King's College London
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From woodcut to photograph: techniques of book illustration

Emblem books

Engraving showing two mythical beings sitting by a sunflower, beneath the sunEngraved illustration: Divine Love points the Soul towards the sunflowerOtto van Veen (1556-1629) was a Flemish painter and draughtsman. In the late 1570s he spent five years in Rome, where he was inspired by Italian art. Towards the end of his career he turned his attention to writing and illustrating books, of which his three emblems books are the best known.

The emblem book blossomed as an artistic genre in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. An emblem presented a moral fable pictorially with an accompanying motto and epigram. In Amoris divini emblemata, Van Veen reworked the popular love emblems from his 1608 work Amorum emblemata into a religious form. In this charming illustration, engraved by Cornelis Boel (c1576-c1621), Divine Love points the Soul towards the sunflower.

Amoris divini emblemata was first published in Antwerp in 1615. This edition was printed in 1660 at the Plantin Press under Balthazar Moretus (1615-74). The founding of the printing establishment of Christophe Plantin (1520-89) in Antwerp in 1555 transformed the city into a major centre for book production and in 1559 Plantin published his first book with copperplate engravings.

Van Veen’s most illustrious pupil was Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) who studied as a young man at his teacher’s studio in Antwerp at the end of the 16th century. Rubens made a significant contribution to book illustration, creating elaborate designs for some 48 title pages for the Plantin Press and training a school of engravers to cut them.

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