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Storytelling in Miniature

Storytelling in Miniature

Perhaps to conceal from prying eyes, to demonstrate engraving prowess, to conserve scarce paper and utilize every bit of expensive copper, or to prove a point (even if only to themselves), artists have created very small prints from the technique’s beginnings in the 1400s to the present. Some of the earliest were produced almost by chance. European metalwork engravers would transfer their designs to paper to send their customers progress reports on the work. These engraved designs were often for very small decorative elements or for pieces of jewelry, hence their sometimes tiny size.

Soon artists recognized the potential of the engraved image transferred to paper as an art form in itself. Engraving and, later, etching metal plates solely for the production of prints became widespread by the 1500s.

A collector during the Renaissance period could paste small prints into easily concealed books, small enough to be placed in a pocket or pouch, to peruse closely for their personal enjoyment. While prints of religious subjects were very popular, the intimate character of these early books encouraged the production of imagery celebrating the mythological or secular in copious, and sometimes graphic, detail.

The prints represented in this catalogue range in size from as small as to 7 3/4 x 5 in.

This catalogue is presented in conjunction with the Toledo Museum of Art exhibition Storytelling in Miniature (October 7, 2011–March 4, 2012). All works of art are from the Museum’s collection.