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The Mattioli Woodcuts

Cyanus maior (Cornflower) printed on hand-made paper

Cyanus maior (Cornflower) printed on hand-made paper

Original woodcut block for Cyanus maior

Original woodcut block for Cyanus maior

 

The large woodcuts first shown in the 1562 and 1565 editions of Pietro Andrea Mattioli’s great herbal are among the most admired botanical illustrations of the sixteenth century. Mattioli’s Commantarii on the works of Dioscorides’ De materia medica went into over sixty editions in Latin and many European languages. Astonishingly, over 100 of the original pear-wood plank blocks exist, and nine of these have been printed in small numbers on the hand presses at I.M. Imprimit. They include only the second illustration of a tulip (t. gesneriana) in Western art.

The blocks are uneven, warped and woodwormed, but their printing surfaces are largely unaffected by age and wear. Printing each block by hand on a carefully prepared press was the only means to obtain the fine impressions which these ancient masterpieces of woodcut can still yield.

The wood-cut block for Cyanus maior on the press

The wood-cut block for Cyanus maior on the press

Prints of Cyanus maior (Cornflower) being hang-dried

Prints of Cyanus maior (Cornflower) being hang-dried

100 sets for sale and 50 hors commerce printed on Barcham Green laid paper, 285mm x 215mm, plus proof copies on eighteenth-century paper. The publication of this limited edition was accompanied by a book describing Mattioli’s works and cataloguing this surviving collection: The Mattioli woodblocks by Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London, Bernard Quaritch, London, and Antiquariaat Junk, Amsterdam, 1989.

A few individual Printer’s Proofs of the images are available.

Images (c) Ian Mortimer