Wednesday 21 March 2012

Hollar Digital Collection from Toronto

When it comes to looking at the clothing of women in the mid 17th century the engravings of Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1677) are invaluable. I am very lucky in that, knowing my interests, I have been given several originals as gifts and have them in my own collection. The University of Toronto, which has one of the largest collections of his works in the world, has put their entire collection online as the Hollar Digital Collection. The definition on the costume prints is superb, when you look at them just remember that the figures on the originals are only about 8 cm by 3 cm.

Hollar was born in Prague, and so his early life was heavily influence by the beginning of the Thirty Years War in 1618. When Frederick, Elector of the Palatinate and King of Bohemia, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of King James I of England, fled Prague in November of 1620 the city was taken by Maximilian of Bavaria. The city suffered during this and the next few years and Hollar’s family was apparently ruined. Hollar moved around the German states, meeting Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel in 1636 and travelling with him back to England in 1637. Hollar was certainly in England at the start of the Civil War, but appears to have moved to Antwerp by 1644. John Evelyn said he returned to England about 1649 but others have stated 1652. He died in London and is buried at St Margaret’s Westminster.

For costume historians the groups of his engravings of most interest are the Ornatus Mulierbris, the Theatrum Mulierum and Aula Veneris. When looking at the dates on these prints watch out for the difference between del. and fecit. Del. indicating delineated means sketched or drawn on that date, fecit means made at that date.

Ornatus Mulierbris

To give it its full title, Ornatus muliebris Anglicanus, or, The severall habits of English women: from the nobilitie to the contry woman, as they are in these times, 1640. This was a set of 26 plates of Englishwomen published by Peter Stent The individual plates are not titled, so descriptions have often been given to them that are not Hollar’s own, the “country woman” (as shown above) has often been listed as a servant or a kitchen maid. Some of the plates are copies of Van Dyck paintings.

Theatrum Mulierum and Aula Veneris

These are later plates done when Hollar was in Europe, dated mainly between 1644 and 1649, showing the costume of women from various countries, and they have an incredibly complex publishing history. These plates do have titles in Latin, so for example Civis Norimbergensis Vxor  is a citizen’s wife of Nuremberg, and  Mulier Sueuica Inferioris Conditionsis is a lower class Swedish woman. Illustrated here is his French countrywoman.

The Toronto Collection contains many other of works, including his landscapes, architectural drawings, maps and a lovely collection of sporting prints. It is well worth a visit.

Much of the information above has come from Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677 (Cambridge, 1982), a catalogue raisonné of Hollar’s work.

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