The exhibition follows various stages and forms of the reproduction of printed symbols and images from the Middle Ages, through the discovery of letterpress printing, and the advent of the industrial revolution to the present day.

antique books
Most of the books shown here have been printed with exhibits spanning from the second half of the 15th century to the present day. However a few rare hand-written examples from 13th—15th centuries, such as the Breviary from the Monastery of St. Franciscus, are also included. The hand-written codices were the result of work not only of the monastery's scriveners, but also the illustrators who were responsible for the illuminations, and bookbinders. The bookbinding completed the work and reflected the contents of the book or its owner. Some bookbinding techniques, namely blind blocking, pre-dated relief printing. Covers of missals were decorated with precious stones, proving that books were, until the early New Age, sacred cult items and served first of all for liturgical purposes. Gradually books acquired a didactic and informative role, and this was reflected in the development of the book illustrations in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Woodcuts and later copper engravings acquainted the readers with subjects drawn from history, natural science and travels. Even the text in the book was treated in a new way: the title pages along with the decorative initials, headings and vignettes intended to attract the reader’s attention and help him find his way more quickly in the text. The illustrated book became an accessible and until modern times, the most widespread pictorial medium forming European thinking and imagination.

applied graphics in history
The Gutenberg´s discovery of letter print brought revolutionary changes in printing. The fast spreading information required similarly affordable and fast technique of image reproduction. Relief printing, namely woodcut, was used to illustrate books and in the Renaissance era completely replaced earlier use of painted illuminations. Demands for greater authenticity and effectiveness of illustrations led to the discovery of intaglio printing — copper engraving and etching. In the late Renaissance and above all in the Baroque era, books were designed for representational purposes. Large-scale engravings in illustrious albums recorded secular and liturgical events, personalities and architecture, and title pages and frontispieces in books became symbolic pictures of power and glory.
Graphic art also played an important role from the end of the 15th century in providing themes, patterns and artist's models. Some of the leading European engravers (Heinrich Aldegrerer, Virgil Solis, Aegidius Sadeler among others) created ornamental and arts and crafts patterns which often inspired goldsmiths, metalsmiths and other craftsmen. New demands for personal and occasional graphics at the end of the 18th century brought about new commissions for the engravers workshops. Greeting and visiting cards, and ball invitations were the beginning of a hitherto unprecedented popularity of small scale prints and became an important aspect of the lifestyle of the emerging modern society.

the modern book

At the end of the 19th century, as a reaction to the industrial production, a movement emerged to promote the book as an artistic creation. Prominent artists fought for a revival of book-art, putting emphasis on an individual approach to book design as well as to its literary contents.
Illustrations do not merely describe the story, but also interpret the contents of the book, and its atmosphere. The book-binding, and ornament in particular, became the most prominent vehicle of these endeavours, and from the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century most significantly reflected the stylistic development in the arts and crafts. In the 1920s an international movement emerged pushing through the ideal of “new”, Constructivist typography which would reflect the need for swift mass communication in the emerging city civilisation. Elimination of ornament, dynamic composition, photographic image and simple type are permanent characteristics of book design till the present day.

modern applied graphics
A growing net of companies and institutions, a result of expansion of industry and trade and the democratisation of culture, gave birth to many modern forms of applied graphics. The need for publicity stimulated the emergence first of all of posters, but also calendars and various certificates. Photomontage appears alongside paintings, drawings and various printing techniques for the first time at the beginning of the 20th century and its flourishing in the following decades shows that it became an effective medium not only for promotion of goods, but of political and artistic ideas as well.

Czech poster art 1850—1914
The existence of the poster in the Czech lands goes back about 160 years. Its birth and spread was the result of three phenomena: the onset of the industrial revolution, expansion of trade and progress in printing. The invention of lithography brought about a major breakthrough for the poster, as it enabled images and lettering to be printed together in ever increasing numbers of identical copies. The first posters were of small scale in black and white only, and from the 1860s colour appears. At the end of the 1880s, following Paris, the first large scale multi-coloured billboard posters were displayed in the Czech lands. During the 1890s the number of prominent, academically trained, artists involved in poster design increased. The turn of the 19th and 20th centuries saw the arrival of the Art Nouveau style, a profoundly decorative stylised trend, which influenced all areas of art and design, including applied graphics and poster art. At first it manifested itself in posters for cultural events, namely exhibitions, later also in advertisements for goods and services. At the turn of the century, special kinds of commercial posters in the form of chromo-litographic small scale prints were designed for the interiors of shops, rather than for billboards in the streets, and their designers were anonymous, as well as well known artists.

