Tabula Smaragdina

A letterpress and woodcut print of an alchemy broadside. 

Mercury woodblock

initial drawing

The illustration was adapted from the original, but all the details and shadowing  on the figure were copied. (August 17, 2022)

The self-challenge woodcut and letterpress print

This print was a challenge in many senses, from the woodcut image, considering the details and complexity of the original drawing; to the final print with text, which was not planned beforehand, but done after the woodcut. The idea was to print a broadside with one of the Latin versions of the Tabula Smaragdina, or the Emerald Tablet,  a cryptic alchemical text, probably the most famous of the Hermetic tradition. 

To illustrate the text, a woodcut of the God Mercury, or Hermes, was chosen. The original drawing is from Lucas Cranach the Younger, from ca. 1550-1570. A copy of the original print is held by the British Museum and available online.

We step into the 16th century at Prelo Prints for the first time!

This might be the whitest block of linden wood ever, and despite its whiteness (which makes no difference for the end result), it's far from being the right wood choice for this kind of detail. However, this was intentional to see how much it could achieve with this specific block.

I estimate that 80% of the cut work has been done with the knife, and not so much with the gouges, of which I mainly used the small v 12 and u 11 from Pfeil for the figure, and bigger gouges for cleaning the surrounding area.

Mercury woodcut print - original print

original print

Woodcut and Letterpress print. Ca. 1550-1570

© The Trustees of the British Museum


Cutting the small details on the figure with the knife. A laborious and painstaking work. 

Mercury woodcut - WIP


90% of the work so far has been done with the knife, and not so much with the gouges.(September 6, 2022)

finished woodcut

The finished block, before the first proof.

Mercury woodcut - WIP


1. Custom-made knife used for most of the cutting, used the same way as the Japanese Hangi to knife. 

2. Hight quality woodcutting gouge (v) from Pfeil.

proof print

Proofing the block on normal drawing paper.


The final proof print of the image of Hermes Trismegistus.


And finally the complete work, with letterpress text and woodcut illustration. Printed with the Printing Press, on handmade laid paper by Ruscombe Paper Mill