Popular print

Popular prints is a term for printed images of generally low artistic quality which were sold cheaply in Europe and later the New World from the 15th to 18th centuries, often with text as well as images. They were some of the earliest examples of mass media. After about 1800, the types and quantity of images greatly increased, but other terms are usually used to categorise them.

15th century
From about 1400, there began a “visual revolution that inundated Europe with images during the fifteenth century” (Field) as the woodcut technique was applied to paper, which was now manufactured in Christian Europe, instead of being imported from Islamic Spain. In the 15th century, the great majority of these images were religious, if playing cards are excluded. They were sold at churches, fairs and places of pilgrimage. Most were coloured, usually crudely, by hand or later by stencil. One political cartoon relating to events in 1468-70 has survived in several different versions (many from years later). Old master print is a term that at this period includes popular prints, but later is restricted to more expensive and purely artistic prints.

Although early information as to prices is almost non-existent, it is clear from a number of sources that small woodcuts were affordable by at least the urban working-class, and much of the peasant class as well.

During the middle of the century, the quality of the images became typically very low, but there was an improvement towards the end, partly because it was necessary to keep pace with the quality of images in engravings. Engravings were always much more expensive to create, as they needed greater skill to create the plate, which would last for far fewer impressions than a woodcut. They did not come into the popular prints category until the 19th century, when different techniques made them much cheaper.

16th century
Broadsheets, also known as broadsides, were a common format. They were usually single sheets of paper of various sizes, typically sold by street-vendors. Another format was the chapbook, usually a single sheet cut or folded to make a small pamphlet or book. In Spain there were pliegos, in Portugal the papel volante, and in other countries other names. These covered a great variety of material, including pictures, popular history, political comment or satire, news, almanacs (from c. 1470), poems and songs. They could be very influential politically, and were often subsidized by political factions for propaganda purposes. See Broadside (music) for their musical use. The Reformation hugely increased the market for satirical and polemical prints in all counties affected. In France the Wars of Religion, and in England the English Civil War and the political convulsions after the Restoration all produced huge quantities of propaganda and polemic, in images as well as text.

Despite being often issued in large numbers, their survival rate was extremely low, and they are now very rare, with most having not survived at all. This has been demonstrated by analysis of the records of the London Stationers Company from 1550 onwards; some blocks were in print for over a century with no copies now surviving. They were very commonly pasted to the walls of rooms. Paper was still sufficiently expensive that all available spare pieces tended to be used in the toilet. One of the biggest surviving collections with 439 prints is Wickiana at the Zentralbibliothek Zürich.

After 16th century
Newspapers began in the early 17th century, as an upmarket and expensive form of broadsheet (still a term for a large-format newspaper). The first in English came in 1620. During this century books also became much cheaper, and began to replace some types of popular print. These trends continued during the next century, and although most of the traditional types of popular print lived on until the 19th century or beyond, they were by then part of a much wider print culture, and the term is generally not used of them. One type of publication continuing into the 20th century is the Brazilian cordel literature (“string literature” – it is hung on strings by the sellers) that continue to use woodcuts, and is part of a continuous tradition going back to the Portuguese papel volante of the 17th century. Lubok prints in Russia were another local variant.

Political caricature prints for sale as single sheets are found as early as the 15th century, but reached the peak of their popularity in much of Europe in the 18th and early 19th century, before the form migrated into newspapers and magazines. Above all they were popular in England, where a high degree of freedom of the press meant that dedicated print-shops, often also acting as the publishers, could openly sell and display scathing images of the Royal Family and government politicians, a business that had to remain “under the counter” in much of Europe.

Feature of Popular print:
Long intended for populations who can not read, the lively part of the popular image is the drawing that occupies the center, or even the totality in the oldest forms. This image is usually embellished with some colors applied to the stencil in the first centuries. This image itself is complemented by certain textual elements, such as:

one or more short “hat” texts, lateral or underlying;
information on the origin: printer or manufacturer, address, mention of legal deposit.
The format of the image depends on the available techniques, the needs of the editors, possibly fashion effects. Under the Old Regime, the common formats in France were the little Jesus (28 × 38 cm); the Pot (21 × 40); the Tellière (34 × 44); the little grape (49 × 64); the big Grape (51 × 66).

Manufacturing techniques
The first printed images were made by xylography, the only printing process available at the time and which will be used for a long time after typographic printing takes over for the text. This is the preferred method of manufacture until the mid-nineteenth century, then the cliché, lead molding of wood engraved, images of Epinal exploiting lithography from 1820.

The combination of xylography and the popular destination of print tends to assimilate before the twentieth century to a popular image any single sheet produced by this process, but to look at it more closely, there are several counter-examples, like the playing card that was not intended exclusively for the humblest elements of society.

