Wenceslaus Hollar

Wenceslaus Hollar

Portrait of Wenceslaus Hollar by Jan Meyssens (Prague Castle in background).
Born Václav Hollar
(1607-07-13)13 July 1607
Prague, Kingdom of Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic)
Died 25 March 1677(1677-03-25) (aged 69)
London, Kingdom of England (present-day United Kingdom)
Nationality Czech
Known for Etching
Movement Baroque

Václav Hollar (Czech: [ˈvaːtslav ˈɦolar]; 13 July 1607 – 25 March 1677), was a Bohemian etcher, known in England as Wenceslaus or Wenceslas and in Germany as Wenzel Hollar. He was born in Prague, and died in London, being buried at St Margaret's Church, Westminster.


Unknown man, formerly known as a portrait of Wenceslaus Hollar

After his family was ruined by the Sack of Prague in the Thirty Years' War, the young Hollar, who had been destined for the law, determined to become an artist. The earliest of his works that have come down to us are dated 1625 and 1626; they are small plates, and one of them is a copy of a "Virgin and Child" by Dürer, whose influence upon Hollar's work was always great. In 1627 he was in Frankfurt where he was apprenticed to the renowned engraver Matthäus Merian. In 1630 he lived in Strasbourg, Mainz and Koblenz, where Hollar portrayed the towns, castles, and landscapes of the Middle Rhine Valley. In 1633 he moved to Cologne.[1]

It was in 1636 that he attracted the notice of the famous nobleman and art collector Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, then on an embassy to the imperial court of Emperor Ferdinand II. Employed as a draftsman he travelled with Arundel to Vienna and Prague. In Cologne in 1635, Hollar published his first book. In 1637 he returned with him to England where he remained in the Earl's household for many years.

Life in England

Though he became a servant of Lord Arundel, he seems not to have worked exclusively for him, and after the Earl's death in Padua in 1646, earned his living by working for various authors and publishers, which was afterwards his primary means of distribution. In around 1650, probably at the request of Hendrik van der Borcht, he etched a commemorative print done after a design by Cornelius Schut in Arundel's honour and dedicated to his widow, Aletheia. Arundel is seated in melancholy mode on his tomb in front of an obelisk (perhaps commemorating the one he tried to import from Rome), and surrounded by works of art and their personifications.

In 1745, George Vertue paid homage to their association in the vignette he published on page one of his Description of the Works of the Ingenious Delineator and Engraver Wenceslaus Hollar. It featured a bust of Arundel in front of a pyramid, symbolizing immortality, surrounded by illustrated books and the instruments of Hollar's trade.[2]

During his first year in England he created "View of Greenwich", later issued by Peter Stent, the print-seller. Nearly 3 feet (0.9 m) long, he received thirty shillings for the plate, a small fraction of its present value. Afterwards he fixed the price of his work at fourpence an hour, and measured his time by a sand-glass. On July 4, 1641 Hollar married a servant of the Countess of Norfolk. Her name was Tracy; they had two children. Lord Arundel left England in 1642, and Hollar passed into the service of the Duke of York, taking with him his young family.

English Civil War

Hollar's depiction of the Mary Rose engagement.
Woman with high crowned hat.

He continued to produce works prolifically throughout the English Civil War, but it adversely affected his income. An etching dated 1643 and epitomizing the civil war, entitled as it is: 'civilis seditio,' features a snake with a head at each end pulling in opposite directions in front of the Giza pyramids and sphinx. Hollar took his setting, presumably symbolizing longer term values, directly from an engraving published in George Sandys' Relation of a Journey begun An. Dom 1610, published in 1615.[3]

Hollar joined the Royalist Regiment and was captured by parliamentary forces in 1645 during the siege of Basing House. After a short time he managed to escape. In Antwerp in 1646, he again met with the Earl of Arundel. During this period of the unrest of the Civil Wars, he worked in Antwerp, where he produced many of his most renowned works, including Dutch cityscapes, seascapes, depictions of nature, his "muffs" and "shells". In 1652 he returned to London, and lived for a time with Faithorne the engraver near Temple Bar.

