Dressed prints

Posted on 8th October 2019 by simonbeattie

One of our favourite reference books here in the office is Altered and Adorned by Suzanne Karr Schmidt, a fantastic look at how Renaissance prints were used in everyday life. An accompanying exhibition was put on by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011. Something Karr Schmidt mentions in her study is the fashion for ‘dressing prints’, an example of which we were able to bring last year to the Boston fair:

Die Poesie oder Dicht-Kunst. Germany, early eighteenth century(?). Etched and engraved print embellished with various velvet and silk fabrics, some applied as onlays and some revealed underneath cut-outs.

The fashion for ‘dressing’ prints took off in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and ‘may have often been a household pastime like other cutting and pasting activities’ (‘What the well-dressed print is wearing’, Houghton Library blog, 28 Feb. 2014).  Adding scraps of fabric, printed papers, and even metal foils to a print allowed it to ‘accrue meaning through layering’, becoming a votive of sorts for the person who owns it (Karr Schmidt, p. 67).  As objects, they occupy a rarefied space in which luxury and devotion can be expressed in everyday life by everyday people. 

As Karr Schmidt demonstrates, prints selected for dressing were usually devotional in nature.  Here, Poetry herself has been similarly honoured, with luxurious and colourful fabrics, by an early owner of the print.  She sits at a table with leaves of verse and a lyre, with two putti at her feet, who crown a skull with laurels and tie a garland around the neck of a swan.  Her left index finger, extended towards her temple, doubles as a gesture towards a framed image of the Crucifixion in the upper left-hand corner.

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4 responses to “Dressed prints”

  1. Kim Bell says:

    Interesting post. This seems to be a precursor to tinsel prints, popular in England from the early to mid-nineteenth century.


  2. Richard Cady Rare Books says:


    I have on on the wall in my study a non-religious dressed print.
    20 by 15 inches. In original polished wood frame with braided cord fillet.
    Was once part of a pair – one of dogs, one of cats. The other (the cat one)
    no longer present. Long story. Watercolour sky with clouds, two inked and watercoloured
    brick pillars, leaves of feathers on tops, strange central round terraced hill with line of statues
    and central monument/castle atop. Far landscape pen and watercolour. Dressed cloth and lace
    and ribbons dressed elegant lady, and three little doggies frolicking. The dogs and woman are
    raised. There is quite a bit of penwork on the brick columns, and on a wall in the foreground.

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