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Color Prints before Erhard Ratdolt: Engraved Paper Instruments in Lazarus Beham’s Buch von der Astronomie (Cologne: Nicolaus Götz, c. 1476)

The fifteenth-century origins of color printmaking have largely been neglected in both the history of the book and the history of art. After a brief but fertile period of research waned around 1910, only a few more incunable color prints have come to light. The known corpus consists of some monochrome and bi-color printed type, initials and printers’ devices; several monochrome copper engravings; and many of the multi-color woodcut illustrations that Erhardt Ratdolt (active in Venice c.1474–86 and in Augsburg 1486–1527/8) published from the 1480s. This article documents for the first time two incunable engravings that were printed in color to illustrate the so-called Buch von der Astronomie (c. 1476) issued by the innovative printer Nicolaus Götz (active in Cologne 1474–80). One survives in monochromatic impressions in black and in red and the other survives in monochromatic black and various bi-color combinations of red and black. They demonstrate that multi-color prints, color-printed book illustrations, and color-printed intaglio designs first appeared in an earlier decade than has been realized. By reconstructing the techniques of their production, this article offers new insights into both the role of color in early printing projects and the combination of intaglio printmaking with typography. The findings contribute to current research trends exploring the earliest development and dissemination of color printmaking techniques in the history of art, the history of science and the history of the book.
Relevant research areas: Western Europe, Medieval, Book arts, Engraving