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Altered and Adorned: Using Renaissance Prints in Daily Life

Suzanne Karr Schmidt

Hardcover $35.00
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Today Renaissance-era prints are typically preserved behind glass or in solander boxes in museums, but these decorative objects were once a central part of everyday life. Altered and Adorned is a delightful, surprising look at how prints were used: affixed on walls; glued into albums, books, and boxes; annotated; hand-colored; or cut apart. This handsome volume introduces readers to the experimental world of printmaking in the mid-fifteenth through early seventeenth centuries and the array of objects it inspired, from illustrated books, sewing patterns, and wearable ornaments to sundials, other astronomical instruments, and anatomical prints. It features many treasures from the Art Institute of Chicago’s rich permanent collection that have never before been published, along with essays on the ways prints functioned—in some cases as three-dimensional and interactive works—and how their condition communicates their past use. The first chapter presents the variety of early prints and discusses how viewers both used and “abused” them, interacting with them in intended and unintended ways. The second chapter discusses how single- and multi-sheet prints served as everything from gameboards to gifts for diplomatic exchanges. “Prints and Books” explores the interaction between these closely related forms, and “Applied Prints” examines how prints were used as fabric patterns, as wearable ornaments, and, above all, to decorate boxes. The fourth and fifth chapters investigate prints’ many religious and scientific functions. “‘Affixed and Ordered’ Printmaking” analyzes an exceptional scrapbook assembled by an eighteenth-century monk and reflects on the practice of collecting prints. Finally, “Physical Qualities of Early Prints” offers an in-depth look at the materials and techniques that created these works and the marks that reveal their unique functions. Among the works discussed are a fifteenth-century French woodcut of the Nativity pasted into an armored coffer; a still-bright Man of Sorrows preserved on a book board; a pristine impression of Albrecht Dürer’sMen’s Bath; and Annibale Caracci’s Headdress, which was meant to be worn and offered interchangeable cameos.

The Art Institute of Chicago, 2011
9 x 12 in.; 112 pages; 98 color illustrations
ISBN 978-0-300-16911-9