German, 15th century. The Lamb Receiving the Sealed Book from the Apocalypse Blockbook, 1460/70. Woodcut hand-colored with brush, stencil and watercolor with additions in pen and brown ink on ivory laid paper; image/block: 255 x 195 mm; sheet: 274 x 208 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Joseph Brooks Fair Fund.

Compiled by Placidus Sprenger (German, 1735-1806). Devotional Album of Engravings, Etchings, Woodcuts and Mezzotints, assembled 1798 from prints produced c. 1500–1798. Engraving, etching, woodcut and mezzotint in black, blue, reddish brown, red, blue-green, orange, and yellow and white metallic inks, and hand-colored with brush, stencil and watercolor, with additions in pen and brown, black and yellow metallic ink, and paintings with brush, watercolor and yellow metallic paint on various toned and tinted laid and wove papers, embossed paper with chine collé, vellum, and fabric, laid-down on ivory laid paper with blue fibers, discolored to cream; 340 x 402 mm. The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Renaissance Prints as Objects in Daily Life, a Sharper Image

Michael Wolgemut (German, 1434-1519) and workshop. Detail of folio 145 from the Nuremberg Chronicle (Liber Chronicarum), showing the rust imprint of medieval spring scissors in the gutter, 1493. Book with woodcuts and letterpress, with brush and red watercolor and additions in pen and red and blue gouache and brown ink on ivory laid paper; 474 x 680 mm. The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, The Art Institute of Chicago.

J. Kleininger (German, late 18th century-19th century). Portable Compass Sundial, c. 1790. Wood and hand-colored etching on paper with string gnomon; 87 x 52 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift from Mr. Charles H. Morse, Sr. in memory of his wife, Mrs. Charlotte Morse.

German. The Adoration of the Einsiedeln Madonna, 18th century. Woodcut hand-colored with brush and watercolor, cut, with attached elements of fabric, red-toned copper alloy metal foil, and block printed distemper colorants on paper, attached to the verso and visible through cutouts on ivory laid paper discolored to buff, laid down on blue wove paper, discolored to tan; image: 354 x 258 mm; sheet: 387 x 295 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Eberhard Kornfeld.

Lucas Kilian. German, 1579-1637. First Vision (Adam and Eve) from Mirror of the Microcosm (Visio Prima: Catoptri Microcosmographici), 1613. Broadsheet engraving on ivory laid paper, discolored to buff, cut, with etching on ivory laid paper components, laid down on letterpress printed ivory laid paper, and mounted on cream wove paper. 359 x 265 mm; 510 x 340 mm (letterpress printed secondary support). The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of Dr. Ira Frank.

Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Jean and Steven Goldman
Prints and Drawings Galleries
Richard and Mary L. Gray Wing (Galleries 124-127)
Altered and Adorned:
Using Renaissance Prints in Daily Life

April 30-July 10, 2011

Today's scrapbookers weren't the first to abuse paper products — Renaissance print owners were regular vandals who cut, pasted, adored, and adorned their personal print collections, the same ones that are stored in museum vaults today. The exhibition Altered and Adorned: Using Renaissance Prints in Daily Life takes a long-overdue look at these well-handled works, demonstrating how their condition today reflects their various uses and functions in the past. Altered and Adorned features more than 100 rare and never-before-seen printed objects and objects with printed components from the Art Institute's permanent collection, as well as a selection of treasures from other Chicago institutions.

Altered and Adorned investigates the ways in which woodcuts, engravings, and etchings functioned in European society from the late 15th through early 17th centuries. The exhibition reveals a radically different approach to prints in these centuries. Today, Renaissance prints are prized for their aesthetic importance: the least compromised by time and previous collectors the better. Modern-day viewers are thus used to seeing prints in artificially isolated states, matted in low-light galleries or kept between protective layers of glassine in acid-free solander boxes. But, contrary to popular assumptions, seemingly unused prints of this sort are very rare. Rather, because they were inexpensive and readily available, early prints were not regarded as sacrosanct artworks; many exhibit obvious marks of physical intervention by their users. Even comparatively clean impressions preserved in long-forgotten albums usually bear traces of folding, inscribing, pasting, stamping, or trimming (though such clues may stay hidden on their blank versos). In addition, early prints were not made to last, so their papers and inks have darkened or faded and accumulated stains and tears.

