Call for Papers

Impressions of Colour: Rediscovering Colour in Early Modern
Printmaking, ca 1400-1700

Cambridge, 8-9 December 2011

The absence of colour has been long been considered a defining characteristic of early modern printmaking. Colour printing from the hundreds of years between the invention of the printing press and 1700, when Christophe Le Blon developed the three-colour method we use today, has been thought of as rare and extraordinary. However, new research has revealed that bright inks added commercial value, didactic meaning and visual emphasis to subjects as diverse as anatomy, art, astronomy, biology, cartography, medicine, militaria and polemics in both single-sheet prints and books.

Despite the significance and scale of these discoveries, the bias against colour continues to dominate print scholarship; the colour in colour prints is often ignored. As the technology to disseminate images in their original colour has spread, much important material has suddenly become available to scholars. Now that techniques that were thought to have been isolated technical experiments seem to have been relatively common practice, a new, unified history of, and conceptual framework for, early modern colour printing has become necessary, and significant aspects of early modern print culture now must be reconsidered. This conference aims to explore new methodologies and foster new ways of understanding the development of colour printing in Europe through an interdisciplinary consideration of the production.

Proposals considering diverse aspects of early European colour printing in relief and intaglio from the middle ages to the turn of the eighteenth century are welcome, including those dealing with textiles and book illustrations. Please send a 250-word abstract for a 20-minute paper to by 29 June 2011. Conservators, rare book librarians and practising printers also are encouraged to apply.

Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Textiles and Other Predecessors of Colour Printing
  • Techniques, Ingredients and the Earliest Sources
  • The Rise, Decline and Re-emergence of Chiaroscuro Woodcuts
  • Special Problems of Reproductive Prints
  • Confronting Historiographical and Artistic Preferences for Monochromatic Black
  • Issues in Intaglio Colour Printmaking
  • Online Print Databases and their Role in Research on Early Colour Printmaking

The conference will feature a demonstration of early colour printing techniques in the Historical Printing Room, a display of books with early colour printing at the University Library and a display of early colour prints at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Conveners: Ad Stijnman (University of Amsterdam) and Elizabeth Upper (University of Cambridge) with assistance from Emily Gray (Courtauld Institute and British Museum).

For more information see the conference webpage: