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© December 2004
revised 27 September 2009

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The following biography of Hollar was written by one of his contemporaries, John Aubrey (1626–1697). I take my text here from the two-volume edition of Aubrey’s Brief Lives by Andrew Clark (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1898), i:407–8.

Another of Aubrey’s modern editors, Oliver Lawson Dick, gives the following introductory biography of Hollar: “Engraver. He lived in Frankfort, Cologne and Antwerp and had difficulty enough to subsist, until Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, brought him to England. Teacher of drawing to the Prince of Wales 1640. He fought in the ranks for the King, but was captured by Parliament and escaped to Antwerp. In 1652 he returned to England. He was appointed His Majesty’s Designer in 1660. Before the introduction of photography, picture painting and engraving were important professions, and Hollar charged fourpence an hour for his work, of which 2733 examples are enumerated. Besides making copies of famous paintings and illustrating books, Hollar executed a fine map of London after the Fire, illustrated the coronation of Charles II and engraved a series of pictures of women’s costumes, which have proved invaluable to historians.”


Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677)


“Winceslaus Hollar, natus Pragae 23 Julii, st[ilo] v[etere], 1607, about 8 A.M.

“Winceslaus Hollar, Bohemus, was borne at Prague.

“His father was a Knight of the Empire: which is by lettres patent under the imperiall seale (as our baronets). I have seen it: the seale is bigger then the broad seale of England: in the middle is the imperiall coate; and round about it are the coates of the Princes Electors. His father was a Protestant, and either for keeping a conventicle, or being taken at one, forfeited his estate, and was ruined by the Roman Catholiques.

“He told me that when he was a schoole-boy he tooke a delight in draweing of mapps; which draughts he kept, and they were pretty. He was designed by his father to have been a lawyer, and was putt to that profession, when his father’s troubles, together with the warres, forced him to leave his countrey. So that what he did for his delight and recreation only when a boy, proved to be his livelyhood when a man.

“I thinke he stayd sometime in Lowe Germany, then he came into England, wher he was very kindly entertained by that great patron of painters and draughts-men [Thomas Howard] Lord High Marshall, earl of Arundell and Surrey, where he spent his time in draweing and copying rarities, which he did etch (i.e. eate with aqua fortis in copper plates). When the Lord Marshall went ambassador to the Emperor of Germany to Vienna, he travelld with much grandeur; and among others, Mr. Hollar went with him (very well clad) to take viewes, landskapes, buildings, etc. remarqueable in their journey, which wee see now at the print shopps.

“He hath donne the most in that way that ever anyone did, insomuch that I have heard Mr. John Evelyn, R.S.S., say that at sixpence a print his labour would come to . . . . . li. (quaere J[ohn] E[velyn]). He was very short-sighted, and did worke so curiously that the curiosity of his worke is not to be judged without a magnifying-glasse. When he tooke his landskaps, he, then, had a glasse to helpe his sight.

“At Arundel-house he maried with my ladie’s wayting woman, Mrs. . . . Tracy, by whom he haz a daughter, that was one of the greatest beauties I have seen; his son by her dyed in the plague, an ingeniose youth, drew delicately.

“When the civil warres brake-out, the Lord Marshall had leave to goe beyond sea. Mr. Hollar went into the Lowe-Countries, where he stayed till about 1649.

“I remember he told me that when he first came into England, (which was a serene time of peace) that the people, both poore and rich, did looke cheerfully, but at his returne, he found the countenances of the people all changed, melancholy, spightfull, as if bewitched.

“I have sayd before that his father was ruined upon the account of the Protestant religion. Winceslaus dyed a Catholique, of which religion, I suppose, he might be ever since he came to Arundel-howse.

He was a very friendly good-natured man as could be, but shiftlesse as to the world, and dyed not rich. He maried a second wife, 1665, by whom he has severall children. He dyed on our Ladie-day (25 Martii), 1677, and is buried in St. Margaret’s church-yard at Westminster neer the north west corner of the tower. Had he lived till the 13th of July following, he had been just 70 yeares old.”


John Aubrey's monogram


QUICK LINKS

Hollar’s etching of The Royall Exchange of London in 1644, in the GALLERY exhibit on 17th-century women booksellers

further discussion of Wenceslaus Hollar in the GALLERY exhibits on 17th-century tree diagrams and engravings of the ananas plant

two Hollar engravings, of the Tradescants elder and younger, in the GALLERY exhibit on Powhatan’s Mantle

Hollar’s etching of “A Twenty-Three-Year-Old Virginian Algonquian” in 1645, in the GALLERY exhibit on 17th-century Portraits of Virginian Indian men

another mention by Aubrey of Hollar’s travels with the earl of Arundel in Aubrey’s life of the physician and medical researcher, William Harvey (best known for his radical thesis of the circulation of the blood), who accompanied them to Vienna

a portrait of the earl of Arundel and a brief note on his life-long patronage of the arts & sciences in the GALLERY exhibit on the Frost Fair print

