Caricatures and deformities after Leonardo. Three heads covering each other., result 1 of 1
The immensely prolific and talented Czech printmaker Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) was employed between 1636 and 1644 as an artist and cataloguer in the household of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, one of the greatest art collectors of his era. The Earl, a victim of the English Civil War, fled overseas and died in 1646; Hollar himself moved with his family to Antwerp in 1644, where this etching would have been made. The return of political stability led to Hollar's return to London in 1652, where he lived and worked until his death.
In his Trattato della Pittura (Treatise on Painting), first (long posthumously) published in 1651, only a few years after this etching, Leonardo da Vinci argued that certain attributes of the face may well be reflections of the inner self, even if they are not the sole window to the essence of man. The etchings after Leonardo of grotesque heads by Hollar clearly depict this kind of amazement at the possibility that the character of a person can be mirrored by their outer appearance. Such grotesque or bizarre images, simultaneously horrible and marvellous, have influenced portraiture and caricature ever since their origin in the Italian Renaissance. The depiction of the abnormal in Renaissance art became increasingly popular in this period, developing as an artistic genre in its own right. The first artist to print these caricatures of Leonardo, Hollar helped perpetuate the Renaissance love of anything strange and rare in art and literature.
Hollar's source was a volume containing Leonardo's drawings which was then in the Arundel Collection but which is now in the Royal Collection (Windsor Castle), where the origins of 37 Hollar prints can be identified. Kenneth Clark, in A catalogue of the drawings of Leonardo... at Windsor Castle (1935), comments that these drawing - so repulsive to us (perhaps more so in 1935) - were however the first of Leonardo's drawings to be appreciated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Indeed, Hollar's Antwerp edition was reprinted twice, in 1648 and 1666.
This etching depicts three overlapping male heads, all in profile. On the left is a beautiful, curly headed youth. In the centre is a bald-headed man with a prominently hooked nose. On the right is a late middle-aged man, bearded and wearing a cap.
Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677 (Cambridge, 1982, 2002), p. 275 (no. 1601).
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Dr Mark Stocker Curator, Historical International Art April 2017
Now viewing Caricatures and deformities after Leonardo. Three heads covering each other.