Though the Middle Ages had been associated for centuries with stasis and backwardness, in the fin de siècle, the period enjoyed unprecedented popularity.
Scholars studied the Medieval era in great depth, and it was romanticised in literature and at the World Exhibitions.
Printmakers were likewise drawn to the Middle Ages, which they viewed as a paragon of purity, piety, and craftsmanship.
The period served in this way as a kind of antidote to the decadence, fast pace, and rationality of daily life in the overpopulated metropolis of Paris.
Symbolist printmakers like Maurice Denis and Emile Bernard identified a devoted and spiritual artistry in medieval art.
They wanted to break free of the brilliant yet soulless art taught in the academies of their day, and they saw the Middle Ages as a gateway to a new manner of expression, in which the world of ideas would be central, rather than visible reality.
From the Bible to Bruges
Printmakers drew on the subject matter, as well as the style and technique of Medieval art.
Bernard, for instance, found inspiration for the primitivist biblical scenes he produced for the magazine L’Ymagier in the simplicity of Medieval woodcuts and the brightly coloured prayer cards used in popular devotion.
In some cases, the influence was less literal. In his print series Bruges: mystique et sensuelle, Georges de Feure evoked the mystical atmosphere of medieval Bruges.
R. Stuip et al. (red.), De middeleeuwen in de negentiende eeuw, Hilversum 1996
Elizabeth Emery, Laura Morowitz, Consuming the Past: The Medieval Revival in Fin-de-Siècle France, Aldershot 2003