L’Idée d’Europe II – Printen

L.v.d.D. woodcut Printen mold, Cafe Van den Daele, 2011

When in 1890, Leo van den Daele of Ghent opened a patisserie on Büchelstraße in Aachen’s Old Town, he could not have imagined how emblematic the shop would become over a century later. Issued from a Belgian noble family, Van den Daele settled across the border with the idea of developing recipes for a series of sweet delicacies. But his reputation grew from the masterful Printen gingerbread figures he cast from woodcuts and metal engravings and that sold like hotcakes during the Christmas season.

The Fleming was only following the example of his countrymen, copper craftsmen from Dinant who four centuries earlier had preceded him as emigrants, carrying with them the tradition of engraved pastries to the former Free Imperial City.

In every room of the present-day café, in the hallways and stairwell, Van den Daele’s molds hang against a backdrop of red brocade and green satin, wooden panels and Flemish blue porcelain tiles.

The genesis of their forms coincides with the end of Medieval Europe and the dawn of Europe’s golden age of old master prints, issued from the same roots and ushered in by Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press around 1440. For the next few centuries, artists like Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt earned greater renown in their lifetime from their widely disseminated prints rather than from their paintings. Not only did the printing press revolutionize art and letters, it shook up the old coordinates of Europe, transforming and universalizing its science, knowledge, communication, rendering the dream of widespread literacy possible. And from that moment on, information technology sped on the rails of exponential innovation, nothing less.

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