Among the many volumes of centuries-old books in Special Collections are some titles from the 16th century with incredibly detailed illustrations by a man named Jost Amman (sometimes known as Jobst or Jos, last name sometimes Ammann). Amman was a designer, draftsman, painter, woodcutter, engraver and etcher who lived from about 1539 to 1591. He was born in Switzerland, but worked primarily in Germany.
Much of his work was produced for the publisher Sigmund Feyerabend in Frankfort am Main but he also produced over a hundred portraits for an aristocratic family in Nuremberg. By 1582, Amman was famous and enjoyed a high reputation among his contemporaries. His illustrations served as an influential source for such later artists as Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt and Joshua Reynolds. Despite his fame and prolific output, he lived in poverty and sent letters to wealthier family members pleading for financial help.
Printed books had been around for about 100 years when Amman started working. Illustrations for early books were done using woodblock printing, with their characteristic "blocky" appearance. Amman's wood engravings are generally remarkable for their fine detail and more life-like images, such as this one from the first volume of Kriegssbuch, published in 1565. After his death in 1591, wood-engraving appears to have declined rapidly in Germany. Copper-plate engravings, which can provide more detailed images and more variable shading, began to be used in higher quality books. Books illustrated by Amman, and other samples of early books, can be viewed in Special Collections on the 3rd floor of the Main Library, 325 Superior Avenue.