JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #102
Artists' pattern books of the 16th century are, in a way, somewhat like our present
clip art books. They were certainly used by artists and students for details that
they were not privy to as well as for inspiration; they were in some sense meant to
be copied directly by those looking for bits and pieces to help flesh out a design
for an armorial or coat of arms or bit of a title page. So they were in fact intended to
function somewhat like a clip art book.
One of the great pattern books printed in the second half of the sixteenth century belonged to Jobst Amman and began publication in Frankfurt in 1578: Kunstbuchlin. Kunst und Lehrbuchlein fur die anfahenden Jungen Daraus reissen und Malen zu lernen Darinnen allerley Art lustige. ..(Art and instruction book for young beginners, from
which to learn how to draw and paint; containing all sorts of cheerful and pleasant illustrations of men and women, also of little children, little animals and other
subjects; published for the benefit of all young people who love this art). It really was intended for instruction in the arts for children but also served as a
comprehensive pattern book for artists, jobber printers, craftsmen and the
like-basically a clip art book of the 16th century, without the "clip" part. (This
book would've been studied, copied, and studied again, used for inspiration-it was
not meant to have the images cut out and applied.) There were 293 images in this
book-each woodcut printed on its own page, with book standing about 12 inches
tall-and for the most part featured women, children, pagan gods, religious leaders,
emblemata, allegorical scenes, and perhaps most interesting from my point of view,
scenes of people in different professions from all stations of life. Amman was
interested really in performing an artistic function, and really didn't have a
religious or moral authority that he was trying to sell to the reader. So, in that
way, his work was really pretty unusual, and, if you look hard enough, a delightful
insight into some aspects of "common life" of 1578, from the styles of unpretentious
clothing to how and where people worked. His attention to detail and minuatiae
makes this work a valuable, snap-shot like visualizations of tiny aspects of a past
In his later years, Jost Amman created woodcuts for some of the greatest
illustrated books of his time, including titles as the Bible, Livy's History of
Rome, Flavius's Jewish War, Reynard the Fox, the Kunstbuchlin, (1578), books on
hunting, warfare, cooking and women's fashion.> He was truly prodigious, though it
is unlikely that he created every work of art by himself-what probably happened was
that he undertook all of the designs and then (again, probably) fanned out the work
to be finished, with artists helping him to finish the original designs and
woodcutters to actually make the woodblocks.
Sadly, A later edition of the Kunstbuchlin appeared in 1599-after Amman was
dead-which was expanded to include previously-published Amman images that,
beautiful as they were, had nothing really to do with the stated subject of the
book, and seemingly undertaken to do a little cashing-out for the publisher. The
newly added images included images from Amman's work on Turkey, horsemanship,
=coasts of arms and pedigrees, horse breeding and a number of other unrelated
It is fitting that this book was reprinted in 1968 by the glorious Dover Publishers,
as, so far as I can tell, they were the first mega-publishers of very affordable
collections of clip -art art
Another example of an artists' pattern book is Heinrich Vogtherr's Kunstbuerchlin vonn Allerly seltzamen und wunderbarren frembden Stucken.published in Strassburg at around the same time as Amman (ca. 1575), but with an entirely different approach to the subject. Vogtherr included hundreds of woodcut designs for workpeople in the
arts (such as "painters, sculptores, goldsmiths, stonemasons, and armorers" Heitz, Elsaessische Buechermarken) depicting the unusual and the semi-fantastical: bizarre and extended headdresses for men and woman, incredible hairstyles (watch out, Ballmer), outrageous hands and feet, armaments real and imagined, as well as true but perhaps enhanced coats of arms, armorials, swords, halberds, and so on.
Somehow and with perhaps very limited understanding is has led in my mind to the superb translation of the enormously revered manual of Chinese painting, The Mustard Seed Garden (Chieh Tzu Yuan Hua Chuan by Wang Kai, first published in 1679) by Mai-Mai Sze, The Tao of Painting. A Study of the Ritual Disposition of Chinese Painting, 1956. They're not understating the secondary title whatsoever: this is basically a catalog which offers the student of Chinese art everything they need to know about forms and shape and content and genre, along with how to draw these things, where to place them, how to establish the boundaries of the artwork, the different sorts of brushwork to use, and on to the end.
It describes the (eighteen) basic principles and rules, including the Six Canons (including the circulation of Ch'i), the Six Essentials ("action of the Ch'i and powerful brushwork go together" and "color (if used) should enrich" and "to exhibit originality even to the point of eccentricity, without violating the LI of things"), The Three Faults (all concerned with brushwork), and The Twelve Things to Avoid ("mountains without Ch'i, the pulse of Life").
This is followed by notes on the preparations of colors and other materials used in painting.
The next 600 pages or so is a very detailed visual description of how things should look and takes up 15 pages of index in its very minute description. For example, the section on trees discusses
how trees should appear in the distance, methods for painting vines on trees, describing autumn willows, dotting fruits in blossoms, and much more. this treatment extends to rocks, humans, houses and structures, boats, furniture, city walls, palaces, waterwheels, and etc. There is a longer section devoted to the painting of flowers and plants, where we see entries such as "rules of painting flowers phrased for memorizing", "flowers with eight and nine large petals", "rules for painting sleeping birds phrased for memorizing" (a title for a poem if I've ever heard one), "painting thick leaves that withstand winter", "a hanging and bent branch", "plants with thorns and furry leaves", and hundreds of other pages.
It is a stupendous work that I find beautiful and relaxing for reasons I don't understand.
The great Kenneth Rexroth said it most forcefully/grumpily, probably, when he reviewed the book for The Nation in 1957:
“This is a book every American artist and art critic should buy and study—every night for several years. Nothing could be a better answer to the problems and dilemmas of modern abstract expressionism. Nothing could be a better antidote to the enervating poisons which have diluted modern painting. This is a lucid, profound, exhaustive explanation of what you think you are doing, but aren’t, what you would like to do, but can’t. Furthermore, the larger second volume consists of more than two hundred detailed pictures, with complete explanation of how it was done, long ago, by far better men than you. It is all there—a complete alphabet of expression…”