Early woodcut initials


More decorated initials, these being from Early Woodcut Initials (1908), a collection by Oscar Jennings of ornamental letters from books of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. By way of contrast with yesterday’s examples, not all of these feature the religious or mythological figures one would expect, some show early mathematical and astronomical devices.



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Paulini’s mythological alphabet


Whoever I. Paulini was, no one seems to know his (or, indeed, her) first name. Even the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, which owns a copy of these plates, doesn’t elaborate. The copies here are scans from a Getty edition of Alphabeto, part of the collection of Getty Institute volumes at the Internet Archive. The book is usually dated 1570 but a note states that “The watermarks … suggest a printing date closer to the end of the 16th century than to 1570, the conjectural date of first publication.”


Paulini gives use twenty engraved plates each showing an ornamented letter of the Roman alphabet with a background depicting a scene from Greek and Roman mythology; each letter is tied to a different character or scene, so here we have G for Ganymede, and N for Narcissus. Mister Aitch at the late, lamented Giornale Nuovo was a great enthusiast for these kinds of alphabets, and for engravings in general. He pursued his own researches into the Paulini mystery back in 2006 when copies of the complete set of letters were difficult to find.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Joseph Balthazar Silvestre’s Alphabet-album
Johann Theodor de Bry’s Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet
The Book of Ornamental Alphabets
Paul Franck’s calligraphy
John Bickham’s Fables and other short poems
Letters and Lettering
Studies in Pen Art

Joseph Balthazar Silvestre’s Alphabet-album


Monsieur Silvestre’s Alphabet-album, a collection of decorative alphabets, has a lengthy subtitle—Collection de Soixante Feuilles d’Alphabets Historiés et Fleuronnés, tirés des Principales Bibliothèques de l’Europe—and is a good example of how the 19th century, always characterised as a period of over-elaborate decoration, contains the seeds of 20th-century design. Silvestre’s book dates from 1843 yet contains several examples of sans serif or rectilinear lettering which wouldn’t have looked out of place a hundred years later. There’s also some fine examples of over-elaborate lettering, of course, with the usual embellishments and calligraphic flourishes, and also a page of letterforms based on tree shapes, a common sight in Victorian graphics.



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