Václav Hollar (known in English as Wenceslaus or Wenceslas, in German as Wenzel Hollar) was born in Prague, 13 July 1607, died in London, 25 March 1677, and is buried at St Margaret's Church, Westminster.
Hollar stemmed from a prosperous Czech family associated with the Bohemian Brethren: his father had been knighted by Emperor Rudolph II in 1600. Like many Czech Protestants, the the family was ruined by the Sack of Prague following the failure of the Bohemian Revolt in 1620. The young Hollar then defied his father’s wishes that he study law, and pursued a career as an artist. On 31 July 1627 Ferdinand II required the Bohemian nobility to convert to Catholicism or emigrate. Later that year, Hollar found himself in Stuttgart, moving to Strasbourg in 1629 and Frankfurt am Main in 1631, where he was apprenticed to the outstanding topographical engraver of the era, Matthäus Merian. After attracting the attention of the famous art collector Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, in 1636, he returned with him to England the following year, producing hundreds of drawing and thousands of etchings of great variety: Pennington’s catalogue of his oeuvre contains 2717 items.
A conspectus of his prolific output can explored in the Wenceslaus Hollar digital collection at the University of Toronto. The Folger Shakespeare Library also contains over 750 prints by Hollar. A volume of his sketches (English mss 883) is found in the John Rylands Library, Manchester. A rare original copper plate produced by Hollar, depicting Kingston upon Hull, is displayed in the British Library. His engravings on Cabinet can be explored here.
Image 1. Wenceslaus Hollar (self portrait), 1647 (State 1); 13 x 10 cm.
Image 2. Wenceslaus Hollar (self portrait after Jan Meyssens), 1649? (State 2); 17 x 12 cm.
Source: The Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection, University of Toronto, Plates Number: P1420 and P1419 resp.
Description. Hollar twice portrayed himself in copper. The first, a self-portrait in 1647, depicts a rather melancholic man in an oval above his coat of arms. The second, published two years later, is derived from a painting or grisaille by Jan Meyssens and was published as part of a series of portraits of artists. Hollar holds a copperplate depicting a painting of St Catherine from the Arundel collection attributed to Raphael but now lost. More interesting still are the engravers tools on the desk in front of him, including compasses, etching needles, and set squares in the foreground and and a bottle of acid and a burin behind.
Image 3. Panoramic view of Prague: Wenceslaus Hollar, a Lewengrün, et Bareyt, hanc Regni Bohemiæ Metropolim, Patriam suam, ex Monte / Sti Laurentij Ao 1636, exactissime delineauit, & Aqua forti in hac forma æri insculpsit, Antverpiae, Ao, 1649. Version of view of Prague printed in Merian Topographia Bohemiae. High-res version available on Wikimedia.
Image 4. Panoramic view of London by Wenceslaus Hollar, 1647. High-res-version available on Wikimedia.
References. Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677 (Cambridge, 1982), no. 1419; Richard Godfrey, Wenceslaus Hollar: A Bohemian Artist in England (New Haven and London, 1994), nos 72, 75; Robert J. D. Harding in ODNB.
Credits: Howard Hotson (February 2017)