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Old Master Print of the Invention of Book Printing by Johannes Stradanus

Stock number: 18948

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Johannes Stradanus (biography)


Impressio Librorum

First Published

Antwerp, 1588

This Edition



20.2 x 26.5 cms




IMPRESSIO LIBRORUM. Potest ut una vox capi aure plurima: Linunt ita una scripta mille paginas.

"PRINTING BOOKS - Just as one voice can be heard by a multitude of ears, so single writings cover a thousand sheets."

Legendary and iconic engraving by Philip Galle of the invention of book printing, after a drawing by Jan van der Straet (Stradanus).

The drawing became widely known in early modern Europe through the famous print offered here, where it was used by the Antwerp engravers Theodore and Philippe Galle in collaboration with Jan Collaert as one of the images in their Nova Reperta, or New Discoveries, a portfolio of twenty prints first published around 1591. The prints documented a series of discoveries and inventions, such as gunpowder, the printing press (this one here), olive oil pressing and eyeglasses.


FIRST STATE, in mint condition. New Hollstein 326 state I (of III). A strong and early imprint from the copperplate. No paper restorations or imperfections. Pristine collector's example of this attractive and significant master print.

Stradanus's Print Shop

The engraving representing a printing shop from the Nova Reperta has been popular for illustrating various books, articles and webpages about printing and books in sixteenth-century Europe. Stradanus's vivid design and the first-rate execution of the engraving make it very tempting indeed to include this image as an illustration. We can see the diverse activities that were involved in printing: from typesetting and proofreading to printing and assembling the printed sheets.

As an illustration of the process, it appears to be far more realistic in comparison with most contemporary illustrations of a printing shop - certainly in comparison with the crude representations of a printing press common to sixteenth-century printers' devices.


Nova Reperta

The print series »Nova reperta« (New inventions), which Stradanus drew in the third quarter of the 16th century, is a rich source for cultural history in general as well as for the history of technology in particular. The discoveries and inventions depicted here extend throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance epoch, but the workshops and the people in them generally belong to the artist's time.

The major technical developments of the high Middle Ages include the widespread expansion of the water wheel, which was already known in antiquity, and the introduction of the windmill in Europe. The author commemorates both engines (water wheel, wind wheel) his picture series. Together with the now also better-used animal force they helped to establish a civilization in the Middle Ages that no longer mainly used human muscle as it did in classical antiquity, but that learned more and more to make use of other forces with technical means. The mechanical clock and the spectacles, two inventions of the 13th century, which influenced the bourgeois life substantially, are shown to us in two particularly attractive pictures. The great inventions of the late Middle Ages, gunpowder and book printing, are also treated, but oil painting and the art of copper engraving are not forgotten either. In the fields of chemistry and chemical technology, the images include distillation, sugar and oil paint. The art of distillation had made significant progress since the high Middle Ages. The artist also devotes some quite compelling images to the geographical discoveries and their technical requirements. From a technical-historical point of view, the draftsman has really chosen the most essential inventions of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance as a theme.

The illustrator of the sheets is Bruges-born Jan van der Straet (1523-1605), who in Latin was called Stradanus and in Italian Stradano (or della Strada). Stradanus, painter and draftsman, worked mainly in Florence, where he belonged to the circle of the artist and art writer Giorgio Vasari. Like Vasari, Stradanus moved in the path of late Renaissance mannerism. Characteristic of the mannerism of Stradanus is the abundance of juxtaposed details, the extensive joy, the fragmentation of the space, the narrowness and compression of the images (for example the distillation print), the use of the picture in picture (for example the guaiac wood print) and the contortion of the figures (for example the copper engraving print).

From his Flemish motherland Stradanus brought with him the strong inclination for the powerful and the realistic depiction. Vasari praised Stradanus’ great drawing skills, his excellent ideas and his ingenuity. In the extensive work of Stradanus comes out a variety of pasteboards, which he delivered to the wall carpet manufacturer for the Medici family in Florence. Especially his hunting scenes made Stradanus famous. We encounter his paintings and frescoes mainly in Florence, such as in Palazzo Vecchio, where we also admire, among other things, his 1570 created painting of a distillation laboratory of Grand Duke Francesco I de 'Medici. The picture resembles the sheet "Distillatio”.

The drawings for the series "Nova reperta" were created by Stradanus in the third quarter of the 16th century. At the end of the 16th century, the Amsterdam draftsman, engraver and engraver Philipp Galle had nine of these drawings and a title page engraved in copper by his son Theodor Galle. It was soon followed by another ten leaves that were engraved by Theodor Galle and Jan Collaert. On all engravings Stradanus is a draftsman (Inventor), indicated with »Ioan. Stradanus invent«. The engravers Theodor Galle and Jan Collaert (Inscribed "Theodor Galle sculp.", "loan Collaert sculp.") are only mentioned on some of the engravings.


Johannes Stradanus (1523-1605)

Johannes Stradanus, or Giovanni Stradano, or Jan van der Straet or van der Straat, or Stradanus or Stratensis (Bruges 1523 – Florence 2 November 1605) was a Flanders-born mannerist artist active mainly in 16th century Florence, Italy. Born in Bruges, he began his training in the shop of his father, then in Antwerp with Pieter Aertsen.

By 1545, he had joined the Antwerp guild of Saint Luke or painters' guild, the equivalent of the Roman (Accademia San Luca). He reached Florence in 1550, where he entered in the service of the Medici Dukes and Giorgio Vasari. The Medici court was his main patron, and he designed a number of scenes for tapestries and frescoes to decorate the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the Medici Villa at Poggio a Caiano, and providing illustrations for the Arazzeria Medicea. He also worked for the Pazzi Family in their estates in Montemurlo.

Many of his drawings became so popular they were translated into prints. Stradanus collaborated with printmakers Hieronymus Cock and the Galle family in Antwerp to produce hundreds of prints on a variety of subjects. He also worked with Francesco Salviati in the decoration of the Vatican Belvedere. He was one of the artists involved in the Studiolo of Francesco I (1567-1577), to which he contributed two paintings including "The Alchemist's Studio".

Karel van Mander wrote about Stradanus in his Schilder-boeck (book of famous painters), mentioning that he was 74 in 1603 and still a member of the Florence drawing academy. He also mentioned his pupil Antonio Tempesta, who painted ships and Amazon battle scenes (bataljes), mainly in 16th century Florence, Italy.

Johannes Stradanus is one of the most well-known unknown artists in history. Even though the Bruges-born painter (1523-1605) had a more than successful career in the highly competitive city of Florence in the second half of the 16th century, his name long remained a well-hidden secret for specialists only. Many of his works, though, are very well known.

Around 1570, Stradanus – who began as designer of tapestries and fresco painter in service of the Medici – started a second career as draughtsman and designer of hundreds of prints. These were engraved, published and distributed all over the then-known world by Antwerp publishers in huge numbers. It are these works – widely collected, copied and used – which secured Stradanus’s place in art history as an inventive and influential artist.

Johannes Stradanus died in Florence in 1605.


New Hollstein (Dutch and Flemish) 342-345 (Johannes Stradanus).
Stevens & Tooley: Map Collector 2, p.22-24, "One of the Rarest Picture Atlases".
van Mander: Schilder-boeck, 1604.
Sellink: Stradanus (1523-1605), Court Artist of the Medici, 2008.
Markey: Renaissance Invention - Stradanus's Nova Reperta, 2020.