Monday, 4 April 2016

Good Old Wenceslaus

Not the King from the carol, but Wenceslaus Hollar. This name was new to me, but I have realised that I have seen WH's work in the history books. I learned a little about him last Tuesday, when we visited Stourhead, a National Trust property in Wiltshire. We had a fascinating conversation with the book conservator. 
I wrote down Hollar's name so I could come home and research him. This is what I found out

Bohemian artist, Wenceslaus Hollar, [1607-1677] was taken into the service of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel during his European tour in the 1630s, returning with him to England where he was to remain for the next ten years. He remained in England during the beginning of the English Civil War period, but left London for Antwerp in 1642, where he continued to work on a variety of projects. Within a few years returned to England, working on a number of large projects.
Hollar was in London during the Great Fire of 1666, and remains most famous for his scenes of the city before and after the fire. He was one of the most skilled etchers of his or any other time, which is all the more remarkable given that he was almost blind in one eye.
Hollar died in London on 25 March 1677. Hollar was not only an exquisitely talented artist but also an extraordinarily prolific one, and our view of Britain in his period arguably owes more to him than to anyone else. He produced topographical prints, related scenes and maps. 

Perhaps the etching for which he is most famous is "The Long View of London". Two pictures, the top one is entitled "A true and exact prospect of the famous city of London from St Marie Over Steeple, In Southwark, in its flourishing condition before the Fire."  And the lower one is "Another prospect of the said city taken from the same place as it appeareth now after the said calamity and destruction by fire"  [You can see this in greater detail here]

In 1647, Hollar had produced this huge etching of a panoramic view of the city [approximately from the top of today's Southwark Cathedral] Then the Great Fire of London caused such devastation in 1666. Wisely recognising a commercial opportunity, he climbed St Marie's tower again, and did another piece from the same lace- showing St Paul's now a charred shell, and many areas flattened, building burned down.

So why did my visit to a house in Wiltshire spark an interest in a guy born in Prague 400 years ago? Well, the book conservator told us that he is making an accurate catalogue of the library [over 4700 books] 

Whilst going through each book, and noting interesting details, the conservator discovered that tucked away in one of the large books about London, was one of the Hollar Long View Etchings. The value of that piece of paper far exceeds the value of the book where it was hidden! [another Long View was sold in 1999 for excess of £30,000] I could tell this man was utterly thrilled with his discovery, and delighted to tell us about it. Like so many folk, he is an unpaid National Trust volunteer - but I suspect he would say that one discovery makes the hours of study all worth it.

Hollar didn't just produce prints of London and other places- he did etchings of people, and of nature. This beautiful Nautilus Shell is one of many prints in the British Museum Collection. By his life's end, he had produced some 2700 separate etchings. 

[I will post more pictures of Stourhead later- once I have been able to retrieve the ones Bob took on his new camera]

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