Bohemian Artist Wenceslaus Hollar
Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677) was a famous etcher and draftsman of Bohemian origin. Born in Prague, he left the city in the 1620s and was then active in Germany. In 1637, he left for England with his new employer, the English nobleman Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (1585–1646).
He settled in London, where he would live and work for the greater part of his life, with the notable exception of the period from 1644 to 1652, when he resided in Antwerp. Hollar left behind some 2,700 plates. He is probably best known for his architectural etchings and views of towns, particularly London, which he drew both before and after the Great Fire in 1666. Also famous are his portraits, or captures, of muffs, shells and butterflies.
One of Hollar’s most famous etchings is a picture of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, dated 1649. Construction on what became the largest Gothic church in the Netherlands ended in 1521, and the south tower was left unfinished, reaching only the height depicted in the etching. The work’s lively figural decoration, so typical of Hollar’s work, includes a procession towards the entrance of the cathedral, a horse-drawn coach, and passersby and dogs in a square in front of the church. A later state of the plate was used in the famous illustrated work entitled Castella et praetoria nobilium Brabantiae, which was first published in Antwerp in 1694 by the Flemish historiographer Jacob le Roy (1633–1719).
The work consists of more than 200 plates by various engravers, showing architectural monuments of the Duchy of Brabant and introducing residences of the nobility and church monuments. The title page of the work documents the high reputation of Hollar’s work, as it lists his name first among the cooperating artists even though the book contains only a very small number of his etchings.
Hollar’s picture of the Antwerp cathedral is currently on display at Lobkowicz Palace as part of The Lobkowicz Library exhibition Architecture in the Work of Peter Paul Rubens and Václav Hollar, which runs through 30 May 2013.
This article was written by Soňa Černocká, Head Librarian at The Lobkowicz Library & Archives and curator of Architecture in the Work of Peter Paul Rubens and Václav Hollar.