FECIT AD VIVUM. Portraits of artists in Western European engravings
On March 8th, 2012, The Lithuanian Art Museum hosted the opening of an
exhibit entitled Fecit ad vivum. Portraits of artists in Western European engravings
The collection of portraits in the State Hermitage Museum's holdings currently consists of about 65,000 sheets, and is one of the largest of its kind in the world. This collection began with the prints that had already entered the Imperial Hermitage during the reign of Catherine the Great. In 1919, it was substantially enlarged both by the tremendously valuable collection of the famous numismatist Y.B. Iversen, and other nationalized private collections.
Beginning in the 16th century, the genre of engraved portraiture brought fame to those it depicted, supported their prestige, and stimulated interest in them. A portrait of an artist is based on a free sketch, which was devoted to a particular type of private portrait, which also included portraits of scientists, writers, and musicians. It is, in essence, a psychological portrait, created with unofficial intimacy and employing an incomparably wider range of stylistic variations.
These portraits are often complemented with the trappings of the model's profession or interests, which can often be read as symbols. A portrait of an architect might be accompanied by a compass and a scroll bearing the plan of a building, that of a painter might include a palette or an easel, while an engraver would be depicted with a graver and a printing block. In the portrait of Jean-Baptiste Oudry (eau forte by Marie-Marguerite Oudry) we see a guitar, while that of David Teniers the Younger (engraving by Jacques-Philippe Le Bas) includes a viola da gamba.
In the era of Mannerism (the 16-early 17th century), as a result of the influence of the school that formed around the court of Rudolph II, portraits were often framed with allegorical figures that celebrated the model. This applies to the portrait of Pieter Brueghel the Elder was engraved by Aegidius Sadeler, who placed in a richly decorated frame consisting of the figures of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, Fama, the personification of fame, and Mercury, the patron of the arts.
Sometimes the actual image of the subject, engraved in strict accordance with tradition, with an effective combination of decorative elements, almost ceases to play the main role; and yet, despite the dominance of the decorative elements, the portrait would, none the less, remain central. It was then that characteristic frames began to appear, emphasizing the idea that their subject was never to be forgotten, of immortalizing what they depicted; these frames often imitated stone, with cracks, chips and niches. The portrait of the Founder of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris, Sebastien Bourdon, created by Laurent Cars in order to win admission to that institution, sits framed in a rocky aperture, from which the artist, long since dead, looks out with curiosity.
The 17th century saw the beginning of a time of close cooperation between the painter and the engraver who would reproduce his picture as a print. Rubens in particular stimulated this sort of cooperation. His workshop included a whole industry devoted to making engravings that reproduced his paintings and drawings. This exhibit includes the famous portrait of Rubens, made by Paulus Pontius, along from a self-portrait by the artist from 1623-1624, a self-portrait by the Neapolitan painter and engraver Luca Giordano (made by Rocco Pozzi), and one of the many self-portraits by Louise Vigee-Le Brun (made by Johann Gotthard von Muller).
Improved engraving technology led to attempts to come closer to the effects produced by painting. They did produce striking artistic result, but at the cost of losing the very features that distinguish engraving.
In the 18th century, an exterior-oriented aesthetic became dominant, interested in an elegant gesture, an elegant but slightly unkempt dress. Life was becoming a more and more important element in the life of society, which increased the profession's prestige. This is quite noticeable in the self-portraits, which seemed to reflect the artist' sense of their own value. They are elegant, striving to live respectably in luxurious apartments and participate in social life.
At this exhibit, the viewer can expect to see images of famous artists like, van Dyck, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and many more.
The curators of this exhibit are Niyole Kazimirovna Masulionite, senior academic association of the Department of Western European Fine Art of the State Hermitage Museum, and Skaistis Minkulyonis, senior museum associate of the Department of International Relation of the Lithuania Art Museum.