Once the print wood engraved, by the cartier-imagier or more often by one of the workers having the capacity, printing could be done using a press, but also by simple manual application of the frotton, Forcing in a few strokes the rapid inking of the leaf only placed on the wood once moistened. The image was then dried on a rope stretched in the workshop or adjoining room, before the colors in small numbers4 are applied with the help of pattern or stencil.

Copper engraving – a soft-cut – developed during the eighteenth century, then the use of lithography.

The engraving on wood – cormier or pear – long preserved several advantages on intaglio, especially in quantitative terms: the copper could not easily go beyond two to three thousand prints when the wood usually supported a few tens of thousands, if necessary by easily re-plotting the board according to the wear or need for graphic retouching.

Without any particular qualification, the work of the workmen was little remunerated, their day very long: 12 sous for printing the five hundred leaves of a train; 9 sous to apply a color, etc., under the Old Regime. In the middle of the following century, the monthly income was estimated more precisely in 1868 at about fifty francs, thus equivalent to the average remuneration of a civil servant or 58 francs.

Printed with features of the popular image
Partly because of the unique manufacturing process in the early centuries, several printed forms at these times have similarities with popular images, to the point of sometimes allowing assimilation, in the more general context of popular impressions, without that they are really because of one essential difference or another:

Illustrations of scholarly works: not popular in essence;
headings and vignettes: very different purposes;
playing cards: produced in large numbers, they are not intended to be primarily accessible to the poor;
Brotherhood images: limited public;
the almanacs in a single sheet (emanating for France from the Rue Saint-Jacques in Paris): the place of the restricted image;
ducks: still different from the popular image because of its specific subject, a fact, and by the volume of the text which reserves its production to a printer;
the mortuary placards posted at the doors of the churches.
Proximity of maps and images in France

Produced with the same methods, often by the same people, playing cards and images differed in France in several ways, beyond their different format and use:

the cards are taxed whereas the only tax affecting the image concerns the rights of granting on the paper (their exportation being also taxed);
the cards and their use are badly considered by the power, the elites, and as such they are the object of a notable legislation. It is only in the course of the nineteenth century that images hitherto only watched from the point of view of propriety will be subject to prior authorization as part of the general control of what is printed and expressed. At the same time, the obligation of hawkers to own a hawking booklet (between 1816 and 1877 in Brittany) allows effective control of what is diffused9. The images had to be the object of a legal deposit via the prefecture.
technically the cards consisted of several layers of paper (cardboard).
As the image is complemented by more and more text, it loses its proximity to the playing card to attach itself to typography and the printing profession. Very early, in proportion to the development of the text in length and in number of potential readers, this part of the image had to be printed by subcontracting a printer-typographer.

Dating images
The dating of a popular image can be done at different levels:

the period of activity of the factory and other information present as the address at the bottom of the image;
printing: the technique (the “wood” possibly, single board or jobs of report pieces under the Ancien Régime exclusively); paper, laid until 1840 or cellulosic, its possible watermark;
iconography and style according to the history of art, the place of the text, always present in the nineteenth century in France.

Theme of Popular print:
Religious imagery
The beginnings of popular imagery, even if the testimonies are rare, are most probably to be found in religious themes: Protat wood, the oldest copy of Western woodcut, even if it is not the origin an “image” on paper in the sense that it is generally understood, has two religious themes. The image of the saints or the Virgin serves as a support for prayers and plays a role of intercessor and talisman in everyday life and in the house, as well as objects such as holy water stoups, crucifixes, blessed laurels, etc.

In Catalonia, goigs (“joys”) first represent the “seven joys of the Virgin”, hence their name, always in the plural. The first appear around the sixteenth century. Then the term applies to all images of saints bearing the text of a prayer or song in his honor. Called gozos in Aragon, they spread all over Spain but remain a Catalan specificity, widely diffused by the merchants of literatura de fil y canya (literature of thread and reed: the works were presented, attached to a thread by sorts from “clothespins” to reed).

Images of the Catholic religion
The subjects of Catholic images fall into many categories:

