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Western European Prints

The collections of the Imperial Public Library, like many of the large European libraries of the time, also included prints. They were stored as separate sheets or bound into albums by collectors or the publishers themselves. In the nineteenth century the thematically jumbled works of art were sorted out and they formed the Main Collection which at present is kept in the Prints Department. Classification was carried out according to national artistic schools. The most numerous proved to be Dutch prints, outstanding among which are undoubtedly the works published by the sixteenth-century humanist Hieronymus Cock, a friend of Christoph Plantin and Abraham Ortelius. Pieter Brueghel and Martin Heemskerk both drew for Cock, while Dirk Coornhert, Pieter van der Heyden, Cornelius Cort and others produced burin engravings and etchings with Classical, biblical and allegorical subjects. The German school is represented through woodcuts and engravings by artists of the Renaissance period, most notably Albrecht Dtirer, Lucas Cranach and Hans Burgkmaier; the French Classical engraving of the seventeenth century by portraits of sovereigns, nobles and clergymen created by Claude Mellan and Robert Nanteuil.

The works in the Main Collection are also grouped by genre: landscapes, seascapes, views of towns and pictures of animals. The largest section in this regard is the portrait with works by various artists from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.

The Prints Department contains works representing all European schools and techniques. There are, for example, German incunabula (early woodcuts and metal engravings of the fifteenth century), masterpieces of sixteenth-century Italian line engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi, Benedetto Montagna and Enea Vico, Flemish works belonging to Rubens' school, seventeenth-century etchings by Jacques Callot and the great Rembrandt.

The eighteenth century was a time of experimentation with different methods of working copper plates. The "English School" albums from the former collection of the Counts Sheremetev contain prints by Hogarth, Valentin Green, John Raphael Smith, James McArdell, John Boydell and Francesco Bartoluzzi executed in a variety of techniques and styles. Among the gems of the library are the 23 published albums of the French Royal Collection, conceived by Louis XIV and recording all works of art created or acquired in his time, as well as 16 volumes containing etchings of architectural monuments and fantasies by Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Francesco Piranesi, a real masterpiece of Italian eighteenth-century art.

In the nineteenth century new, mainly reproductive, print-making techniques predominated - lithography and wood engraving (where the block is cut across rather than along the grain). Large numbers of examples were deposited in the library. Here one can find lithographed albums of Honore Daumier, Paul Gavarni and Cham (Amedee de Noe), and books featuring xylographs by Gustave Dore. There are also works by celebrated Japanese masters of the colour woodcut print such as the album Manga (Mixture) by Katsushika Hokusai.

Views and portrait prints by European artists have been separated off into collections on their own. Particularly noteworthy among them are the engraved and lithographed sixteenth- to nineteenth-century portraits which Dmitry Rovinsky bequeathed to the library in 1895.

The notable works have also come into the library from such private collections like

 
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