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Art and Architecture

Wenceslaus Hollar

The Fisher Library at the University of Toronto is privileged to be the third largest repository for the artistic works of Wenceslaus Hollar after Windsor Castle and the National Gallery Collection of Prints and Drawings in the artist's native Prague, the Czech Republic. Hollar was a master at the art of etching. A perfectionist at his craft, he would regularly revise his creations, leaving the world an intriguing record of his artistic process through the multiple treatments, or "states" that he left behind of the same subject. The Fisher collection is fortunate to have examples of the vast majority of these various states.

Click here for larger imageHollar was born in 1607, the son of an upper middle-class civic official. He learned the rudiments of his craft by age eighteen, and went on to study in Frankfurt under Matthaus Merian. It is from him that he likely learned how to create the aerial views which would make him famous. His first book of etchings was published in 1635 in Cologne when Hollar was twenty-eight. The following year he came to the attention of the Earl of Arundel who was making a progress through the continent, and Hollar subsequently became a part of his retinue, settling in England in 1637. His career flourished there, eventually earning him the position of art master to the young Prince Charles. During the English Civil War he did etchings and drawings of leaders on both sides of the conflict, but for undisclosed reasons - perhaps because of his Catholic faith - he moved to Antwerp where he continued to do geographical sketches of the Low Countries. In 1652 he returned to England, and after the Restoration once again enjoyed the patronage of royal society. Indeed, his illustrations for the coronation of King Charles II are among the most renowned examples of his artistry, although he will likely remain most famous for his scenes of London before the Great Fire of 1666. Like many artists of the period, he moved in and out of financial security, dying penniless on 25 March 1677. By his life's end, he had produced for some 2700 separate etchings.

The Library's Hollar collection was donated in 1972 by Dr. Sidney Fisher, who had begun assembling the etchings as a part of his efforts to reconstruct the London of Shakespeare's day. For researchers, perhaps the most valuable aspect of the collection is the detailed manner in which Hollar recorded the tumultuous life and events of seventeenth century Europe. He provided illustrations for numerous publications by Catholics and Protestants alike, portraying the austere piety of the Calvinist Giovanni Diodati and the ecstasies of St Francis with equally appropriate skill. His illustrations, however, should not be considered so heavenly minded that they were of no earthly good. His more temporal interests are expressed in publications bearing such diverse titles as Dugdale's History of imbanking and drayning of divers fenns and marshes, Nieuhof and Ogilby's Embassy from the East-India Company of the United Provinces, to the Grand Tartar Cham, and Some account of London, Westminster, and Southwark by Pennant. Whether his contribution is as small as a title frame, as unassuming as an historiated initial, as ambitious as a plan of the capital of England's growing Empire, or as exotic as a portrait of a never-before-seen Asian ruler, each of Hollar's efforts is a study in perfection.

While the lion's share of Hollar's works would be produced in and about his adopted England, his earliest works, not surprisingly, depicted the Continent. The oldest of his etchings in the Fisher collection are found in his Amoenissimae aliquot locorum in diversis provinciis iacentiu[m] effigies, published in Cologne in 1635 by Abraham Hogenberg. The following year saw the same printer produce Hollar's Reisbuchlein. Both small books were based on the artist's trip through the Rhinelands and into the Netherlands two years earlier. They are intriguing works for their depiction, not only of the northern European scenery, but also of the ordinary faces Hollar encountered on his journeys. Life fascinated Hollar. One need only look at the numerous studies in the collection of heads - deformed heads, old men with pointed noses and prominent chins, young women with their hair in rolls - to see that he was enthralled by the ordinary and the extraordinary alike. Over one hundred etchings, for example, portray women of all classes in their native dress. Whether depicting a common kitchen-maid or a noble woman wearing a mask, cap and fur muff, Hollar infuses charm and elegance into his subjects, by the masterly use of shading, so difficult when one's only instruments are copper, wax, and acid. (These particular etchings are also of sociological interest since they date from that period in his life during the Civil War when Hollar was without a patron.) Hounds, stags, rabbits, elephants, camels and goats all came under his scrutiny and assumed a fine, crisp beauty that only the etching can reproduce. His still lifes of flowers and fruit, likely inspired by the continental artists, assume a luminosity that is difficult enough with oil, let alone with ink. That is not to say that Hollar was not sensitive to the use of colour. In the Fisher collection there is one solitary sketch of a naked John the Baptist, sitting on a skin-draped rocky ledge, a crucifix in his right hand, his left hand pointed skyward. Based on Correggio, it is executed in soft pencil tinted with a dull, red-brick crayon.

