Searching for a Palette:

Colour Printing and Print Painting in the Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania (ca. 1470-1600)

The main objective of this project is to examine the relevance of colour in prints in the formative and most dynamic period of their production in the Polish Kingdom and Grand Duchy of Lithuania. We investigate material, technical and organizational aspects of colour printing and practices of colouring prints freehand or with the use of stencils and dabbers. At the same time we also seek to determine economic, social, decorative, aesthetic, informative, mnemonic and devotional functions of colour applied to the printed page in the late fifteenth and the sixteenth century along with the reception of colour and coloured prints by their contemporary audiences.

By researching the print production in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Poland and Lithuania, characterized by a distinct cultural, confessional, social and political formation, we hope to reflect on the regional particularity of the print market and of the significance of colour. Yet, the mobility and the personal networks of the printers active in these two lands linked the local print markets closely with the German ones and facilitated the transfer of know-how and its applications. This interconnection of the markets calls for a broader, comparative look at the phenomenon of print colouring and colour printing. Hence, the aim of this project is to reconstruct the history of colour printing and practices of print colouring in the Polish Kingdom and Grand Duchy of Lithuania vis-à-vis those characteristic for the German-speaking lands and to inscribe the Polish and Lithuanian cases into a broader academic discussion, focused so far mainly on the printmaking in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

The set of research questions concerning colour printing regards their makers, the chronology and technological issues: who, when and how experimented with printing colour? Was colour printing a novelty imported from German lands or rather were the experiments accidental and more local in character? As for colouring the prints we seek to determine: who were the people professionally illuminating incunabula for the Polish and Lithuanian markets and how were they organized? What was their relationship with the printers? Were there any attempts at more standardized and mass-produced colouring with the use of stencils and dabbers? There is also amateurish colouring to consider: who did it, how and why? How did the ‘styles’ of colouring differ along social, professional and gender lines? Also, more general questions regarding the reception of the colour and coloured prints are addressed: what did these objects mean to the contemporary audiences? Is there any discussion concerning colour printing and coloured prints and the status of printed and painted colour recorded in the writings of Polish and Lithuanian humanists or in notes left in the prints by their consumers? Finally, is there anything idiosyncratic about the colour prints and painted prints in terms of their chronology, production, functions and reception in the studied territories?

The final results of the project will be presented in a series of English-language journal articles, whereas we will discuss the partial outcomes of our research at international and domestic conferences as well as during a two-day conference, which will be organized in summer 2022 at the University of Warsaw.