It was Arundel who made design an integral part of good character, telling John Evelyn “That one who could not Designe a little, would never make an honest man.” For more discussion of this, see the GALLERY exhibit on the Athenian Society emblem.

a digital transcription of Margaret Cavendish’s poetic portraits of mirth & melancholy (her 168-line “A Dialogue between Melancholy and Mirth,” from the 1653 ed. of Poems, and Fancies) in the LIBRARY

more visual portraits of early melancholics in the GALLERY exhibit, Portraits of Melancholy

NOTE FOR

“... the Lord Marshall had leave to goe beyond sea.”

Thomas Howard, 2nd earl of Arundel, Surrey, and Norfolk, died at Padua, 1646.

Lord Arundel, the now controversial collector of the Arundel marbles, was an early patron of mathematical practitioners and others associated with the new science. His world-class library, mostly assembled during his embassy to Vienna in 1636 (with Wenceslaus Hollar and William Harvey in attendance), was later given to the Royal Society by his grandson, Henry Howard, at the instigation of John Evelyn (Pepys called the Arundel Library “a noble gift they value at 1000l.”).

The formal presentation of Arundel Library (approximately 4,000 books and 500 volumes of mss.) took place on 2 January 1667, but the library was not physically transferred to Gresham College until 1678, and not catalogued until 1681 (the indefatigable but over-worked Robert Hooke being first tasked with this onerous chore in May 1668).

return to AUBREY’S TEXT

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Laughing Self-Portrait, 1636

Etching of a younger, mirthful Hollar, possibly influenced by Rembrandt’s portrait etchings.

Here we see the “very friendly good-natured man as could be” described by Aubrey.


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Self-Portrait in an Oval, 1647
Etching (1st state).

Shows a maturer (age 40), more melancholic Hollar, with emphasis on his status as a gentleman, indicated by the prominent display of his family coat of arms beneath the auricular-style cartouche surrounding the bust.

Of note, in this first state of the etching, Hollar’s coat of arms displays the arms of his mother, with his father’s arms (a hill and two fleurs-de-lis) in the center. The hill symbolizes Domazlice in southern Bohemia, where a castle was said to belong to the Hollar family.


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Self-Portrait in an Oval, 1647
Etching (2nd state).

In this second state of Hollar’s etching, the escutcheon with the arms of his mother has been erased, and the coat of arms of his father redrawn in it. Scholars have puzzled over this change, followed as it was by the unforgiving statement about his father in the inscription to his later Self-Portrait in a Rectangle (“mais beaucoup retarde par son pere”).


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Self-Portrait in a Rectangle, 1649

Etching after a painting of Hollar by Jan Meyssens (1612–1670), who published the print in Images d’hommes d’ésprit sublime (Antwerp, 1649), a series of portraits of artists in the vein of van Dyck’s Iconography. It presents a more cheerful Hollar during his prolific Antwerp period, in which Hollar produced over 350 prints, including a number of large and significant plates. Hollar is here shown half-length, holding one of his etched copper plates (after a lost Raphael painting of St. Catherine of Alexandria, then part of the Arundel collection), with the tools of his profession — a bottle of acid next to the engraver’s burin, compasses, etching needles, a scraper, dividers, a set square, several shells (for holding watercolor washes), and a small box (possibly containing ink) — ready at hand. As with all of Hollar’s portrait etchings, “the face is rather awkwardly worked.” (Godfrey 110)

The French lettering in the inscription below gives a summary biographical account of the artist, and was presumably written or authorized by Hollar himself: “WENCESLAUS HOLLAR / Gentilhomme ne a Prage l’an 1607, a este de nature fort inclin pr l’art de meniature principa- / lement pour esclaircir, mais beaucoup retarde par son pere, l’an 1627, il est party de Prage aijant / dmeure en divers lieux en Allemagne, il c est addonne pour peu de temps a esclaircir et aplicquer / leau forte, estant party de Coloigne avec le Comte d’ Arondel vers Vienne et dillec par Prage / vers Angleterre, ou aijant este serviteur domestique du Duc de lorck, il s’est retire de la cause / de la guerre a Anvers ou il reside encores.”

In English: “Gentleman, born in Prague 1607, was naturally much inclined to the art of miniature, especially illumination, but was much discouraged by his father. In 1627 he left Prague living in various places in Germany, and devoted himself for some time to illumination and etching. He left Cologne with the Count of Arundel to Vienna and then via Prague to England, where having been domestic servant of the Duke of York, he retired on account of the war to Antwerp where he now resides.”


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