During the following years many books were published which he illustrated: Ogilby's Virgil and Homer, Stapylton's Juvenal, and Dugdale's Warwickshire, St Paul's and Monasticon (part i.). His income fell as booksellers continued to decline his work, and the Court did not purchase his works following the Restoration. During this time he lost his young son, also reputed to have artistic ability, to the plague.

After the Great Fire of London he produced some of his famous "Views of London"; and it may have been the success of these plates and other cityscapes such as his 1649 Great View of Prague which induced the king to send him, in 1668, to Tangier, to draw the town and forts.[4] During his return to England a desperate and successful engagement was fought by his ship, the Mary Rose, under Captain John Kempthorne, against seven Algerine men-of-war,--a battle which Hollar etched for Ogilby's Africa.

He lived eight years after his return, still working for the booksellers, and continuing to produce well-regarded works until his death, for example a large plate of Edinburgh dated 1670. He died in extreme poverty, his last recorded words being a request to the bailiffs that they would not carry away the bed on which he was dying. Hollar is interred in St Margaret's Church in Westminster.

Hollar's plan of "Old" St. Paul's Cathedral in London, 1658.


He was one of the best and most prolific artists of his time. His work includes some 400 drawings and 3000 etchings. Hollar produced a variety of works; his plates number some 2740, and include views, portraits, ships, religious subjects, heraldic subjects, landscapes, and still life in many different forms. His architectural drawings, such as those of Antwerp and Strassburg cathedrals, and his views of towns, are to scale, but are intended as pictures as well. He reproduced decorative works of other artists, as in the famous chalice after Mantegna's drawing.

One of Hollar's most famous etchings is a picture of the Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp), dated 1649. The work's lively figural decoration, so typical of Hollar's work, includes a procession towards the entrance of the cathedral, a horse-drawn coach, and passerby and dogs in a square in front of the church. The picture of the Antwerp cathedral was on display at the Lobkowicz Palace during the Lobkowicz Library exhibition "Architecture in the Work of Peter Paul Rubens and Vaclav Hollar, which ran through the 30th of May, 2013.

Collections of Hollar's work are kept in the British Museum, the print room at Windsor Castle, the British Museum in London, the Fisher Library at the University of Toronto, and the National Gallery in Prague. Hollar's oeuvre was first catalogued in 1745 (2nd ed. 1759) by George Vertue. The prints were subsequently catalogued in 1853 by Gustav Parthey and in 1982 by Richard Pennington. A new complete illustrated catalogue has been published in the New Hollstein German series. Much of his work is available online from the University of Toronto in their Wenceslaus Hollar digital collection. The Folger Shakespeare Library also holds some 2000 prints, drawings and other works by Hollar.

A very rare original copper plate produced by Hollar has survived.[5] The plate is for an engraving of the city of Kingston upon Hull in the United Kingdom and is held in the British Library.

There is a High School of Arts and Higher Professional Art School in Prague, named after him (Vyšší odborná škola a Střední umělecká škola Václava Hollara).

See also


  1. Richard Godfrey, Wenceslaus Hollar: A Bohemian Artist in England (New Haven and London, 1994) and Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677 (Cambridge, 1982).
  2. Edward Chaney, "Roma Britannica and the Cultural Memory of Egypt: Lord Arundel and the Obelisk of Domitian", in Roma Britannica: Art Patronage and Cultural Exchange in Eighteenth-Century Rome, eds. D. Marshall, K. Wolfe and S. Russell, British School at Rome, 2011, pp. 147–70.
  3. Chaney, 'Roma Britannica and the Cultural Memory of Egypt', pp. 154-5.
  4. Martin Malcolm Elbl, Portuguese Tangier (1471-1662): Colonial Urban Fabric as Cross-Cultural Skeleton (Toronto/Peterborough: Baywolf Press, 2013), 109-110.
  5. http://bryarsandbryars.co.uk/hollars-hull/


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