Last Supper
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528)
Last Supper
Woodcut, 1523
Last Supper

In Relief: Six Centuries of Woodcuts

July – September 2018

Appearing in Europe around 1400, the woodcut is the oldest form of original printmaking and remains among the most common relief printing methods. To create a woodcut print, the artist draws a design onto a block of wood. The blank space of the image is then carved away, leaving the artist’s design raised up in relief. The carved woodblock acts as a stamp when inked and pressed onto the printing surface. In the early modern period, woodcuts offered an ideal format to reproduce simple religious icons and pictures, which were popular devotional mementos for Christian pilgrims to religious sites and festivals. The invention of the printing press in 1453 heightened the demand for woodcut illustrations. As the technique became more refined, woodcut images became gradually more sophisticated. Near the end of the fifteenth century, the German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer advanced the medium far beyond any single artist or craftsman before him.

Despite advancements in technology and new printmaking techniques, the woodcut medium experienced a resurgence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Modern artists concerned about industrialization were inspired by the handmade integrity and spiritual potential exemplified in early religious woodcuts. German expressionists like Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Emil Nolde and Max Pechstein infused in a variety of ways the thick, solid black lines of the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century German woodcut with abstract forms to create new and expressive prints for modern society.

In Relief: Six Centuries of Woodcuts highlights the enduring popularity of the woodcut as an artistic medium, as well as the exciting variation this traditional technique has experienced over the centuries. The exhibition is open through September 2018.