The book illustration is quite an ancient art with a long and rich history, as people have known the examples of first illustration books from the 3rd century BC. In Rome, for instance, the book illustration has been known since the 1st century BC. There were found about seven hundred pictures, which had been used as illustrations to the work of the 1st century BC scholar and satirist Marcus Terentius Varro. Some comparably more modern examples of the book illustration art came to us from the 9th and 15th centuries AD.
In the 9th century, a new book illustration technology was developed in China. Those illustration books were so called block books. Later, such books were created in Europe as well. Those were engraved wooden block books, which have used each new block for a new book page. However, this book illustration technology was basically more used in the East, rather than in the West. Although, in the 15th century the book illustration received a new and more potent technology and tools for the art to be developed. Such a rise in the art of book illustration came with the invention of printing from movable types, though the block books and wood engraving art was still in use, and in the 18th century this art experienced a significant revival. Thomas Bewick, an English wood engraver, revolutionized this book illustration art and pioneered the revival of the original wood engraving.
Later in the 18th century, a Munich craftsman Senefelder invented lithography, a type of planograhpic or surface printing. This new technology opened more opportunities for the development of the art of book illustration. The lithography was and still is used both as an art process and as a commercial printing. Till this day, the lithography is used synonymously with the offset printing.
All the above mentioned technologies have made significant contributions to the development of the book illustration art. However, by the 19th century they all had been mainly replaced due to the arrival of the new technology. This new technology consisted of photomechanical processes, and it made it possible to reproduce a wide variety of new painting as well as drawing techniques. Moreover, this new method was quite affordable and easy to use. In addition, it opened up the opportunities for the mass illustration books production.
This new photomechanical processes were gladly used by such major illustrators as Aubrey Beardsley, Howard Pyle, and Elihu Vedder, who were able to understand and exploit it for the reproduction of their art works. Nevertheless, this mass and cheap method of art work production had some negative effect as well. Some old fashion manner craftsmen were unable to express their full artistic potential through it. After all, the book illustration art was on the peak of its popularity in the 19th century and experienced some measures of decadence in the 20th.