A print of two couples dancing the waltz, published by Pierre La Mésangère in 1800
A print of two couples dancing the waltz, published by Pierre La Mésangère in 1800

British Museum

Slade lectures 2015 announced: free talks on printmaking before photography

Matt Pickles

The Oxford Slade Lectures 2015 will be on the subject of printmaking before photography, it has been announced.

Antony Griffiths, former Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, will give eight lectures under the title, ‘The print before photography: The European print in the age of the copper plate and wooden block'.

The lectures will be held every Wednesday at 5pm between 21 January and 11 March at the Mathematic Institute on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter. The lectures are open to the public and admission is free.

The Slade Lectures were founded in 1869 after a bequest from the art collector Felix Slade in 1869. John Ruskin gave the first series of eight public lectures in 1870. In his inaugural lecture he announced that he was setting up the Ruskin School of Drawing, which is now the Ruskin School of Art.

Professor Griffiths said: 'Gutenberg's invention of moveable type made it possible to print letters. But images could only be printed using two other technologies that were developed alongside letterpress. One depended on wooden blocks which were cut and printed in relief, the other on copper plates into which lines were cut by engraving or etching and were printed on a rolling press.

'Copper-plate printmaking developed into a huge business employing thousands of people, and dominated image production for nearly four centuries across the whole of Europe. Its processes remained very stable, and a man of 1500 could have walked into a printing shop of 1800 and understood what was going on. During the nineteenth century this world was displaced by new technologies, of which photography was by far the most important.'

He added: 'Today the old hand-crafted processes that used wooden blocks and copper plates are obsolete, and are only found in the small area of printmaking by artists. The Slade lectures will attempt to resurrect this lost world and describe its structure.'

Craig Clunas, Professor of the History of Art at Oxford University, said: 'These free lectures are designed to be accessible to non-specialists, and I think anyone interested in the visual arts will get great insight and enjoyment from them. Antony has an extremely distinguished record as head of the British Museum's Prints and Drawings Department for many years, and as the author of some two dozen books and exhibition catalogues on the subject.'

More information on the lectures can be found here.