(Johann Heinrich) Ferdinand Olivier (German, 1785–1841)
Ferdinand Olivier’s Seven Places in Salzburg and Berchtesgaden has been considered to be “the greatest work of early German lithography, and among the finest landscape prints ever made.” The Library has strong holdings of early lithography in the Avery and Pennell collections, including German Romantic prints by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Domenico Quaglio, but had no prints by Olivier. In Thursday. Berchtesgaden and the Watzmann Olivier proved to be a master of the then new printmaking medium. With delicate lithographic pen and crayon strokes, he created an airy panorama; strongly modeled figures dominate the foreground while the fields and background mountains receive an even lighter touch, to suggest atmospheric perspective. Though a Nazarene, he never went to Rome and was a devout Protestant, for whom nature expressed “ineffable Christian values.” Here the gardener at work alongside his family is a reminder of the regeneration of nature, of rebirth, and ultimately of eternal life.
The Print Collection offers a survey of the mezzotint in late 17th- and 18th-century England, where painters and printmakers realized the full artistic potential of the medium in portraits engraved by John Smith, the master of mezzotint from 1683 to 1729; in prints by a group of Irish printmakers working in England between 1750 and 1775, who further perfected the technique; and in works by the succeeding generation of English-born printmakers, including Valentine Green, John Raphael Smith, Richard Earlom, and William Pether. While continuing to reproduce painted portraits this generation also specialized in “subject paintings,” not as well represented in the collection, particularly mezzotints after Joseph Wright of Derby and Benjamin West.
In The Alchemist, after Joseph Wright of Derby, William Pether achieves the dramatic lighting effects possible with this medium, in which the printmaker works from dark to light. Having mastered the velvety grounds of his Dublin-born teacher, Thomas Frye, Pether here captures the glow of the backlit beaker and of the candlelight illuminating the young assistant, a formula that was Wright’s specialty (Wright’s paintings, in turn, had been influenced by Frye’s prints). It is rare to find a mezzotint of this scale in such fine condition. The nearly unblemished surface of The Alchemist (there is only a slight abrasion in the stone arch, which reads as part of the composition) captures the engraver’s and the artist’s intention to create a mysterious scene shrouded in darkness at the moment when the alchemist discovers phosphorous.
Piranesi (Italian, 1756–1810) and
Francesco Piranesi, son of Giambattista Piranesi, collaborated with the French artist Louis-Jean Desprez on a series of views of Naples, Rome, and Pompeii, advertised in 1783 as “dessins coloriés” and sold at Piranesi’s shop in Rome. Although the 1783 advertisement promised forty-eight views, the series was not completed before Desprez left Rome to enter the employ of the Swedish king, Gustav III.
The Fireworks Above Castel Sant’Angelo captures the final moments of the Girandola, a famous fireworks display. Piranesi delicately etched the outlines of the composition, which Desprez then elaborated upon in watercolor and gouache (opaque watercolor) and signed. The sheet with only Piranesi’s etching is rare, if not unique, and though there are a number of impressions with Desprez’s coloring, this one is in especially fine condition.
The rendering of the fiery Girandola over the Castel Sant’Angelo is part of a long history of firework displays described and illustrated in festival books, richly represented at the Library in the Rare Book Division, and in the Spencer and Print collections. Toward the end of the 18th century, such pyrotechnic extravaganzas also were an expression of the sublime, where terror mixed with pleasure. Erupting volcanoes stirred up similar emotions, and in art and in literature at this time there was a close connection between nature’s fireworks, specifically volcanoes, and the manmade equivalent. Kevin Salatino in his Getty exhibition catalogue, Incendiary Art (1997), indicates that The Fireworks Above Castel Sant’Angelo was one of a pair of prints by Piranesi and Desprez; the other depicts the eruption of Vesuvius. While that print is not in the Library’s collection, two color aquatints by Jean-Baptiste Chapuy after A. d’Anna, The Eruption of Mount Etna in 1760 and The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1779 (ca. 1785 or 1790), recently acquired and on the end wall of this exhibition, similarly were intended to stir up feelings of danger and pleasure.
Pierre-Paul Prud’hon made only a few prints, primarily mythological and allegorical themes and portraits, which are also the focus of his better-known paintings. The elegance and control of Prud’hon’s line are evident in this etching, which was never finished; only the face of Europa in profile is carefully modeled. This fine impression on China paper is a rare first state before an inscription.
The Print Collection has a number of prints after Prud’hon’s designs, but had none by the artist himself. Similarly, in the Library’s Spencer Collection there are several books with illustrations after Prud’hon; the Spencer Collection’s copy of Paul et Virginie includes a charcoal drawing by the artist for the plate “Virginia Shipwrecked.”
