Lesson No. 01


Throughout history, humankind has used narrative images to tell stories. This is a short overview over the history of illustration.
Now that we’ve established what illustration exactly are, we can understand why a lot of businesses like to use them. If you haven’t read the introductory article yet, you can do so here: What is illustration. But, let’s dig a little deeper into the past. Why did humans start using images to explain situations? And, when did people start creating illustrations made by artists and illustrators to tell stories?
History of Illustration - Greek Terracotta Oil Flask

The Ancient Cultures

In the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Italy, art flourished to honor gods, humankind, and the cultures themselves. Illustrations of heroes and festivals, mythological tales and literature, funeral scenes and sporting events were drawn and incised onto ceremonial vessels. (Sources: illustrationhistory.org/history; Vase: Amasis Painter / The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fletcher Fund, 1931)

History of Illustration - Biblia Pauperum

The Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, narrative pictorials appeared in illuminated manuscripts. Christian belief in the sanctity of religious writings was the primary reason for the preservation and copying of books.  Monasteries were the centers of cultural, educational, and intellectual activities. Studio spaces called "scriptoria" were provided for writing, copying, and illuminating books. (Sources: illustrationhistory.org/history; Biblia Paupera / 15th century)

History of Illustration - Albrecht Dürer Printing Matrice

The Mechanical Printing Process

The invention of the mechanical printing process by Johannes Gutenberg changed everything. Artists of the Renaissance presented new music, literature, art, and publications that could be mass-produced and distributed. The creation and distribution of woodcuts and engraved prints brought images, ideas, and entertainment to a wide audience. The images show the printing matrice of Albrecht Dürer's illustration "Christus am Ölberg" on the left side, and on the right side an actual print of the artwork. (Sources: Staatsbibliothek Bamberg; illustrationhistory.org/history)

Newspaper illustrations

The Industrial Revolution

With the start of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s, printing technology improved rapidly. Illustration became more commonly encountered in daily life. English wood engraver Thomas Bewick established a studio for printing of commercial illustration. Newspapers are increasingly embellished with engravings. After that in the 1800s English and French caricaturists independently earned a living as full-time illustrators. This made illustration accessible and affordable. (Sources: Le Petit Journal / Winslow Homer / Edgar Stow Wheelan; illustrationhistory.org/history)

Vogue Magazine Cover 1924

The 20th & 21st Century

Illustration was beginning to be seen by publishers as a necessity, and competition between publications. As a result this led to increased budgets for art, instituting higher fees and greater recognition for the artists. The best illustrators became well-known figures and some, like Charles Dana Gibson and John Held, Jr., achieved celebrity status. Magazine covers and story illustrations were seen by millions. (Sources: illustrationhistory.org/history; Vogue Magazine Cover Oct. 1924)


Did you notice? Illustration has always been about STORY TELLING! And nowadays? How can you use illustrations to tell your stories? Whether it is in your magazine, on your social media or about your product, let me support you by creating custom illustrations.

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Sources: illustrationhistory.org/history;
Metropolitan Museum of Art; Staatsbibliothek Bamberg; Vogue Magazine.