woodcut and wood engraving

woodcut and wood engraving,

prints made from designs cut in relief on wood, in contrast to copper or steel engravingengraving,
in its broadest sense, the art of cutting lines in metal, wood, or other material either for decoration or for reproduction through printing. In its narrowest sense, it is an intaglio printing process in which the lines are cut in a metal plate with a graver, or burin.
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 and etchingetching,
the art of engraving with acid on metal; also the print taken from the metal plate so engraved. In hard-ground etching the plate, usually of copper or zinc, is given a thin coating or ground of acid-resistant resin.
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 (which are intagliointaglio
, design cut into stone or other material or etched or engraved in a metal plate, producing a concave, instead of a convex, effect. It is the reverse of a relief or cameo. The term also designates a gem so cut.
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). The term woodcutting is loosely included within the wood-engraving process, from which, however, it can be distinguished. Woodcutting, the oldest method of printmaking, is accomplished using soft wood with a knife employed along the grain. Wood engraving, which developed in the 18th cent., is a technique using hard, end-grained wood worked with a graver or burin.


Woodcuts were used in ancient Egypt and Babylonia for impressing intaglio designs into unpressed bricks and by the Romans for stamping letters and symbols. The Chinese used wood blocks for stamping patterns on textiles and for illustrating books. Woodcuts appeared in Europe at the beginning of the 15th cent., when they were used to make religious pictures for distribution to pilgrims, on playing cards and simple prints, and for the block bookblock book.
Before and after the invention of printing from movable types in the mid-15th cent., some books were printed in Europe from engraved wooden blocks, with one block for each page. This method was developed by the 9th cent. A.D. in China.
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 which preceded printing. At that time the artist and the artisan were one, the same person designing the cut and carving the block. One of the first dated European woodcuts is a St. Christopher of 1423.

After the invention of the printing press, woodcuts, being inked in the same way as type, lent themselves admirably to book illustration. Albrecht PfisterPfister, Albrecht
, c.1420–c.1470, printer, of Bamberg, Bavaria. He is believed to have been the first to print illustrated books (c.1460) and to have been the printer of the Latin Bible called Pfister's Bible or the Bamberg Bible, in double-column pages of 36 lines.
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 first put them to this use c.1460. Other early woodcut illustrations are in the Bibles of the late 15th cent. and in the French Lyons edition (1493) of the works of Terence. The first Roman book with woodcuts appeared in 1467, but Venice became the center of Italian wood engraving. In the 16th cent. in France woodcuts frequently served to illustrate books of hoursbook of hours,
form of prayer book developed in the 14th cent. from the prayers of clerics appended to the main service. The subjects of the miniature illustrations (see miniature painting) were frequently derived from the appendix of the Psalter.
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. The actual cutting was often performed by a specialist rather than by the designer.

In Germany, where the form was particularly well developed, DürerDürer, Albrecht
, 1471–1528, German painter, engraver, and theoretician, most influential artist of the German school, b. Nuremberg. Early Life and Work
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 and Hans HolbeinHolbein, Hans
the elder, c.1465–1524, German painter and draftsman.

Holbein worked principally in Augsburg and Ulm, painting altarpieces for churches and probably creating portraits as well.
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 the younger were the most eminent woodcut designers of the Renaissance. Dürer's Life of the Virgin (1509–10) and Great Passion (1510–11) and Holbein's Dance of Death (1523–26) are among the best-known works of these masters. Lucas CranachCranach or Kranach, Lucas
, the Elder, 1472–1553, German painter and engraver. The son of a painter, he settled in Wittenberg c.1504 and was court painter successively under three electors of Saxony.
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 the elder, Albrecht AltdorferAltdorfer, Albrecht
, 1480–1538, German painter and engraver. He served as city architect of Regensburg, where much of his life was spent. Although influenced by Dürer, Altdorfer's works are less severe in mood.
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, and Hans BaldungBaldung or Baldung-Grien, Hans
, c.1484–1545, German painter and printmaker, active mainly at Strasbourg. He was surnamed Grien or Grün because of his fondness for the color green.
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 also worked in wood engraving, employing a chiaroscuro technique originated by Jobst de Negker of Augsburg.

Decline and Revival

There was a decline in woodcutting with the increasing versatility and popularity of line engraving on metal. Even in the Netherlands, where woodcuts lasted longest, they were almost obsolete by the 18th cent. In England, however, Thomas BewickBewick, Thomas
, 1753–1828, English wood engraver. Bewick pioneered in the revival of original wood engraving. Among his famous early works are his illustrations for John Gay's Fables (1779), for Aesop's Select Fables (1784), and for Ralph Beilby's
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 popularized wood engraving. He brought to perfection the technique of white-line engraving, in which lines print white on a black background. Gustave DoréDoré, Gustave
, 1832–83, French illustrator, engraver, painter, and sculptor. He is best known for his highly imaginative and dramatic illustrations. At first he did his own engraving on wood, but as his success grew, his later work was done in collaboration with
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 was the best-known French master in this medium in the 19th cent.

