Announcing the Text
The Development of the Title Page, 1470–1900 Selections from the National Gallery of Art Library
Early printed books often followed the form of a manuscript and had no title page. Instead a brief description, called an incipit, is included at the top of the first page. The text itself garners primary attention, with the first letter receiving an illumination.
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The title here is placed above a woodcut illustration with the first few lines of text below. The rest of the information regarding the production of the book appears in the colophon at the end. Just as with manuscripts, the primary focus is the text itself, and less importance is placed on the producer of the work.
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In this example there is still a limited amount of information, but the title has moved to its own page. In the 1460s printers began including a blank page at the beginning of the book, possibly as a means to protect the text. Eventually, this blank received a label-title such as this, probably as an aid to identification.
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Printers began to see themselves as important collaborators in the production of books, and soon a printer’s mark, like the woodcut device of L. A. Giunta shown here in red, began to appear along with the label-title.
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As the title page became a promotional and marketing tool, more attention was focused on its design. The longer title and combination of printing in red and black give this page a more sophisticated look than previous examples.
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Illustrations became more elaborate, as in this metalcut title vignette, and gradually more information from the colophon (printer’s note) moved forward to the title page, as seen below the illustration here.
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In a manuscript, and likewise in early printed books, a decorative border often surrounded the text. Later, the border moved to include the title page as well. This reissue of the 1503 edition includes the addition of a beautiful woodcut title page.
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Engraving overtook the woodcut as the primary form of book illustration by the end of the 16th century. All of the information from the colophon moved to the title page, as seen in this elaborate title page and frontispiece.
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Though it was more costly, some printers would have the text for the title page engraved directly into the copper plate, as shown here. This alleviated the problem of having to run the leaf through two different presses.
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Upon its introduction in the early 16th century, pure etching did not often appear in books—at least initially, because it was seen as less formal than traditional engraving. However, in part because it was a quicker method than traditional engraving, etched title pages like the one shown here (by Stefano della Bella, 1610–1644) grew in popularity in the 17th century.
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The frontispiece first appeared in the 16th century. Initially a portrait, it soon evolved into a variety of forms. In this example, it is an emblematic version of the title that compliments the standard letterpress version.
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By the beginning of the 18th century Paris had become a leading center in the book trade. Often a combination of methods was used, as in the engraved and etched frontispiece and title vignette with letterpress text shown here.
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This is an interesting variation that appears in a later edition of the same work. The frontispiece clearly depicts the same scene, re-engraved in reverse and with smaller dimensions, but the title page uses a very different typeface, red ink, and a new layout.
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Many new typefaces began to emerge in the 18th century. The Enlightenment brought a new scientific approach to printing and with it, the development of ornamented type using C- and S-curves based on forms from nature.
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In 1710 copyright was established in England, and English printers broke away from the printing practices of the European continent. From previous designs, based on those of the Dutch, a new, modern style emerged.
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To appeal to a wider audience and still keep costs down, a printer might print a single book in multiple languages instead of printing distinct editions. Sometimes, as with the Dutch and French versions here, separate title pages may be produced.
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Often special editions would receive special treatment when it came to the title page. This reissue of the sheets published as the 1785 Barrois edition includes an engraved title page in each volume, in addition to the original letterpress title page.
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Another example of an addition to a standard title page, this edition includes a title page done in aquatint and engraved with a variant of the title, Picturesque views on the river Thames with observations on the works of art in its vicinity.
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Classically based type, inspired by the discovery of sites like Pompeii and a newfound interest in the ancient world, became popular at the turn of the 19th century, as this title page and line engraved frontispiece show.
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Lithography became a widely used printing technique in the 19th century, especially in France, where it was applied to title pages such as this one, illustrated after a drawing by J. J. F. Le Barbier.
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The last book to be illustrated by the prolific 19th-century artist Gustave Doré was an edition of Orlando Furioso. This frontispiece is a line block reproduction of one of Doré’s drawings; the title page was printed with offset lithography.
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A. W. N. Pugin was a leading exponent of the Gothic revival. He rejected the elevation of ornament that had come to dominate design in the 19th century and advocated a return to design based on material, structure, and function.
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Inspired by the writings of people like Pugin, William Morris began the Arts and Crafts movement in England in the 1860s. Turning to medieval handicraft to find an authentic style, he based his book designs on manuscripts and early printing.
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Thought to be the first manifestation of an art nouveau title page, the example seen here features stylized curvilinear designs and organic motifs inspired by nature, which typify the style that would be popularized near the turn of the 20th century.
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