Johann Anton Ramboux (German, 1790–1866)
While the Library has remarkable holdings documenting the history of early lithography in the S. P. Avery and Joseph Pennell collections, neither collection included prints by Johann Anton Ramboux. An early 19th-century German painter and draughtsman, Ramboux made only a few prints; his most significant work, praised by Goethe, was a suite of sixteen lithographs recording the Roman remains and the landscape around his native town of Trier. These two views of Trier demonstrate Ramboux’ mastery of lithography, which he proudly claimed and inscribed on every plate: “Drawn from nature and on the stone by J. A. Ramboux.” These austere views, with a minimum of anecdotal detail, may also reflect his appreciation of early Italian and German painting, which he shared with the Nazarenes, a “brotherhood” of primarily German artists, many living in Rome, who championed what they interpreted as the piety and purity of early 16th-century art. During extended stays in Rome, Ramboux was associated with this group.
Much of the Netherlands, or Lowlands as it is also aptly called, is below sea level, and a large portion of its land mass is polder reclaimed from the sea. After a catastrophic flood on St. Elizabeth’s Day in 1421, when some 100,000 lives were lost, the struggle to hold back the overbearing sea became part and parcel of Dutch identity.
Amsterdam had already been flooded in the summer of 1650, but the spring tide, matched with a full moon on March 5, 1651, did much more damage east of the city center. Roelant Roghman, who specialized in topographical views and landscapes, recorded that disaster in this etching. Roghman’s composite image, which shows two distinct views of the two sites where the dikes were breached, is one of the masterpieces of both the Dutch landscape and the documentary genres. Bursting of the Dyke near Amsterdam in 1651 supplements the Print Collection’s small but choice holdings of Dutch documentary prints, and complements the broadside collection in the Rare Book Division.
While 18th-century France produced skillful reproductive printmakers, there were also a few painters who occasionally took up etching, including Honoré Fragonard and Antoine Watteau. However, the etchings of Gabriel-Jacques de Saint-Aubin, though less well known, were deemed by print scholar Jean Adhemar to be “without equal.” His prints, some fifty in number, were etched with freedom and spontaneity. The Library has one of his brilliant genre studies, The Ball at Auteuil (1761), and a religious subject, The Reconciliation of Absalom and David (1752). The Death of Germanicus shows that Saint-Aubin could infuse a historical subject with the vitality and immediacy of his scenes of contemporary life. All his prints are rare, as is The Death of Germanicus, a third-state impression before the addition of text, as it appeared in the Spectacle of Roman History. The authorship of each of the plates in that book has been questioned. Nevertheless, Saint-Aubin’s cataloger, Émile Dacier, wrote of The Death of Germanicus: “with one glance, it is impossible not to recognize the hand of Gabriel [de Saint-Aubin].”
Abbé Jean-Claude-Richard de Saint-Non (French, 1727–1791)
Collector, patron of the arts, acquaintance of Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and a close friend of Fragonard and Hubert Robert, Jean-Claude-Richard de Saint-Non, though ordained a priest, devoted his energies to art. Like many amateurs of the period he learned to etch, and his experiments around 1765 with a professional printmaker, Jean-Baptiste Delafosse resulted, according to scholar John Ittmann, in the development of a more stable aquatint process, anticipating Le Prince’s invention of aquatint by three years (see Le Prince’s Suite of Coiffeurs, also in this case).
Saint-Non put the invention to good use in a series of prints etched after drawings by Fragonard and Robert, sketched while the three traveled together in Italy between 1759 and 1761. These aquatints are among those included in this rare suite, which in the first issue achieves a rich range of tones and delicate washes. While the Library has an album, A Collection of Sketches, in which many of the same prints appear, they are later impressions, pulled from worn plates, and thus are gray and weak, poor echoes of the rich sepia impressions in this set of Selected Fragments.
Roelant Savery (Dutch, born Flanders, 1576–1639)
Although Roelant Savery made only three etchings, his prints, along with those of his older brother, Jacob, suggested to such innovative young artists as Esaias van de Velde and his cousin, Jan van de Velde II, the artistic possibilities of that medium. His use of etching infuses vitality and a convincing reality into an imaginary scene. This rare print, the first etching by Roelant Savery in the collection, is an important example of the new etched landscape without obvious allegory or biblical allusion, which was to affect the development of the Dutch 17th-century landscape print.
Although Diana Scultori, daughter of the Mantuan engraver Giovanni Battista Scultori, worked in a variety of styles, this print exemplifies the tradition of the reproductive print as “invented” by Marcantonio Raimondi. This style, as defined by print scholar Innis Shoemaker, is a “system of marks—dense cross-hatchings, widely spaced and parallel hatchings, flecks, and dots,” by which Marcantonio suggested three-dimensional, sculptural forms. Scultori often reproduced compositions by Giulio Romano, including his Latona Giving Birth to Apollo and Diana on the Island of Delos. The Library had only a few prints by Diana Scultori, most of them weak impressions in poor condition. The acquisition of this rich and brilliant impression adds to the Print Collection a superb example of the Italian reproductive print from the second half of the 16th century.
The Print Collection only modestly represents the intaglio prints issued by an important circle of engravers who reproduced the paintings of Rubens and van Dyck. One of these printmakers, Pieter Claesz. Soutman, met Rubens in 1615. He may have joined Rubens’s studio as painter, and went on to gain independent recognition as a painter to the exiled King of Poland in 1624. On his return to Haarlem in 1628 he founded a school that produced some of the finest engravers in the country, all of whom made plates after Rubens. Several years ago the Library acquired Soutman’s A Wild Boar Hunt, after Rubens, which demonstrated how his free etching style contrasted with the regimented engraving typical of the Rubens workshop.