William BlakeBlake, William,
1757–1827, English poet and artist, b. London. Although he exerted a great influence on English romanticism, Blake defies characterization by school, movement, or even period.
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 also made wood engravings for some of his best book illustrations (e.g., for Thornton's Vergil; 1821). The Victorian weeklies used numerous wood-engraved drawings as illustrations. Most famous of English wood engravers were John Swain and the Dalziel brothers. In the United States wood engraving was practiced from the 19th cent. by such masters as Alexander Anderson, William James LintonLinton, William James,
1812–97, Anglo-American wood engraver, author, and political reformer. In 1842 he began working as a wood engraver with John Orrin Smith and produced illustrations for the newly formed London Illustrated News.
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, and Timothy ColeCole, Timothy,
1852–1931, American wood engraver, b. London. He came to the United States as a child. Cole learned his trade in Chicago and later moved to New York, where in 1873 he began his 40-year association with the Century Magazine (then Scribner's).
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As photographic technology advanced, photography and photographic processes slowly replaced woodcut as a means of book illustration and wood engraving for reproduction of oil paintings. In the 1890s in France a revival of woodcutting to produce original prints was initiated by Paul GauguinGauguin, Paul
, 1848–1903, French painter and woodcut artist, b. Paris; son of a journalist and a French-Peruvian mother. Early Life

Gauguin spent the first six years of his life with his family in Lima Peru; as an adolescent he was a sailor in the French
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, Edvard MunchMunch, Edvard
, 1863–1944, Norwegian painter and graphic artist. He studied in Oslo and under Bonnat in Paris, traveled in Europe, and lived in Berlin from 1892 to 1908.
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, and Felix VallottonVallotton, Félix
, 1865–1925, Swiss woodcut artist and painter. Associated with the Nabis, he worked in Paris. In the 1890s Vallotton rejuvenated the woodcut as a creative technique, e.g. The Demonstration (1893, Metropolitan Mus.).
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, who cut their blocks themselves. Their influence on 20th-century expression in this medium was enormous. DerainDerain, André
, 1880–1954, French painter. He studied for a short time under Carrière. Derain's friendship with Vlaminck and Matisse led to his association c.1905 with the fauves.
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, DufyDufy, Raoul
, 1877–1953, French painter, illustrator, and decorator, studied at the École des Beaux-Arts. After meeting Matisse he abandoned his early impressionist style and turned c.1905 to the more spontaneous expression of fauvism.
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, and MaillolMaillol, Aristide
, 1861–1944, French sculptor, woodcut artist, and painter. At first a painter, Maillol studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and then allied himself with the Nabis.
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 also made notable woodcuts. After World War II many artists in the United States, such as Leonard BaskinBaskin, Leonard,
1922–2000, American sculptor, graphic artist, and teacher, b. New Brunswick, N.J. In sculptural and graphic works that are figurative in style, Baskin's images of a corrupt, bloated humanity often have an element of sardonic humor.
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, Sue Fuller, and Seong Moy, explored new formal and technical possibilities in the medium of woodcutting.


See A. M. Hind, An Introduction to a History of Woodcut (1935, repr. 1963); D. P. Bliss, A History of Wood-Engraving (rev. ed. 1964); A. H. Mayor, Prints and People (1971).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Woodcut and Wood Engraving


engraving on wood, one of the most widespread forms of cutting a design on wood. In printing, these techniques are done by hand. A design is drawn on a wooden plank, or block; the areas of wood not to be printed are cut away. Ink is applied to the flat surface of the block, but the areas that have been cut away are left uncovered. The blocks can produce up to 15,000 prints. When a large quantity of prints is desired, galvanography is used. The oldest techniques of cutting a design on wood, woodcut and wood engraving have been used for a long time to illustrate books and to make display prints. In the 19th century these techniques were widely used for printing illustrations and reproducing paintings and drawings in books and magazines. In the 20th century, woodcut and wood engraving have retained their importance almost exclusively as techniques for creating artistic works, including book illustrations.


Pavlov, I. N., and M. V. Matorin. Tekhnika graviury na dereve i lino-leume, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1952.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Among those currently exhibiting is Alan Figg whose favoured medium is lino-print but he has also experimented with intaglio, woodcut and wood engraving. Details 01978 860828.
Walker (book arts and printmaking, Ontario College of Art and Design) presents this handbook for woodcut and wood engraving printmaking.