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Picture This: Fall Exhibit Illustrates Book History

Helen Burnside. Round Nature's Dial.
New York: Routledge, 1887.

The Libraries’ fall exhibit is Picture This: Five Centuries Of Book Illustration, an introduction to printing processes used in the illustration of books from the 15th century to the present. Each featured process is illustrated by both typical and extraordinary specimens from Special Collections and Archives.

Book illustration is an art that is equally decorative and didactic. In its finest form, it makes information more understandable, interesting, and – for many people – more palatable. Illustration is a means by which texts are enhanced, since images can convey information and emotion in a way that words alone cannot.

The first illustrated printed books were regarded as inferior to the lavishly illuminated manuscripts they sought to replace. Many of their illustrations were, in fact, quite crude. But the potential of the illustrated book was shortly realized with the popular reception of works such as Liber Chronicarum (better known as The Nuremberg Chronicle) in 1493 and brilliant illustrations by artists such as Dürer and Grüninger.

Exhibit Poster

Until the second half of the 19th century, book illustrations had a representative relationship with the text. But with the rise of modernism and the avant garde, authors and artists began exploring new modes of narrative and representation and sought new relationships between text and image. A rapidly growing repertoire of illustration processes, which began to include photomechanical methods, enabled artists to express their wildest imaginings. With the development of the 20th century artists’ book in which format, typography, and graphics work together to produce an artistic object, the separation of text and image became even less distinct.

At present, illustrators have an astounding number of processes from which to choose, from the ancient practice of illustration by hand, to modern born-digital prints, to any number of hybrid processes. The exhibit features both the traditional processes of relief, intaglio (engraving and etching), and lithograph, as well as more recent ones such as stencil, silkscreen, and digital. Viewers will enjoy an overview of past and present practice, and perhaps a glimpse of what is to come.

Picture This was curated by Special Collections librarian Ryan Hildebrand (hildebrj@uci.edu or x42263). The exhibit opens on November 14, 2006 in the Reynolds Gallery of Langson Library. A talk by Stephen Tabor, the Huntington Library’s distinguished Curator of Early Printed Books, will be followed by a reception. Reservation requested. Please call (949) 824-5300 or email partners@uci.edu.



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