Throughout history, images have been used to reflect the meaning of words and to enhance our understanding of texts. With the invention of mechanized printing in Germany in the 15th century, illustrated books were no longer the preserve of the elite and became a source of knowledge, instruction and pleasure for a wider audience.
Traditional accounts of the illustrated book survey its history in terms of technological advances, from illumination to hand-drawn illustrations and photography. This study offers a new approach, grouping books by subject - from natural history and travel to art, architecture and fashion. Gathered here are some of the most influential and compelling examples of the illustrated book, all chosen from the collections of the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Each chapter starts with a general introduction to the subject, followed by key examples accompanied by narrative captions. The commentaries range beyond the illustrations to consider the whole book, the design, typeface, binding, inks and papers. Many of the books are not on display to the public and have been specially photographed for this volume. Most examples have been chosen for their significance, being innovative and beautiful. But humble books, often overlooked in histories, have also been selected, when particularly effective in their field, or simply memorable.
From beautiful printed Psalters and Books of Hours, to striking natural history books such as Audubon's Birds of America, La Fontaine's Fables illustrated by Marc Chagall, Serlio's treatise on architecture and Owen Jones's Grammar of Ornament, this book gives a fascinating overview of some of the finest illustrated books ever created. In the face of recent pronouncements about the death of the printed book, this volume demonstrates the enduring appeal of the illustrated book.