64. Maria Katharina Prestel (after Giacomo Ligozzi)

Nuremberg 1747 – 1794 London

The Triumph of Truth over Jealousy, 1781

By the early sixteenth century, Italian engravers – most notably Ugo da Carpi (1450-1520) and Andrea Andreani (1541-1623) – had succeeded in imitating wash drawings by applying the difficult technique of chiaroscuro woodcuts. By the eighteenth century, the development of new techniques of engraving and colour printing, such as the chalk manner and aquatint, had an unprecedented impact on the diffusion of master drawings held in private hands at the time. The Prestel couple – Johann Theophilus (1739-1808) and Maria Katharina (1747-1794) – specialised particularly in aquatint reproductions of series of drawings from private cabinets, mounted in sumptuous albums.1

Our print, a masterful interpretation of a drawing by Giacomo Ligozzi (1547-1626),2 features in the third volume crafted by the Prestels, Drawings by the Best Painters of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, from Several Famous Cabinets: Engraved after the Originals in the Same Size by Jean Théophile Prestel (known as the ‘Kleine Kabinett’), under the number 24. The signature of Johann Theophilus,3 visible on several copies including ours, and the double cataloguing of the print by Nagler, exemplify the difficulty in distinguishing the prints of Maria Katharina from those of Johan Theophilus. Nonetheless, the author of the recent catalogue raisonné of Maria Katharina Prestel’s work reattributed to her a great many prints signed in Johann Theophilus’s name in the three volumes on which they worked together. And it is indeed to her that we owe our print.4 Trained by her husband in the delicate art of the aquatint, Maria Katharina most significantly contributed, in terms of quantity as well as quality, to the ambitious editorial projects undertaken by the latter – which would ultimately lead to their bankruptcy.5

The process carried out by Maria Katharina Prestel to render Ligozzi’s drawing with all its subtlety is an authentic technical feat. The artist used two plates, printed successively on a same sheet. On the first, she etched the line and placed the aquatint to print the tones imitating wash, before inking it in brown. On the second, she incised the hatching that was to receive the gold heightening, applied a priming of ochre and oil on her plate, and then carefully wiped it to remove any excess outside of the grooves, before putting it under the press.6 Lastly, on the impression thus obtained, she applied gold leaf that adhered selectively to the lines printed by means of this base. The perfect matching of the plates, as well as the high-quality printing of the gold-heightened lines, appears with remarkable consistency on the prints that have been preserved.7 These details prove the artist’s absolute mastery of an elaborate process that she was able to apply in order to create a multiple.

This work is a major addition to the very rich collection of colour prints – mainly chiaroscuri – possessed by the Fondation Custodia, and which Frits Lugt, who was fascinated by the virtuosity of this technique, had begun to collect at a very early stage. MNG

1Drawings by the Best Painters of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, from the Cabinet of Paul de Praun in Nuremberg. Engraved after the Originals in the Same Size by Jean Théophile Prestel, Painter and Member of the Fine Arts Academy of Düsseldorf, Nuremberg 1780; Drawings by the Best Painters of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, from the Cabinet of Monsieur Gérard Joachim Schmidt in Hamburg, Vienna 1779-1782; and Drawings by the Best Painters of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, from Various Famous Cabinets, Frankfurt am Main 1782-1785. This initiative had a famous precedent in the Recueil Crozat (1729-1742); see Claudia Schwaighofer, Von der Kennerschaft zur Wissenschaft. Reproduktiongraphische Mappenwerke nach Zeichnungen in Europa, 1726-1857, Berlin and Munich 2009, pp. 263-268.

2The copy of the album held in Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum (inv. no. GF 381 B 18) displays on the verso of the print a mention engraved on a pasted strip of paper indicating the provenance of the drawing – E. Museo Prauniano – and the author of the print – M. Cath. Prestel sc. Norimb. 1781. So at the time the drawing was in the collection of the Nuremberg collector Paulus II Praun (1548-1616), the Prestels having already published part of his cabinet in their first engraved series (see note 1). Today it belongs to the collections of the Albertina in Vienna, inv. no. 1658 (pen and brown ink, brown wash, gold heightening; 301 × 230 mm); see Veronika Birke and Janine Kertész, Die Italienischen Zeichnungen der Albertina, 4 vols., Vienna 1992-1997, vol. 2, p. 879; and http://sammlungenonline.albertina.at.

3Unlike our print, the copy in the Amsterdam album does not bear an inscription on the plate.

4Claudia Schwaighofer, Das Druckgraphische Werk der Maria Catharina Prestel, Master’s thesis, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, 3 vols., Munich 2003, vol. 1, pp. 74-76, vol. 2, no. 17; and https://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/50. For a discussion on the attribution of the works to the Prestel couple, also consult Bärbel Kovalevski (ed.), Zwischen Ideal und Wirklichkeit: Künstlerinnen der Goethe-Zeit zwischen 1750 und 1850, exh. cat., Gotha (Schloßmuseum) 1999, p. 289; and Claudia Schwaighofer, ‘“Eine tüchtige, ihrem Gatten helfende Frau”? Die Grafikerin Maria Katharina Prestel’, in Ursula Kern (ed.), Blickwechsel: Frankfurter Frauenzimmer um 1800, Frankfurt 2007, pp. 31-39.

5And this on two occasions: the first in Nuremberg in 1782, the second in Frankfurt in 1786; see London (Robin Halwas Limited, Bookseller and Art Dealer), online catalogue (undated); https://www.robinhalwas.com/018032-dessins-des-meilleurs-peintres-d-italie-dallemagne-et-des-pays-bas-du-cabinet-de-paul-de-praun (consulted 14 November 2017).

6The Rijksmuseum, in 1994, had a chemical analysis of the composition of these gold highlights performed by the Centraal Laboratorium voor Onderzoek van Voorwerpen van Kunst en Wetenschap. The study allowed to conclude that the artist had used on this impression a golf leaf of a thickness of approximately 3 μ, applied on a thin layer of ochre and oil paint. This technique was familiar to printmakers since at least the sixteenth century, as it was utilised notably by Lucas Cranach (1472-1553) in his woodcut Saint George and the Dragon in 1507; see Susan Dackerman, Painted Prints: The Revelation of Color in Northern Renaissance & Baroque Engravings, Etchings and Woodcuts, Baltimore 2002, pp. 69-71.

7To cite also the copies preserved in London, British Museum, inv. nos. 1841,0612.52 (etching and aquatint; 307 × 231 mm) and 1850,1014.537 (etching and aquatint; 307 × 231 mm); see http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx.