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illustration, any type of picture or decoration used in conjunction with a text to embellish its appearance or to clarify its meaning. Illustration is as old as writing, with both originating in the pictograph. With the advent of printing, the art of hand-painted illumination declined as a means of book illustration.

History of Book Illustration

Modern book illustration originated in the 15th-century block books, in which the text and the illustration were cut on the same block. Book illustration has followed closely the development of the printing processes. Copperplate engraving and etching tended to replace the woodcut during the 16th and 17th cent., but it was not until the close of the 18th cent. that the art was revolutionized by Thomas Bewick's ingenious use of wood engraving and Senefelder's invention of lithography. These two processes greatly stimulated the production of illustrated books and magazines and were exploited by such masters as Daumier, Doré, and Gavarni.

In the late 19th cent. wood engraving and lithography were superseded by the photomechanical processes that made possible the reproduction of a wide variety of painting and drawing techniques. The exploitation of these processes for cheap and rapid but sloppy mass production obscured their artistic potential. Thus early hand processes were revived in book illustration by such artists as William Morris, Matisse, Rouault, Picasso, Chagall, Rockwell Kent, and many others. However, such major illustrators as Aubrey Beardsley, Howard Pyle, and Elihu Vedder understood and exploited the photomechanical processes to great effect in the reproduction of their art works. Other great artists famous for illustration are Dürer, Holbein, William Hogarth, William Blake, Manet, and Winslow Homer.

Fiction and Children's Literature

Illustration of fiction was more popular in the 19th cent. than in the 20th. Dickens's works were illustrated by John Leech, H. K. Browne (“Phiz”), and George Cruikshank. Sir John Tenniel's illustrations for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are almost as well known as the text itself. Today much of the finest illustration is done in the field of children's literature. From Beatrix Potter to Ludwig Bemelmans and Maurice Sendak, a number of gifted writers of children's stories have illustrated their own books. Among the great illustrators of children's books are Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, Edward Lear, Ernest Shepherd, Palmer Cox, A. B. Frost, and Wanda Gág (see children's book illustration).

Illustration in the East

In the Middle East fine printing of illustrated books is a very recent development. The lavish King Fuad Qur'an (1923, Egypt) is exceptional among Middle Eastern printed works. In East Asia the art of book illustration is very old. Printing was highly developed in China by the 9th cent., and exquisite block-printed illustrations enhanced many volumes. Japan borrowed Chinese techniques as early as the 9th cent. and used the ancient processes for wood-block printing of ukiyo-e (see Japanese art) in books into the 18th cent. Twentieth-century printing of illustrated books in Japan involves the best and most recently developed processes.


See D. Bland, A History of Book Illustration (2d ed. 1969); D. Klemin, The Illustrated Book (1970); R. M. Slythe, The Art of Illustration (1972); J. G. Heck, The Complete Encyclopedia of Illustration (1979); M. Melot, The Art of Illustration (1984).

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The representation by artistic means of an idea or scene.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) An explanation using graphic examples.

(2) A picture that accompanies and supplements a text (drawings, engravings, photographs, reproductions of paintings and drawings, maps, or diagrams).

(3) A branch of art that provides a pictorial interpretation of a literary or scientific work. In the strict sense of the word, an illustration is designed as an integral part of the text (in other words, an element of the reading process). In this sense, the development of the art of illustration is closely related to the history of books. There are also illustrations that are not intended to be incorporated in books, despite the fact that they are pictorial interpretations of literary texts. Examples of this type of illustration include Botticelli’s illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy, H. Daumier’s illustrations of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and V. A. Serov’s illustrations of I. A. Krylov’s fables. An illustration that is a part of the artistic organization of a book, newspaper, or magazine is complemented by other decorative elements (headpieces, tailpieces, and initials), which also serve as pictorial commentaries on the text.

Originally, manuscripts were illustrated with miniature paintings. After the invention of book printing and woodcutting, illustration primarily became a component of the graphic arts. The earliest woodcut illustrations appeared in China in the sixth and seventh centuries, becoming particularly widespread in the 12th century. Chinese illustration, retaining the compositional principles of painting, is distinguished by its expressive lapidary pictorial language. Color woodcutting developed in China in the late 16th century; inexpensive picture prints were particularly popular until the 20th century. In Japan, book illustration began at the outset of the 17th century. The flowering of Japanese woodcut illustration occurred in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Moronobu, Harunobu, Utamaro, and Hokusai painstakingly represented life’s infinite variety in their illustrations (to which the text often played a subordinate role).

European woodcut illustration originated in the 15th century and was initially closely related to miniature painting. It became an important means of disseminating didactic religious ideas and, later, ideas of the Renaissance and Reformation. Initially, illustrations were cut on the same block as the text. Later, they were cut separately and added when the type was set. Fifteenth-century European illustrations are characterized by terse, generalized contours, which harmonized with the design of the script. Italian woodcutters of the late 15th and early 16th centuries produced works that were particularly elaborate. Sixteenth-century artists exhibited a growing tendency to express three-dimensional space and powerful picturesque effects.

The greatest masters of illustration during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance were M. Wolgemut, W. Pleyden-wurff, J. Amman, A. Diirer, H. Baldung-Grien, H. Holbein the Younger, and L. Cranach the Elder in Germany; U. Graf in Switzerland; J. Swart and Lucas van Leyden in the Netherlands; B. Salomon and J. Duvet in France; and Titian in Italy. The first Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian woodcut illustrations appeared in the 16th and 17th centuries. Engraving on copper became the predominant technique used in illustration at the end of the 16th century. At this time illustrations began to be treated as independent compositions that were executed on separate pages and then attached to the text. Particular attention was given to the design of the frontispiece, which resembled a baroque triumphal arch.

In the 17th century the discipline of illustration developed extensively. The masters of 17th-century illustration included A. Tempesta and S. della Bella in Italy, C. van de Passe and J. Callot in France, P. P. Rubens in Flanders, R. de Hooghe in Holland, M. Merian in Germany, and W. Hollar in Bohemia.

In the 18th century, book illustration became firmly established as an art, and delicate rococo vignettes became particularly popular. The illustrators, subtly revealing the interrelationship of literary characters, depicted the major episodes of a story and showed the underlying connections between these episodes. The creation of series of illustrations became popular. Series were executed by H. Gravelot, J. M. Moreau, C. Eisen, F. Boucher, and H. Fragonard in France; D. N. Chodowiecki in Germany; W. Hogarth in England; and G. B. Piazzetti in Italy.

In the early 19th century, T. Bewick in England and J. Audubon in the United States created outstanding examples of natural-science illustrations. More flexible and less expensive methods of illustration evolved, such as large-edition wood engraving and lithography. Nineteenth-century finished illustrations were either compositions executed on separate pages or quick sketches intermingled with the text. The illustrations of H. Daumier, P. Gavarni, and J. I. Grandville in France, who were frequent contributors to magazines, are distinguished by their incisive topical satire. The romantic artists, such as W. Blake and E. Calvert in England, Eugene Delacroix and J. Gigoux in France, and A. L. Richter in Germany, poignantly recreated the emotional atmosphere of the literary works that they were illustrating. The romantics expressed a wide range of feelings—from mystical exaltation (W. Blake) to good-natured folk humor (A. L. Richter). Literary works were carefully interpreted in the illustrations of G. Dore in France; A. Menzel in Germany; H. K. (Phiz) Brown and G. Cruikshank in England; and F. P. Tolstoi, G. G. Gagarin, and A. A. Agin in Russia.

In the late 19th century, photomechanical reproduction was invented; and any representation could be freely reproduced. The expressive possibilities of illustrators were sharply increased as a result of the variety of techniques available to them. However, at the same time, the resemblance of many illustrations to easel (picture) paintings led to a partial dissolution of the unity between the illustration and the book. In England, W. Morris, in collaboration with W. Crane, attempted to harmonize illustration with script and with the ornamental elements of book design. Artists, such as A. Beardsley in England and E. D. Polenova, V. M. Vasnetsov, and I. Ia. Bilibin in Russia, working in the spirit of art nouveau or adhering to romantic and nationalistic traditions, created works that are characterized by delicate decorative stylization and by a subtle awareness of the planarity of the page. In Russian the masters of the World of Art movement (Mir iskusstva), such as A. N. Benois, M. V. Dobuzhinskii, and E. E. Lansere, elaborated on problems concerning the decorative ties between illustration and books, as well as problems concerning the emotional expressiveness of illustration. Their illustrations stylistically correspond to the literary text and the epoch that they depicted.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, significant achievements were made in the art of illustration. These achievements are reflected in the works of T. Steinlen and D. Vierge in France; M. A. Vrubel’, L. O. Pasternak, and D. N. Kardovskii in Russia; P. Hogarth in England; and R. Kent in the USA. In the 20th century, illustration has become the artist’s intensely personal interpretation of a literary text. Illustration often serves as an artist’s free associative accompaniment, providing a variety of interpretations. This is characteristic of the illustrations of M. Denis, A. Maillol, R. Dufy, H. Matisse, and P. Picasso in France; P. de Mazerolles in Belgium; H. Erni in Switzerland; R. Guttuso in Italy; and A. Kubin in Austria.

Soviet book illustration is an important means of ideological and aesthetic education. In the Soviet Union the 1920’s marked the blossoming of woodcutting (V- A. Favorskii and A. I. Kravchenko) and of drawing (V. M. Konashevich, N. N. Ku-preianov, V. V. Lebedev, and N. A. Tyrsa), as well as the invention of photomontage and the appearance of poster elements in illustration (A. M. Rodchenko). Illustrators of this period also sought to unite their work with books both visually and in terms of subject matter. Since the 1920’s multicolored illustrations for children’s books have been developed. From 1930 to the early 1950’s illustration was characterized by the attempt to express the psychological aspect of a narrative, to portray realistic, authentic images, and to create many-paged series (D. A. Shmarinov, S. V. Gerasimov, Kukryniksy, E. A. Kibrik, and D. A. Dubinskii). Illustrations (charcoal drawings, pencil drawings, or lithographs) became similar to works of graphic art.

Soviet illustration from 1955 to the late 1960’s, adhering to the best traditions of preceding years, demonstrated unusual diversity. Numerous illustrations of Russian, Soviet, and foreign literature, including children’s literature, were created by D. S. Bisti, Iu. A. Vasnetsov, O. G. Vereiskii, A. D. Goncharov, V. N. Goriaev, N. V. Kuz’min, A. M. Kanevskii, and M. I. Pikov in the RSFSR; V. I. Kasiian in the Ukraine; S. S. Kobuladze in Georgia; E. M. Sidorkin in Kazakhstan; G. S. Khandzhian in Armenia; and A. A. Kuchas in Lithuania.

The achievements of illustrators in socialist countries are interesting and diverse. The most prominent socialist illustrators include A. Wiirtz in Hungary; W. Klemke, H. Baltzer, and J. Hegenbarth in the German Democratic Republic; E. Lipin-ski, T. Kulisiewicz, and I. Czerwiriski in Poland; and I. Lada and I. Trnka in Czechoslovakia.


Tynianov, Iu. N. “Illustratsii.” In Arkhaisty i novatory. Leningrad, 1929.
Kuz’minskii, K. S. Russkaia realisticheskaia illustratsiia XVIII-XIX vekov. Moscow, 1937.
Chegodaev, A.D. Puti razvitiia russkoi sovetskoi knizhnoi grafiki. Moscow, 1955.
Dmitrieva, N. A. Izobrazhenie i slovo. Moscow, 1962.
Sidorov, A. A. Istoriia oformleniia russkoi knigi. Moscow, 1964.
Goncharov, A. D. Khudozhnik i kniga. Moscow, 1964.
Iskusstvo knigi, vols. 1–6. Moscow, 1960–70.
Bland, D. A History of Book Illustration, Cleveland-New York, 1958.
Lewis, V. The Twentieth Century Book. London, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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