Old Testament themes such as “Creation of the World”;
New Testament themes including “Christ on the Cross”, “Baptism of Christ”, “Ecce Homo”;
Representation of the Virgin with a wide variety of local forms: the most popular places of worship for pardon or purpose of pilgrimage are at the origin of a popular image 19. For an identical local fervor, the local saints give place to many images, for example Sainte-Anne-d’Auray and Saint Yves for Breton images.
The so-called devotional images such as the Last Judgment, the Blessed Sacrament, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary;
The images of saints in their wide variety of types:
Biblical saints such as the apostles St. Peter and St. James or the female side St. Veronica and Mary Magdalene;
The holy martyrs of the beginning of the Christian era:
for men Saint Alexis, Saint George, Saint Eustache …;
for women Saint Julie, Saint Rosalie, Saint Philomena, Saint Catherine, Saint Suzanne …;
The holy bishops such as Saint Hilaire, Saint Honoré, Saint Eloi, Saint Hubert, Saint Martin …;
The founding saints like St. Vincent de Paul;
The legendary saints with Saint Julien l’Hospitalier, Saint Nicodemus, Saint René …;
The saintly protectors with Saint Nicolas for the children, Saint George for the dartres, these saints being more or less popular according to the regions like saint Cornély and saint Mathurin in Brittany, this last one summoned for its power to drive the demon and its demonstrations such as the folly, Saint Germaine de Pibrac in Gascony and Languedoc (to the point that was called sengermés) of Saint Germaine, peddlers of images;
The patron saints, neighbors of the patron saints, are popular to judge their presence in the imagery even if this patronage is only rarely emphasized in the images.

In the nineteenth century are spread the small images that can be inserted in a book, a missal, possibly as a bookmark. The habit develops of offering images on the sidelines of religious ceremonies, as souvenirs: baptism, communion, confirmation, etc. Before the day of the ceremony, the family buys a sufficient number of different images to allow the choice to the guests and the images are personalized with a handwritten or printed text reminding the identity, the nature of the ceremony (sacrament), the date and place.

To diversify the images proposed to the customers, the rectangular images have been supplemented by images cut in another form, for example in ogive evoking the stained glass windows of some churches, or provided with a day cut out according to an outline of the printed subject (the outline of a stained glass still); others, of the family called canivets, are provided on all or part of their margins with a delicate cut imitating lace. This is an activity in itself, the manual cutting with the knife, which will then be done industrially.

The themes of the pious image are innumerable: representation of the Virgin, of Christ, episodes of the Bible, religious ceremonies, unfolding of the mass, angels, religious symbols, saints and saints …

Entertainment imagery
Themes are created, which one finds regularly with infinite variations, illustrated in a pleasant way. We can cite :

the ages of life, when a man (or woman) is represented at different times of his life, from childhood to old age, on a staircase going up and down.

the inverted world: series of images presenting situations where the roles are reversed. The man does the housework, the woman reads the newspaper and drinks at the tavern; animals become hunters, man becomes game; the dog is sitting in an armchair, the man lying on the ground, etc.

The country of Cocagne, pictorial description of a country made of food of all kinds.
On the occasion of festivities, one publishes sorts of reports in images, showing on several horizontal bands a parade, a procession, a succession of cars or decorated floats. Numbers refer to an explanatory legend. That the images are cut regularly, with a text more or less versified under each one, and one has a auca (“goose”, so called in reference to the game of the goose), specialty of Catalonia, which exists also in Spain under the name of aleluya.

Imaging for children
As for literature in general, the imagery specifically intended for children appears gradually at the end of the eighteenth century, with a more or less pronounced concern for pedagogy.

But the images for children are as varied as those aimed at a general audience, with little precise boundaries between the two. They include stories: tales, fables, according to the principle of comics as it has long been in France, that is to say with the text under the image. It can also be historical and edifying stories.

The images to be cut also represent an important production: dolls to dress with different clothes, articulated puppets often representing the characters of the Commedia dell’arte.

There are also tricky picture boards, in which you have to find a character, an animal or a hidden object. Heads of characters who, returned, show a different head.

With the industrial revolution, the image made its appearance as a prescriber of purchases, via the child: the collectible images found in chocolate bars: all brands have their collection.

Non-printed imaging

If most of the imagery is printed by the usual techniques, more or less artisanal or industrial, there is a significant part that is achieved by other means. We can mention the signs, made of metal, and which adopt a visual repertoire at the same time very diversified but also codified: the bouquet of saint Éloi to indicate the workshop of the blacksmith, the branch for the inn or the cabaret, etc. Signs can also be painted.

In the religious field, statuary representing saints, prophets, apostles, biblical scenes. The images used for the worship of the saints were often originally carved or painted ivory tablets, or enamelled metal plates. Crosses of crossroads or procession, crosses known as the Passion, also belong to repertoires of popular forms.

The first forms of modern advertising use painted walls or enamelled plates, whose graphic repertoire, anonymous or not, joins a form of popular imagery.

In the visual arts, besides the works painted on canvas or other support, there are particular techniques, sometimes very refined and sophisticated, but which come from a popular tradition specific to a region or a country: thus the paintings on glass, fixed under glass, églomisés. Poya, painting adorning cottages in some alpine areas.

Among the unique graphic creations are the wishes: baptism, wedding wishes, conscription memorabilia, even funerary texts, made for these special occasions and offered.

Source From Wikipedia