Taking an innovative art historical approach, Altered and Adorned focuses on Renaissance prints as they were used, embracing their imperfections and drawing on a wide range of little-seen examples from the Art Institute's collection. Exploring the initial functions and original contexts of these prints and printed objects, the exhibition reconstructs the various ways in which owners saw, handled, and used them on a daily basis. Bringing together prints, books, scientific instruments, and additional items at the intersection of prints and other media, Altered and Adorned unearths artworks with printed paper components from the Art Institute as well as from the Loyola University Museum of Art, the Adler Planetarium and Museum, and private collectors. The works exhibited include extremely rare survivors, such as two exceptional 15th-century devotional woodcuts in their original contexts: a French Nativity pasted into an armored traveling coffer and a Man of Sorrows on a book board. Other items range from wallpaper, bookplates, overstuffed print albums, festive printed fans and headdresses, and portable pocket sundials with printed faces to pop-up anatomy broadsheets with myriad flaps for the organs. Altered and Adorned also offers a new perspective on all early prints, for even the seemingly pristine impressions traditionally valued by collectors were in fact used during the Renaissance. For example, Hans Burgkmair's Equestrian Portrait of the Emperor Maximilian I, a woodcut printed in black and gold on vellum, became a presentation copy at the center of a diplomatic printing competition.

Not yet considered "art" in the modern sense, these versatile printed images belonged to the fabric of ordinary existence at every level of society. Altered and Adorned offers a chance to rediscover the limitless possibilities of this most pervasive and powerful medium.

Altered and Adorned: Using Renaissance Prints in Daily Life is accompanied by a 112-page comprehensive, full color, hardcover catalogue — with more than 95 illustrations — by Suzanne Karr Schmidt, exhibition curator and Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow, with a technical essay by associate paper conservator Kimberly Nichols. Published by the Art Institute of Chicago and distributed by Yale University Press, the catalogue is available in the Museum Shop of the Art Institute of Chicago for $35.

Altered and Adorned: Using Renaissance Prints in Daily Life is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and curated by Suzanne Karr Schmidt, exhibition curator and Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow. Generous support is provided by members of the Exhibitions Trust: Goldman Sachs, Kenneth and Anne Griffin, Thomas and Margot Pritzker, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, Donna and Howard Stone, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Sullivan, and an anonymous donor.

Agostino Carracci. Italian, 1557-1602. A Headpiece in the Form of a Fan, c. 1589. Engraving on ivory laid paper, intended to be cut out and worn, with interchangeable oval vignettes. 370 x 248 mm (image/sheet, cut within plate mark). The Art Institute of Chicago. Joseph Brooks Fair Collection.

Workshop of the Master of the Very Small Hours of Anne of Brittany (French, active 1480-1510). The Nativity, c. 1490. Woodcut hand-colored with brush, stencil and watercolor on ivory laid paper mounted on the inside cover of a coffer, constructed of wood, iron, leather, horsehair and linen; image: 231 x 164 mm. French, 15th century. Coffer, c. 1490. 220 x 330 x 150 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. George F. Harding Deaccessions Fund; Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Vance; The Amanda S. Johnson and Marion J. Livingston Fund.

Johannes Regiomontanus (German, 1436–1476). Published by Erhard Ratdolt (German, 1442-1528). Universal Sundial with an Articulated Brass Arm from Calendarium, 1476. Woodcut and letterpress in black and red, hand-colored with brush and watercolor, pen and ink, with metal and string elements on cream and tan laid papers; 295 x 220 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift in memory of Mrs. Emil Eitel from Mr. Emil Eitel.