Single leaf from a blockbook.
[Germany, c. 1465].
Shortly before c. 1460, when books printed with moveable type were supplied with their first woodcut illustrations, the blockbook was developed as an alternative technique for producing editions of illustrated texts. In a blockbook the entire page, including the text and the picture, was carved in relief from a single block of wood that was inked for printing. In many examples the images were conveyed so simply by outlines, without shading, that most contemporary viewers preferred to have their books enhanced with color by hand.
The Apocalypse blockbook represented by this hand-colored single leaf originally included 48 full-page illustrations of the Book of Revelation. Such blockbooks enjoyed a brief period of popularity in mid-fifteenth-century Germany and the Netherlands. Their lively apocalyptic imagery, derived from earlier manuscripts, provided Dürer’s generation of artists with useful iconographic models.