The technique of making a print from a block of wood sawn along the grain (the term is also applied to the print so made). It is the oldest technique for making prints and its principles are very simple. The design is drawn on a smooth block of wood (almost any wood of medium softness can be used) and the parts that are to be white in the print are cut away with knives and gouges, leaving the design standing up in relief. This is then inked and pressed against against a sheet of paper.
The origins of woodcut are obscure (the principle was employed in fabric printing in the Middle East at least as early as the 5th century AD), but woodcut as we know it appeared in Europe in the early 15th century; the earliest dated print is perhaps the St Christopher (1423) by an unknown artist in the John Rylands Library, Manchester. It was much used as an illustrative technique in the early days of printed books, but in the 16th century it lost ground to line engraving, which could produce much subtler effects.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, however, there was a major revival of interest in the woodcut as a medium of original artistic expression, artists such as Munch, Gauguin and the German Expressionists realizing the potential of the rugged boldness that is characteristic of the technique. The coloured woodcut, using different blocks for each colour, was particularly popular in Japan.
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