From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Woodblock printing or woodcuts is a technique for printing text, images or patterns used widely throughout East Asia and probably originating in China in antiquity as a method of printing on paper. Ukiyo-e is the best known type of Japanese woodblock art print.The technique was introduced in Europe around the 9th century and is generally regarded as the advent of visual culture.
Block-books in fifteenth century Europe
Block-books, where both text and images are cut on blocks, appeared in Europe in the 1460s as a cheaper alternative to books printed by movable type. A woodcut is an image, perhaps with a title, cut in a single block and used as a book illustration with adjacent text printed using movable type. The only example of the blockbook form that contains no images is the school textbook Latin grammar of Donatus.
The most famous block-books are the Speculum Humanae Salvationis and the Ars moriendi, though in this the images and text are on different pages, but all block-cut. The Biblia pauperum, a Biblical picture-book, was the next most common title, and the great majority of block-books were popular devotional works. All block-books are fairly short at less than fifty pages. While in Europe movable metal type soon became cheap enough to replace woodblock printing for the reproduction of text, woodcuts remained a major way to reproduce images in illustrated works of early modern European printing. See old master print.
Most block-books before about 1480 were printed on only one side of the paper — if they were printed by rubbing it would be difficult to print on both sides without damaging the first one to be printed. Many were printed with two pages per sheet, producing a book with opening of two printed pages, followed by openings with two blank pages (as earlier in China). The blank pages were then glued together to produce a book looking like a type-printed one. Where both sides of a sheet have been printed, it is presumed a printing-press was used.