Italian Renaissance
  • The golden age of Italian woodcut illustration began in the last quarter of the fifteenth century and lasted for roughly 100 years, during which period some of the most harmonious and delightful books ever produced issued from Italian presses.
  • Printing also came early to Venice, where by 1476 the pioneering printer and typographer Erhard Ratdolt of Augsburg had settled and begun publishing.


  • Ratdolt was just one of many printers, at first predominantly German, who converged on Venice, where by the end of the century there were more than 150 active presses.

Erhard Ratdolt

  • Most of Ratdolt's publications were scientific and mathematical.


  • He made these publications more attractive and often more informative.
  • He added ornamental printed initial letters, diagrams, and the use of color printing, all of which are seen in his Sphaera Mundi of 1485.

Title page for Euclid’s Geometriae elementa, (1482)
Erhard Ratdolt, Peter Loeslein, and Bernhard Maier


A dazzling white-on-black design brackets the text, and incredibly fine line diagrams in the wide margin visually define Euclid’s terms.

Here is the page colorized



From Euclid’s Geometriae elementa, (1482)
Erhard Ratdolt, Peter Loeslein, and Bernhard Maier

The wide outer margin is maintained throughout the book for explanatory diagrams. Two sizes of initial letters denote sections and subsections.

Here's another image of the page.

De Nativitatibus
Erhnard Ratdolt

Author, Aben Ezra, Abraham

Concordantia astronomiae cum theologia
Erhnard Ratdolt

Author, Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly


Commercium II:The 1493 Brescia Missal of Erhard Ratdolt

four-color printing

Erhard Ratdolt, made a brave attempt at printing colour illustrations from wood blocks, a technique which would be brilliantly developed in China and Japan in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and then became of great importance in Europe in the nineteenth. 


The frontispiece to a liturgical book printed by Ratdolt 1487 depicts, appropriately, his customer - the bishop who had commissioned the volume.


It is printed from four separate woodblocks,

You will see the black image and the patches of yellow, dark olive-brown and red.


Five years later, in 1492, Ratdolt printed a missal (Missale Frisingense) with an illustration of the Crucifixion.

He had this image colored by hand, and the result is extraordinarily unsatisfactory compared with the color-printed bishop of five years earlier. In the copy in the British Library the thick red gouache of the saint's cloak almost entirely obscures the black defining lines of the image. And whoever was slopping on the green paint has obliterated the crown of thorns.

Ratdolt must himself have been dissatisfied, because the next year - in a missal of 1493 (Missale Brixinense) - he used the same woodcut of the Crucifixion but printed four colors in addition to the black image (red, the blue-grey of the Virgin's robe, olive and fawn.

This time all the lines of the image, including the crown of thorns, remain clearly visible through the printed color."

See some examples of pages from
other books Ratdolt published:
01 | 02 | 03
| 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 |


Aldus Manutius


7-15 Typographic page from Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, (1499)
Aldus Manutius


  • The texture of the headings (set in all capitals), the text typography, and the outline initial have a subtle yet beautiful contrast.

  • The one-line intervals of space separating the information into three areas introduces light and order into the page.

More links on Aldus Manutius

01 | 02


Geoffroy Tory [zhôfrwä' tôrï']


  • Parisian printer, typographer, and author
  • He took up drawing and engraving and returned to Italy to study (1516–18).



  • As designer and engraver he produced beautiful initials, borders, and illustrations, as well as his famous printer's mark

  • His Book of Hours, first appeared in
    1525, This book introduced type design free from dependence on handwriting
    and established book designing as an
    art in France.


7-25 Capital from a series of criblé initials (1526)
Geoffroy Tory


This alphabet of roman capitals brought elegance and “color” to the pages of books printed at Estienne’s press

From Champ Fleury(1529)
Geoffroy Tory

Champ Fleury

  • A conflict between French troops and a reformed church congregation ended in a massacre, which began four decades of religious wars that effectively ended the golden age of French typography.

  • Dutch, English, French, German, and Latin books were printed and exported throughout Europe.


  • The Netherlands found its greatest printer in Christophe Plantin.
  • 17 th century:
    The seventeenth century was a relatively quiet time for graphic design innovation.
  • An abundant stock of ornaments, punches, matrixes, and woodblocks from the 1500s was widely available, so there was little incentive for printers to commission new graphic materials.
  • The first book to be designed and printed in the English American colonies was done by Stephan Daye.