Cutting, colouring and inscribing Part 1: extracting ornament: cutting out designs from ornament prints

Produced as designs for the decorative arts, from early on ornament prints also appealed to collectors. In some cases these prints, intended to inspire designs from artists and craftsmen, appear to have inspired their past owners to embellish or change their form. The next three blog posts will investigate some embellishments made by previous owners through the cutting, colouring and inscribing of prints.

This first blog will consider the physical changes made to ornament prints through cutting out and pasting.

Figure 1

V&A inventory number E.2518-1930

Antoine Jacquard

Plate from a suite of 6 designs for the fronts and sides of watch cases

Paris, 1610-1615

The cutting out of details isolates a specific portion of the print. In the case where various designs for ornament of different objects are presented on the same plate this allows for one or more design to be highlighted.

Figure 2

V&A inventory number E.412-1926

Antoine Jacquard

Cutting from a plate from a suite of 6 designs for the fronts and sides of watch cases

Paris, 1610-1615

This cutting of a watch case ornamented with the mythological story of Ganymede being abducted by Jupiter in the guise of an eagle has been separated from the rest of the sheet (see Figure 1).

Such separation of detail may have resulted from the intended function of the print; that of a design for the decoration of a watch case. By cutting away this section the craftsman could transfer this design more easily onto a watch case.

Other prints in the collection are cut around motifs with such attention to detail that it suggests a different purpose.

Figure 3

V&A inventory number 29279.B

Theodor de Bry

Cutting from a plate from a suite of 4 designs for girdles and collars

Germany or the Netherlands, 1580-1600

Here a girdle has been cut out with minute attention to detail, following its curving outline. In the nineteenth century there was a growing practice amongst collectors to cut out illuminated ornament from manuscripts. In 1853 he artist and critic John Ruskin (18189-1900) famously recorded in his diary spending an evening of ‘hard work’ to cut out illuminations from a manuscript.

Figure 4

V&A inventory number 4918.1

Domenico Morone

Candelabra with a cherub, cutting of marginal ornament from a choir book

Italy, 1480-1490

This manuscript cutting has been cut with such care that even the spaces between the curling leaves at the base of the candelabra have been removed, revealing the buff coloured paper upon which it is pasted. The attention to selecting and cutting out of this manuscript fragment is very similar to that of de Bry’s design for a girdle (Figure 3). It suggests that for the early collectors of both manuscripts and prints the practice of selecting and extracting details through cutting out was a common one.

Figure 5

V&A inventory number 25016.132

Domenico Cunego


Italy, 1770-1800

In the case of this print representing an antique trophy it appears that a previous owner began to attentively cut out details of the print, around the toes of the slaves and spear-heads, before abandoning the project.

Figure 6

V&A inventory number 12823

Gilles Legaré (main plate) ; Etienne Delaune (central plate)

Design for jewellery with an oval cutting pasted in the centre from a suite of 6 plates of grotesques

Main plate: France, before 1663

Central plate: France, 1573

In some cases this intervention becomes more inventive. This sheet marries the work of two different printmakers who were working in France in different centuries. In centre is an oval cut from a grotesque showing the figure of Mars. This has been pasted onto the centre of a seventeenth century plate for goldsmith’s ornament. Legaré’s later plate creates an elaborate frame of foliate scrolls for Delaune’s print.

The cutting ornament prints can be seen as the result of two purposes. Firstly, trimming around a design could aid its transfer of a design for the decoration of an object.  In some cases the cutting of intricate detail and inventive pasting of more than one print on a sheet suggests the inventiveness of a collector that chose to change the prints in their possession into new visual objects.

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