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The business of prints

This wide-ranging exhibition selects fine examples from the nation’s print collection to look at how prints were created, developed, bought and sold in the period 1400–1850.

Before photography, each pictorial image had to be made by hand. The process involved expert craftsmen at every stage, from initial design through to completed print. The printing trade employed thousands of people in the 450 years it flourished in Europe and produced everything from banknotes, maps and music to portraits and playing cards.

This huge variety has often been overlooked by exhibitions that have tended to focus on artworks and notable subjects rather than the process of printmaking itself. This exhibition reveals a fuller history of prints by examining how they were made, used and collected, and how they became such a significant part of European society, trade and commerce.

The exhibition includes sections on production, lettering, usage, and quality and collecting. It features an extraordinary range of works, from cheap satirical prints intended for the mass market, to masterpieces by Rembrandt, Dürer and Goya.

Many of the works and themes are explored more fully in the comprehensive book "The Print Before Photography" by the former Keeper of Prints and Drawings Antony Griffiths.

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