It was not just life, however, that fascinated Hollar. Among his most famous illustrations are the macabre, and at times humorous, etchings based on Holbein's 1525 drawings and first executed by him in Antwerp in 1651 to accompany the Dance of Death, originally a kind of medieval morality story. Several artists, including Georges Reverdy, had attempted woodcuts of Holbein's scenes in the sixteenth century, though none of them would assume the importance that Hollar's work would later achieve. The subject matter, however, was not popular in the later Baroque and Classical periods, and Hollar's original plates, which had passed to Pitau of Paris at the end of the seventeenth century, were unseen for almost one hundred years. From 1780 onward they reappear, in Paris, Edinburgh, and London printings, often without any credit given to their creator. The library has a variety of examples of these thirty etchings dating from about 1680 to 1887, with the later reissues of the Romantic period constituting the bulk of the collection.

The Fisher library boasts some one hundred volumes containing original prints made from Hollar's plates, most dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition, the library is home to twenty-two large archival boxes of original loose etchings representing the vast array of Hollar's artistic yield in the several states in which they were originally created. All of these books and prints are now catalogued and may be accessed through the library's on-line catalogue or by using a recently prepared finding aid.

Hogarth Prints

A collection of prints designed, engraved and published by William Hogarth (1697-1764), with some engraved later by William Blake, Luke Sullivan, rancesco Bartolozzi, and others. Included are well-known series, such as A rake's progress and Marriage à-la-mode.

Charles M. Godfrey Collection

The gift of Dr. Charles M. Godfrey, this is a collection of caricatures and cartoons, some with medical subjects. The prints are mainly English, but there are also a few from France, Italy and Japan. Works by Henry Alken, H.W. Bunbury, George, Isaac and Robert Cruikshank, James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and G.M. Woodward are included.

Harshaw Collection of William Boyne

The gift of William Harshaw, a descendant of Boyne's sister, Jane, this collection contains the papers of William Boyne (1814-1893), the noted numismatist. In the mid 1840s Boyne travelled extensively in Europe and Africa and collected engravings and lithographs of the places he visited. They include several hundred prints of scenes in France, Italy and England, with a few Egyptian views. Particularly fine are those by Giambattista Piranesi and the British nineteenth century artist, Thomas Shotter Boys.

Head Collection of Watercolours and Drawings

Fifty-one watercolours and drawings of Canadian scenes by Sir Edmund Walker Head (1805-1868) and his wife, Anna Maria (d. 1890), made while Sir Edmund was Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick from 1848-1854, and Governor General of Canada, 1854-1861.

Miller Collection

A collection of architectural drawings and other documentation for buildings designed by the Toronto architect, George M. Miller (1854-1933) and by his son, William J. Miller. The majority of the plans, covering the period from the late 1890s to the 1920s, are for apartments, churches, educational buildings, including libraries, factories, warehouses, office and bank buildings.

Salvin Papers

A collection of architectural drawings for various projects by the British architect, Anthony Salvin (1799-1881), executed either by Salvin himself or by other architects or draughtsmen in his office. It also includes some photographs, and a catalogue of Salvin's library at Elmshurst.

Storm Collection

A collection of books on architecture, engineering and design, mainly nineteenth century, from the library of the Toronto architect, William G. Storm, (1826-1892).


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