Czech poster art 1918—1938
There was not a single dominant style in the 1920s and 1930s, like Art Nouveau at the turn of the century, but rather a number of new styles and „isms” appearing in quick succession. In the applied arts these styles and trends included Cubism, Expressionism, National Decorativism, late geometrical Art Nouveau, Neo-classicism, extreme figural stylisation and various oriental influences, amalgamated into Art Deco (named after the 1925 Paris exhibition of decorative arts). Under this banner we find these days even explicitly anti-decorative tendencies, such as various forms of abstraction, rational modernism of the 1930s and new typography with its use of black and white photographs. In contrast to the early decades of the century, in the 1920s and 1930 within the newly founded Czechoslovak Republic, posters were designed more and more often by specialist designers. They worked either on their own, or for a studio or advertising agency, whose number was on the increase; or else directly for specific production companies. Artists from now on usually designed posters only for exhibitions, theatre performances, books and other cultural events.

photography 1839—1900
The discovery of photography and its spread throughout the world after 1839 brought revolutionary changes in the visual culture. Among the pioneers of the first daguerreotype methods in the Czech lands was Wilhelm Horn. Later in the 1850s painter Jan Maloch pioneered another technique, so-called coloured salted paper, and thanks to him the likeness of many of his contemporary artists has been preserved. In the following decades, in a number of the newly emerged studios, portrait photography flourished in the form of cabinet photographs and “cartes de visit”. Photographic portraits of popular actors and politicians were also circulated. In the second half of the century the role of landscape photography became ever more significant, mainly thanks to Jindřich Eckert, probably the most versatile personality in the world of Czech photography of the 19th century. In the 1890s modern, “straight”, reportage photography evolved.

photography 1900—1950
During the 1890s as a reaction to the academic studio photography, modern photography emerged. This period of Art Nouveau Pictorialism saw photography assert itself as a sovereign artistic field. František Drtikol became famous not only for his landscape and genre photography, but also for the art of nude photography in which he achieved world renown in the 1920s. The most radical avant-garde ideas were expressed in the still-lifes of Jaromír Funke in the 1920s and in a set of photographs, montages and collages by a member of the legendary Group Devětsil, Jaroslav Rössler. Equally unique and inspiring is the artistic output of Jaroslav Wiškovský reflecting the aesthetics of “New Realism”. Surrealism found a platform in the work of several artists of the 1930s, and in the case of Miroslav Hák it culminated in a unique form of war civilism. The war year of 1940 was for Josef Sudek a turning point towards subjective photography, which later brought him an international recognition.

The evolution of writing symbols was one of the most decisive factors in the history of mankind. Without the invention of the phonetic alphabet one cannot imagine the existence of European civilisation. Various types of lettering not only influenced ways of reading, but also of thinking. It is therefore not surprising how much attention was paid to the artistic form of letters by copyists, painters and later printers and typesetters. From the illuminated initials of the Middle Ages stems a tradition of painted letters, followed by Renaissance and Baroque calligraphic pattern books in which ornamental and figurative alphabets of a very high decorative standard are found. At the same time old typefaces were improved and newly created within both basic groups: the gothic and the roman. The gradual dominance of roman characters was ensured by typefaces created by some of the most famous European typographers such as Aldus Manutius, Firmin Didot and Giambattista Bodoni, some of them remain current until today. Twentieth century lettering is presented in the exhibition in various contexts: as part of modern company trade mark, or as an inspiration for free graphic manifestations. Artists’ attempts to create new typefaces are represented here by examples of designs by Vojtěch Preissig and Josef Váchal.

The furniture displayed in the Print and Image exhibition is related closely to writing and graphics in general. On show are various types of writing desks, stands, and library cabinets. The oldest predecessor of a writing desk is a Renaissance writing cabinet and a free standing reading bench. A typical example of the Czech Baroque style is a writing cabinet with a collapsible desk. In the Empire and Biedermeier periods the shape and decoration of writing cabinets is more austere. The 20th century has seen a greater variety of writing desks. Amongst the library furniture, the monumental Baroque monastery library and a highly original Cubist library cabinets are of particular interest.