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Reading early modern illustrations
in Spectacular Performances
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This chapter focuses on a particular kind of evidence, illustrations, and addresses what kind of information they contribute to or encode in books. Illustrations in early modern books serve a wide variety of functions. As in scientific texts, they are essential explanatory devices; but even in these cases pictures are rarely merely explanatory. The repetition of illustrations strikes us as inept, an index to the inadequacies of early printing, though in terms of design it might actually be considered a virtue. That it was at least considered an available visual convention is clear from one of the most extraordinary pieces of early English book illustration, John Heywood's The Spider and the Flie, 1556, with astonishing woodcuts by an unknown artist. Illustrium Imagines has here ceased to be a coin collection, a record of images drawn from the material remains of the past, and has become an iconology, fanciful when necessary.

Spectacular Performances

Essays on theatre, imagery, books and selves in early modern England>

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