Arte or Crafte to Lyve Well

The medieval media and the modern digital media are both rich with colour. They are separated by the centuries of print, when black and white reigned supreme, which reign is now in rapid decline, even within printing itself.

Wynkyn de Worde was one of the great early printer-publishers, originally a colleague of Caxton, and known in particular for his success in producing popular and attractive works for a mass market. Originally from Alsace, he opened up the commercial possibilities of book production with considerable energy and imagination.

The Arte or Crafte to Lyve Well published in 1505 and based upon a French original, relied heavily on illustration. Well before the Reformation, it was one of many popular works bringing the Christian faith and its essential forms and prayers in the vernacular.

This presentation of the Lord’s Prayer shows the innovative character of this enterprise. We, the reader, are drawn into the prayer, in much the same way as we might in the stained glass or illumination of the period. The personal, homely quality of Jesus and his twelve disciples is charmingly conveyed in the slightly too-large faces, with slightly too-large eyes, a late fifteenth century style that has never been bettered, while the black and white integrates text and picture in a way colour could not.

The full prayer in our own language is here set before us, to be committed to memory, but still set in the context of the Church’s vocation of prayer, seated at the feet of Jesus, gazing intently at him, hearing his word, and offering it back to God. Who the unknown artist was who made this woodcut we do not know, but he performed his task with admirable simplicity and devotion.

Anthony Saville