Today we live in a color-saturated age, as advances in digital cameras, copiers, and printers make color printing more affordable than it has ever been. But it is important to remember that until the middle of the nineteenth century and the development of chromolithography, color was always a luxury. The earliest book in this exhibition, Sacro Bosco's De sphaera (ca. 1275) belongs to the age of the illuminated manuscript, books made for and owned by the nobility or the Church elite. The only known hand-colored copy, of Vesalius's De humani corporis fabrica (1543) was made for Emperor Charles V, to whom the work is dedicated.

Most scientific and medical illustration was done in black and white before the invention of chromolithography. Except for a few experiments, color had to be added by hand, as in Edward Lear's Parrots (1832), greatly increasing the cost of production. The popular print Prang's Prize Babies (1888), a composite made from nineteen lithographic stones, aptly illustrates the labor intensiveness of the chromolithographic printing process.


Andreas Vesalius
De humani corporis fabrica,1543
Anonymous Private Collector; photo courtesy of Christie's, New York

The New York Public Library provides the information contained on this website, including reproductions of certain items from individuals and other institutions, for personal or research use only.

Images of these items illustrate but a few of The New York Public Library's major holdings in science and medicine as well as items from other institutions which were featured in the exhibition Seeing Is Believing,on view from October 23, 1999—February 19, 2000 at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, and related publication.


SEE the Exhibit     |     LEARN About the Exhibit     |     The New York Public Library Homepage

© 2001 The New York Public Library