Imagined Worlds


Willful Invention and the Printed Image 1470 – 2005


 William Ivins, Jr., the first curator of prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, noted that long before the advent of photography, printed images functioned as important sources of information, profoundly affecting how people viewed the world around them. Printed images were an essential tool for communicating ideas. Ivins observed that in their selection of visual information, artists were influenced by their surroundings, yet what was meant as an accurate and objective portrayal was actually made “under the pressure of an idea.” Their works thus reflect their own knowledge and attitudes toward their subjects as much as they do the inherent character of their sources.

Europeans of the time had no direct experience with what a rhinoceros really looked like, and Dürer’s imperfect representation-he himself had never seen the animal-became the standard European model for the next two hundred years. It served as inspiration for, among others, a bronze door of the cathedral of Pisa in 1602, and a bronze medal made for Alessandro de’ Medici around 1740. In the twentieth century, Max Ernst returned to Dürer’s version of the rhinoceros. Ernst evokes Dürer’s armored creature in his lithograph, complete with a mistaken ridge on the animal’s back, which probably refers to flowers said to have decorated an actual sixteenth-century rhino that had been brought from India to Portugal and was to be transported to Rome and the Vatican

A series of works by the eighteenth-century artist Jean Baptiste Pillement presents Chinese subjects with distinctly European attributes: the Oriental figures depicted could hardly look more French in gesture and stance. In fact, the works were only loosely modeled on designs found on imported dishes that were fashionable in Paris at the time. The images found their way to European households as wallpaper and fabric designs. The artist-who displayed his work in London, Paris, Vienna, and Lisbon, and held appointments from Marie Antoinette and from King Stanislas II Augustus of Poland-intended for his popular Eastern-inspired themes to be understood in a Western framework. From the reverse perspective, an anonymous Japanese rendering of the American naval officer Matthew Perry applied Asian features to its subject. In 1853, Commodore Perry headed an expedition to Japan to establish trade with the United States. The day after his ships entered Edo Bay, local artists were sent in boats to sketch the newly arrived Westerners. Woodblocks were used in the press in Japan, and within a week of Perry’s arrival, prints were available to the public, providing a visual introduction to the blue-eyed foreigners. From the startling blue eyeballs in the prints, we can see that some artists were confused about where the blueness resided

Accompanying the exhibition is a full-color catalogue, co-published by IPCNY and AXA Gallery, with interpretative essays by the exhibition’s curator and a range of experts from diverse fields, including Dr. Nils Büttner, specialist in German and Dutch visual culture from the 15-17th centuries and Professor at Dortmund University; Jon Dykstra, an economic geologist and Vice President and Director of Digital Imaging at Earth Satellite Corporation; Thomas W. Lollar, an artist and Director of the Lincoln Center List Art Collection; Midori Nishizawa, an independent curator and writer on Japanese culture based in Japan; and Sarah Richards, an English art historian and expert on print culture and the decorative arts.

Max Ernst

Albrecht Durer


Comprises fine art prints, books, and maps from many cultures, spanning five hundred years. Included are images of remote places and imaginary realms, real and fictional scientific investigations, and serious and comic inventions. What each work has in common is that it was created from an unknown, partially known, or completely unseen subject. Whether based on direct observation or pure fantasy, these prints illustrate the power of imagination and subjectivity in the creation and interpretation of images


Imagined Worlds was curated by Amy Baker Sandback and organized by International Print Center New York

Additional information



Date Published






Harcover, 108pp, 26.92 x 20.83 x 7.87 cm