Friday marks 400th anniversary of birth of Vaclav "Wenceslaus" Hollar
On this day, July 13, lovers of fine art are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the birth of Vaclav, or Wenceslaus, Hollar, one of the most famous Czech and European engravers and draftsmen of his time. The year 2007 has actually seen two important anniversaries: in March it was exactly 330 years since the great artist's death.
Vaclav Hollar was born in 1607 in Prague but he soon left the country to work as a graphic artist in Germany. In 1636 he met the Earl of Arundel, an ambassador of the English King to the imperial court, and together they travelled across Europe, eventually settling in London. There, he witnessed and documented numerous historic events: the reign and execution of Charles I, the rule of Cromwell and the Commonwealth, the return of Charles II and the two greatest disasters that befell the City of London - the Plague, in which he lost his son, and the Great Fire of 1666. Ondrej Chrobak, director of the Czech National Gallery's Graphics and Drawings Collection, says Hollar became a sort of chronicler of his era:
"I think that the highlight of his work is cartography and its wider aspects. It is not only a perfect technique of etching, but Hollar also captured European towns which had been going through turbulent development. On his journeys with Arundel, they often came to towns which were subsequently burned down or hit by epidemics. It was a very restless era, which Hollar documented."
The variety of Hollar's work was boundless: his plates number almost 3000, and include views, portraits, ships, religious and heraldic subjects, landscapes, and still life in a hundred different forms. He became most famous for his architectural, mathematically exact drawings, but he also became a master in capturing natural objects, such as sea shells or animals.
"Unlike the Baroque tradition, which had just originated at that time, Hollar's work was characterised by a descriptive and consistent character, as well as a scientific approach. He became most famous for his large-scale paintings of European towns: these were something like three-dimensional maps. Thanks to Hollar the images of western European cities of the seventeenth century have been preserved. However, he also documented various aristocratic collections and he worked with a very precise and specific style."
Although he spent most of his life in London, Hollar never forgot his homeland and always signed his works as "Wenceslaus Hollar Bohemus". One of his last works was a panoramic view of Prague.
"The work of Vaclav Hollar and the legend that surrounds him has become, since the end of 19th century at the latest, a synonym for graphic art in the Czech lands, where his cosmopolitan career and success abroad has always been greatly respected. His success abroad has always been a motivation and a challenge here. The best evidence is the Hollar Association, a group of Czech graphic artists which is named after Vaclav Hollar."
A number of events have been held this year to commemorate Hollar's anniversary and more are still scheduled to take place. One of them is a retrospective exhibition in the Czech National Gallery, starting in October. Apart from the vast collection of the National Gallery, visitors will also have a unique opportunity to see loans from the British Museum in London.