A 16th-century woodcut printing technique of combining small distinct blocks to create a variety of scenes

Comedia de Calisto.jpg

In an early Venetian edition (Bindoni, 1543) of one of the great classics of Spanish literature, the Comedia de Calisto y Melibea of Fernando de Rojas, also known as Celestina, 11 of the 16 woodcuts illustrating the text are formed from the varying rearrangements of five small distinct blocks, each of which portrays either a human figure or a landscape feature, with the purpose of creating always changing scenes. This peculiar technique is quite unusual for it must have presented many difficulties to printers. A similar use of combining two blocks to form a single figure, one for the head and one for the body, is attested in the Tacuino 1506 edition of Boccaccios De Mulieribus Claris. It is presumable that these rare and elaborate experiments in woodcut production were dictated by reasons of economy.

The first edition of the original Spanish text of Celestina was printed in Burgos in 1499. The first Italian edition was issued in Rome in 1506 and reprinted several times during the 16th century.

ROJAS, Fernando de (d. 1541). Celestina tragicocomedia [sic!] di Calisto e Melibea nuovamente tradotta de spagnolo in italiano idioma. Venice, Bernardino Bindoni, 1543.

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Fabrizio Govi