In Christ Taken Captive Soutman again expanded the definition of the reproductive print, here in an etching after van Dyck. His bold, free hatching and dense cross-hatching evoke the drama of Christ’s capture, the night scene theatrically illuminated by torchlight. This impression is particularly fresh and rich, and even the inscription guidelines still hold ink.
Giandomenico Tiepolo (Italian, 1727–1804)
Tiepolo (Italian, 1736–1776)
One of the foremost painters of the 18th century, Giambattista Tiepolo was also one of its most original printmakers, and his skill as an etcher was passed on to his sons, Giandomenico and Lorenzo, who were successful translators of their father’s work. Their reproductive etchings can capture the dramatic grandeur of Giambattista’s frescoes and paintings, as is evident in Giandomenico’s The Virgin Appearing to St. Simon Stock and Lorenzo’s St. Thecla Praying for the End of the Plague in the City of Este. Until now the collection lacked any large-scale, major Tiepolo prints (and had none by Lorenzo), which not only communicate the spirit of Giambattista’s monumental commissions, but also suggest the full-blown Rococo splendor of Venetian 18th-century oil paintings and frescoes.
The most prolific of the early Haarlem printmakers, Jan van de Velde II firmly established the popularity of the Dutch landscape print and its celebration of the local countryside. During the period of prolonged truce in the Dutch revolt, he and a handful of other artists active in Haarlem began depicting previously ignored characteristics of the indigenous landscape, thus marking the beginning of a distinctively Dutch school of landscape painting and printmaking. These simple, unadorned views, though not etched directly from nature, recreate the experience of walking through “pleasant places” in the Dutch countryside with its low horizon line, trees and ruins silhouetted against the ample sky.
Landscapes and Ruins shows van de Velde’s etching technique at its most subtle, delicate and atmospheric. Trained as a professional engraver-etcher, he also learned from his painter-etcher friends to loosen his draughtsmanship. He was particularly skilled at producing very dense but lightly etched background passages, which suggest atmospheric perspective. Although van de Velde etched and engraved more than twenty landscape series, principally between 1614 and 1622, the Library had only three series, and only one after his own designs.
Jan van de Velde II (Dutch, 1593–1641)
An important figure in the development of the Dutch 17th-century landscape, Jan van de Velde II here reproduces the work of Willem Buytewech, who transformed a traditional, allegorical series depicting the four elements into a believable record of daily life in plausible Dutch settings. Van de Velde reveals his training as a professional engraver-etcher, building up form with a regimented system of hatching, cross-hatching, and repeated curved lines. This dense linear network captures in Ignus not only the brilliant flashes of cannon fire, but also the faint glow of distant stars, quite visible in this fine impression. Buytewech’s preparatory sketch for Ignis suggests that he intended a daytime scene. Van de Velde instead transformed day into night, acknowledging his debt to the night scenes of Adam Elsheimer as interpreted in the prints of Hendrik Goudt.
Gillis van Scheyndel (Dutch, active ca. 1622–ca. 1654)
The Dutch city of Haarlem was a hotbed of artistic innovation in the decades around 1600, including the radically new depiction of local landscape and the secular “merry company” figure groups of Willem Buytewech and Esaias van de Velde. Buytewech was among the early generation of Dutch painters who made etchings, but he also produced drawings that were translated into prints by a number of printmakers, including Jan van de Velde II (see his The Four Elements, after Buytewech, in this exhibition) and his pupil and collaborator, Gillis van Scheyndel. Van Scheyndel’s refined technique successfully captured the luminous qualities of the emergent Haarlem school.
Buytewech’s subjects, peasant women, each standing before the low horizon of the local landscape, hail from small villages across the traditionally agrarian, backwater Dutch provinces. The population was only just beginning to be gentrified, as Holland wrested independence from Spanish Habsburg rule in the Eighty Years War. The four etchings from van Scheyndel’s Eight Maidens of Holland, first states printed before the addition of Latin verses at the bottom of the plate, are known in only one other collection, the Rijksmuseum print room in Amsterdam.
In his paintings Simon de Vlieger specialized in marine subjects, but his prints (some eighteen to twenty in number) are primarily etched landscapes, woodland scenes, and animals. In The Wood near the Canal he weaves together a bucolic scene along a canal with figures engaged in commonplace activities, all seemingly bathed in light and moist air, enhanced by a slight plate tone (a film of ink left on the surface of the plate before printing). As Clifford Ackley points out in his landmark catalogue, Printmaking in the Age of Rembrandt, Simon de Vlieger’s delicate line creates a “sense of an infinite range of fine tonal gradations.” Even the foliage appears as “soft, feathery masses” quite different from the decorative patterns characteristic of vegetation in earlier prints by Jan van de Velde II. Typical also of the 1640s is the square format, which lends a feeling of balance and calm to the pacific setting.