West, who, about
we
of
what
much
regard as Greek thought by assertury, challenged
Dark Ages began, and
ing that there
is
it is
no substance
in matter aside
from the
accidents.
the culture, of the Dark and
intelligence, as distinct from
Middle Ages, is shown by the fact that in addition to forging the
The
foundations of modern Europe and giving it a new faith
and morality, those Ages developed a great many of what today
political
among the most basic processes and devices. The Greeks and
Romans had no thought of labour-saving devices and valued
are
machinery principally for
its
use in war
just as
was the case in
the Old South of the United States, and for much the
same reasons.
To see this, all one has to do is to read the tenth book of Vitruvius.
The Dark and Middle Ages in their poverty and necessity produced
the first great crop of Yankee ingenuity.
The breakdown of the Western Empire and the breakdown of
its
power plant were intimately related to each other. The Romans
not only inherited all the Greek technology but added to it, and
they passed all this technology on to the Dark Ages. It consisted
principally in the manual dexterity and the brute animal force of
human beings, most of them in bondage. In the objects that have
come down to us from classical times there is little evidence of any
6
THE BLOCKED ROAD
working and spreading mechanical ingenuity As shown by
Stonehenge, the moving and placement of heavy stones goes back
actively
.
of the beginnings of written history. The Romans did not, however,
pass on to the Dark Ages in the West the constantly renewed
supply of slaves that constituted the power plant about which the
predatory Empire was built. In other words, the Dark Ages found
themselves stranded with no power plant and with no tradition
or culture of mechanical ingenuity that might provide another
power plant of another kind. They had
to start
from
scratch.
The
wonder, under all the circumstances, is not that they did so
badly but that they did so well.
The great task of the Dark and the Middle Ages was to build
real
We
for a culture of techniques and technologies.
are apt to forget
that it takes much longer to do this than it does to build up a
and philosophy, one reason for this being that the
of
culture
of technologies requires much harder and
a
creation
culture of art
more accurate
thinking. Emotion plays a surprisingly small part
and operation of machines and processes, and,
curiously, you cannot make a machine work by flogging it. When
the Middle Ages had finally produced the roller press, the platen
press, and the type-casting mould, they had created the basic tools
in the design
for
modern
times.
We have for so
literature,
of
long been told about the philosophy,
classical antiquity,
art,
and
and have put them on such a
pedestal for worship, that we have failed to observe the patent fact
that philosophy, art, and literature can flourish in what are technologically very primitive societies,
and that the
classical peoples
were actually in many ways of the greatest importance not only
very ignorant but very unprogressive. Progress and improvement
were not
classical ideals.
effect that the past
was
The trend of classical thought was to
better than the present
the
and that the story
of human existence was one of constant degradation. In spite of all
the romantic talk about the joy and serenity of the Greek point of
view, Greek thought actually developed into a deeply dyed pessimism that coloured and hampered all classical activities.
7
INTRODUCTION
worth while to give a short list of some of the
Romans did not know, and that the Middle
and
things the Greeks
I shall cite I am indebted
Ages did know. For most of the examples
on
remarkable
White’s
to Lynn
Technology and Invention
essay
It is, therefore,
Middle Ages. 1 The classical Greeks and Romans, although
horsemen, had no stirrups. Neither did they think to shoe the
in the
hooves of their animals with plates of metal nailed to them. Until
the ninth or tenth centuries of our era horses were so harnessed
that they pushed against straps that ran high about their necks in
such a way that if they threw their weight and strength into then-
work they
know how
did the classical peoples
strangled themselves. Neither
to harness draft animals in front of each other so that
to pull great weights. Men
large teams could be used
animals the ancients had that could pull efficiently.
were the only
They did not
even have wheelbarrows. They made little or no use of rotary
motion and had no cranks by which to turn rotary and reciprocating motion into each other. They had no windmills. Such
water wheels as they had came late and far between. The classical
Greeks and Romans, unlike the Middle Ages, had no horse
collars,
algebra, no gunpowder, no compass, no cast iron,
no paper, no deep ploughs, no spinning wheels, no methods of
think of trying to
distillation, no place value number systems
extract a square root with either the Greek or the Roman system
no
spectacles, no
of numerals!
The engineers who,
in the sixth century A.D. ?
brought the great
monolith that caps the tomb of Theodoric across the Adriatic and
set it in place, were in no way inferior to the Greek and Roman
engineers.
The
twelfth-century cathedrals of France represent a
knowledge of engineering, of stresses and
strains,
and a mechanical
beyond anything dreamed of in classical times. The
Athenian Parthenon, no matter what its aesthetic qualities, was
but child’s play as engineering compared to buildings like the
ingenuity far
cathedrals at
It is
Rheims and Amiens.
perhaps hard for us,
1
Speculum, vol.
who have been educated
XV,
8
p. 141 (April 1940).
in the fag
THE BLOCKED ROAD
end of the traditional humanistic worship of the classical peoples,
to realize that what happened in the ninth and tenth centuries of
our era in North-Western Europe was an economic revolution
based on animal power and mechanical ingenuity which may be
likened to that based on steam power which took place in the late
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It shifted the economic
and political centre of gravity away from the Mediterranean with
technological ineptitude to the north-west, where it has been
ever since. This shift may be said to have had its first official
its
recognition in the two captures of Constantinople in 1203 and
1204. It is customary from the philological point of view to regard
these captures as a horrible catastrophe to light and learning, but
in fact they actually led to the wiping out of the most influential
centre of unprogressive backward-looking traditionalism there was
in Europe.
is
In view of the things the Greeks and Romans did not know, it
possible that the real reason for the so-called darkness of the
Dark Ages was
the simple fact that they were
still
in so
many ways
so very classical.
It is well to remember things of this kind when we are told
about the charm of life in Periclean Athens or in the Rome of the
Antonines, and
how superior it was to that of all the ages that have
succeeded them. The inescapable facts are that the Greek and
Roman civilizations were based on slavery of the most degrading
kind, that slaves did not reproduce themselves, that the supply was
only maintained by capture in predatory warf^e, and that slavery
incompatible with the creation of a highly developed technology.
Although a few of the highly educated Greeks went in for pure
mathematics and theoretical science, neither they nor the educated
is
Romans
ever lowered themselves to banausic pursuits.
They never
thought of doing laborious, mechanical things more efficiently or
with less human pain and anguish unless they were captured and
sold into slavery, and what they thought then did not matter. As
these things in the end are of great ethical importance, it should
also be remembered that the so cultured Greeks left it to the brutal
all
9
INTRODUCTION
Romans to …
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