October 13, 2023


         On Friday the Thirteenth in the month of Hallowe’en, I thought I should pick a “spooky” theme, and I decided on bats.  Of course, once I started looking for bat block prints, I found so many that I decided to make two posts, and today we’ll start with nice, normal bats.  I picked bats as a “spooky” theme, but in fact I really like them, and don’t personally find them spooky at all.  In fact, whenever I see them flitting about of a summer evening, it really cheers me up.  On the other hand, there’s no doubt that they’re very alien and strange in many ways, so it’s understandable that people have always found them mysterious.  Today’s first bat is a whimsical one by Artzybasheff, illustrating the fable in which the poor bat is neither a bird nor a beast, reflecting that strange “otherness.”
        Next I have a few older illustrations, starting with one from a 1499 edition of an encyclopaedia in which bats are listed in the section on birds.  (I don’t know what the Latin text says that might explain the sack-like thing on the right.)  These bats are not exactly scientifically accurate, but they’re perfectly recognizable, and they have a certain charm.  The third piece in the group is chronologically next, and is clearly much more scientific, as well as appearing in a book on quadrupeds rather than birds.  It’s by Thomas Bewick, from 1800.  The remaining piece in this grouping is an illustration intended for children, rather than for scholarly adults, and comes from an alphabet, which I’ll discuss more later.
        I definitely wanted to include a selection of Japanese block prints of bats, by way of “compare and contrast.”  The Japanese style tends to be spikier, but also very beautiful.  I’ve chosen three, all from between 1885-1905.  The first is simultaneously bold and dramatic but also very subtle.  The second makes the bats quite adorable.  The third has an amazing level of accurate detail.  This artist must have had some actual bats to observe, and he portrays one flying, but the others clinging to a piece of rock.  And then why not throw in some Japanese maple leaves, just for color and beauty?  It certainly goes with my October theme!
        And as we get in the Hallowe’en mood, the last three illustrations are all vampire bats.  They also all come from animal alphabets (as does the one above, also a vampire bat).  This is no coincidence: there are dozens of popular animals that begin with B, but V’s are considerably harder to find in English, making the vampire bat a much more popular option at V than the plain B is for Bat.  All of these artists were featured back in 
my 2023 A to Z Challenge, so you can see more of their creatures at posts including Robinson (and here), Wightman, and Long (plus here and here).  A few other bats have fluttered into my blog in the past, including one from a French alphabet, a few from another encyclopaedia, and one representing bats as pollinators.  Plus here’s my own block print that includes some beautiful evening bats.
        As I alluded to earlier, there’s going to be another post on block printed bats, and that’s where we’re going to go full Spooky Season.  But in the meantime, take today’s bats as a sure sign of good luck on Friday the Thirteenth!

[Pictures: Bat from Aesop’s Fables, wood engraving by Boris Artzybasheff, 1933;

Vespertilio, wood block print from Ortus sanitatis by Johann Prüss, 1499 (Image from Boston Public Library);

The Short-Eared Bat, wood engraving by Thomas Bewick from A General History of Quadrupeds, 1800 (Image from Biodiversity Heritage Library);

Vampire, wood block print by Walter Crane from Noah’s Ark Alphabet c. 1871 (Image from Toronto Public Library);

Bat in Moon, color woodblock print by Biho Takashi, c. 1905 (Image from Brooklyn Museum)

Bats from The Moon in the Country, wood block print by Kono Bairei, 1889 (Image from Fuji Arts)

Bats Flying About a Large Piece of Tufa, woodblock print by Kawanabe Kyosai, c. 1885 (Image from Worcester Art Museum)

Vampire Bat, wood engraving by Alan James Robinson from An Odd Bestiary, 1982;

V, linocut by Andrew Wightman, c. 2015 (Image from AndrewWightmanPrints);

V, linocut by Mark Long (Image from Linocut Boy).]


Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

What a lovely collection of bat-cuts. I like bats as well, and enjoy their flight in the summer evenings.
The Latin text has an English counterpart here - first chapter on the left page (the picture is on the previous page): https://archive.org/details/hin-wel-all-00001107-001/page/n138/mode/2up Still in fraktur. I can read it, but I am not sure I have the time to do it.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Oh, I bow to your google skills! I looked for a scan of the English version and couldn't find it. However, having now read that translation, I still don't have any explanation for the sack in the picture! In fact, the picture in this version is printed turned 90 degrees from the original, so apparently whoever set the blocks for printing didn't really know what they were looking at either. LOL

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Thank you for the praise - it rigthfully goes to my better half.
Sometimes I too find that the layouters or printers have no idea. This might indeed be one of them, strange that the picture was turned around like this, maybe a question of fitting it onto the page in both directions?