Modeling the Network of Dutch and Flemish Print Production, 1550-1750

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The production of artistic prints in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Netherlands was an inherently social process. Turning out prints at any reasonable scale depended on the fluid coordination between designers, platecutters, and publishers; roles that, by the sixteenth century, were considered distinguished enough to merit distinct credits engraved on the plates themselves: invenit, fecit/sculpsit, and excudit. While any one designer, plate cutter, and publisher could potentially exercise a great deal of influence over the production of a single print, their individual decisions (Whom to select as an engraver? What subjects to create for a print design? What market to sell to?) would have been variously constrained or encouraged by their position in this larger network (Who do they already know? And who, in turn, do their contacts know?)

This dissertation addresses the impact of these constraints and affordances through the novel application of computational social network analysis to major databases of surviving prints from this period. This approach is used to evaluate several questions about trends in early modern print production practices that have not been satisfactorily addressed by traditional literature based on case studies alone: Did the social capital demanded by print production result in centralized, or distributed production of prints? When, and to what extent, did printmakers and publishers in the Low countries favor international versus domestic collaborators? And were printmakers under the same pressure as painters to specialize in particular artistic genres?

This dissertation ultimately suggests how simple professional incentives endemic to the practice of printmaking may, at large scales, have resulted in quite complex patterns of collaboration and production. The framework of network analysis surfaces the role of certain printmakers who tend to be neglected in aesthetically-focused histories of art. This approach also highlights important issues concerning art historians’ balancing of individual influence versus the impact of longue durée trends. Finally, this dissertation also raises questions about the current limitations and future possibilities of combining computational methods with cultural heritage datasets in the pursuit of historical research.