The study of printed images in Britain goes back to the 18th century, and there is still something to to learned from works on the subject produced then, notably the final volume of Horace Walpole’s Anecdotes of Painting in England (London, 1763) and James Granger’s Biographical History of England (2nd edn., London, 1775), a compendium of information on the printed portraits which Granger made it fashionable for people to collect for purposes of extra-illustration.

For more sustained study, we turn to the Victorian period and its aftermath. Two reference books which remain valuable were associated with the collections of the British Museum, namely F.G. Stephens, Catalogue of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum: Satirical and Personal Subjects, vol. 1 (1320-1689) (London, 1870), and vol. 2 (1689-1733) (London, 1873), and Freeman O’Donoghue, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum (4 vols., London, 1908-14), with 2 further volumes ed. H.M. Hake (London, 1922-5). More broadly, the definitive study of mezzotint portraits remains John Chaloner Smith, British Mezzotinto Portraits; Being a Descriptive Catalogue of these Engravings, from the Introduction of the Art to the Early Part of the Present Century (4 vols., London, 1883); this is supplemented by C.E. Russell, English Mezzotint Portraits and their States (2 vols., London, 1926). Louis Fagan’s Descriptive Catalogue of the Engraved Works of William Faithorne (London, 1888) also retains some value.

For a fuller study of engravings from the period, the pioneering work was Sir Sydney Colvin’s, Early Engraving and Engravers in England (London, 1905). Colvin’s book was partly based on research by Arthur M. Hind, who long worked in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, of which he was Keeper from 1933 to 1945, and who himself made an ambitious attempt to write a complete history of Engraving in England in the 16th and 17th Centuries, which intended to give a descriptive account of the corpus of successive artists active in England during the period. The first volume, dealing with the Tudor period, appeared in 1952, while the second, covering the reign of James I, followed in 1955; a third volume, dealing with the reign of Charles I, was published from Hind’s materials after his death by Margery Corbett and Michael Norton in 1964, but at that point the enterprise came to an end.

The 1960s and 1970s saw something of a gap in such publications, apart from Katherine S. van Eerde, John Ogilby and the Taste of his Times (Folkestone, 1976) and Margery Corbett and Ronald Lightbown, The Comely Frontispiece: the Emblematic Title-page in England, 1550-1650 (London, 1979) (an earlier work dealing with frontispieces was A.F. Johnson, A Catalogue of Engraved and Etched English Title-pages, London, 1934). A definitive study of the oeuvre of one specific artist, Hollar, is to be found in Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) (Cambridge, 1982), which bears some similarity to the catalogues raisonnées of the work of Dutch, Flemish and German engravers to be found in the ‘Hollstein’ series, which give much useful information on the work of artists active in Britain.

From the point of view of understanding British printed images of the period, a landmark was represented by Alexander Globe’s Peter Stent c. 1642-1665, London Printseller: A Catalogue Raisonné of His Engraved Prints and Books With An Historical and Bibliographical Introduction (Vancouver, 1985). This was inspired by the two advertisements of prints for sale that the dealer, Peter Stent, issued in 1654 and 1662, which were used as the basis for a meticulous analysis of Stent’s stock, the engravers who worked for him and the often complex history of the works they produced.

For printed images of the 16th and earlier 17th centuries, an equally important work was Tessa Watt’s Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550-1640 (Cambridge, 1991), which for the first time gave proper attention to the range of popular imagery that survives in printed form from the period before the Civil War, particularly from the Jacobean period onwards, when there was an upsurge of material of this kind.

No less important is Antony Griffith’s The Print in Stuart Britain (with the collaboration of R.A. Gerard; London, 1998), based on a British Museum exhibition, which effects a majestic synthesis between the art-historical approach of Colvin and Hind and the more socio-cultural approach of Globe, giving by far the best overview of the print trade in the period yet extant: it divides its subject up into a series of themes which give a largely chronological view of printmaking in the period, indicating the ways in which this changed and developed as the seventeenth century progressed. It also gives a mass of invaluable detail about the artists, engravers and printsellers with which it is concerned, while its profuse illustrations are a revelation in themselves.

A book based on a similar exhibition at the British Museum was Sheila O’Connell’s The Popular Print in England (London, 1999), which ranges more widely chronologically but gives a powerful sense of the market that existed for cheap and often crudely produced images in the early modern period, and the ways in which producers catered for this.

The final years of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st have seen considerable interest in Foxe’s ‘Book of Martyrs’ and its illustrations, notably Margaret Aston and Elizabeth Ingram, ‘The Iconography of the Acts and Monuments’, in John Foxe and the English Reformation, ed. David Loades (Aldershot, 1997), pp. 66-142; Ruth Luborsky, ‘The Illustrations: their Pattern and Plan’, in John Foxe: An Historical Perspective, ed. David Loades (Aldershot, 1999), pp. 67-84; Thomas Betteridge, ‘Truth and History in Foxe’s Acts and Monuments’, in John Foxe and his World, ed. Christopher Highley and J.N. King (Aldershot, 2002), pp. 145-59; and most recently in J.N. King, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and Early Modern Print Culture (Cambridge, 2006). See also Ruth S. Luborsky and Elizabeth M. Ingram, A Guide to English Illustrated Books 1536-1603 (2 vols., Tempe, Arizona, 1998) and J.A. Knapp, Illustrating the Past in Early Modern England: the Representation of History in Printed Books (Aldershot, 2003).

The past three years have seen the publication of various studies which have deployed a wide range of printed images, from the popular to the refined, contextualising them by recourse to printed books and other source material from the period. The works in question are Joseph Monteyne, The Printed Image in Early Modern London: Urban Space, Visual Representation and Social Exchange (Aldershot, 2007); Helen Pierce, Unseemly Pictures: Graphic Satire and Politics in Early Modern England (New Haven and London, 2008); Kevin Sharpe, Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in 16th-century England (New Haven and London, 2009); Malcolm Jones, The Print in Early Modern England: An Historical Oversight, forthcoming from Yale in 2010 (the source of the ‘Print of the Month’ feature elsewhere on this website); and Michael Hunter (ed.), Printed Images in Early Modern Britain: Essays in Interpretation, forthcoming from Ashgate in 2010.

Each of these is an important and distinctive work in its own right and the contrasts between them are marked. Jones is concerned with the sheer range of revealing images that were available at the time, from the satirical to the scatological, including social criticism, anti-Catholicism, portents, even visual tricks and puzzles. Pierce and Sharpe, on the other hand, are particularly interested in the uses to which images were put in a political setting, whereas Monteyne lays more stress on the links between visual representations and the spatial dynamics of late Stuart London. What they share is an approach to the history of the printed image in this period which shows a constant alertness to the settings from which printed images originated, thereby making a timely contribution to a proper understanding of the role of printed images in the history and culture of the period.