Visual Culture in Early Modern Britain: Wenceslaus Hollar and William Hogarth
Wenceslaus Hollar, 1607-1677
Wenceslaus Hollar was born on July 23, 1607, on Clothmakers’ Street, Prague, Bohemia. Despite his father’s desire for him to pursue a bureautic or legal career, he became an artist. In 1627, at the age of twenty, Hollar left Prague because of Ferdinand II's requirement that all Bohemian nobility either emigrate or convert to Catholicism. From November of 1627 to 1634, Hollar traveled to Stuttgart, Strasbourg, Frankfurt am Main, Rhine to Mainz and Amsterdam. During this period, he focused his work on landscapes (Harding, ODNB).
From 1636 to 1639, Hollar worked under Arundel House, where he created mainly paintings and drawings for Countess Arundel in London. In 1640, however, he took an interest in women’s fashion. Around this time, he met his future wife, Margaret Tracy, whom he married in 1641. In the middle of his career, he left London and traveled to Antwerp, where he continued to work on women's fashion from 1642 to 1649 (Harding, ODNB).
In 1651, Hollar returned to London, where he met John Ogilby and created etchings for the reissued edition of Ogilby’s Aesop Fables. In 1656, he married again. In 1660, Hollar created large maps of London; these maps were ultimately lost in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Hollar died on March 25, 1677, at his home in Gardener’s Lane, Westminster (Harding, ODNB).
Hollar and Ogilby's creation of an illustrated edition of Aesop's Fables was meant to give their audience an escape. The combination of Hollar etchings and Ogilby's text created a powerful message, encouraging individuals to move on past their grievances and focus on their future. The two focused their work on the underlying morals connected to each etching.
- Katie Lambertson
Illustrations of Aesop's Fables
William Hogarth was born November 10, 1697, in London, England. Hogarth was an English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, and social critic. He was born into a lower-middle-class family. His parents are failed author Richard Hogarth and a schoolmaster by the name of Anne Gibbons. From a young age, Hogarth’s talent was evident. Because of his father’s failed career, Hogarth had no chance of attending university or professional training. Instead, he accepted an apprenticeship at a silver workshop but was still determined to rise in the world. After his apprenticeship, he began making his own engraved designs in 1710. Later, he took up oil painting and started with small portrait groups called conversation pieces (Bindman, ODNB).
William Hogarth is best known for his modern moral subjects, Hogarth’s modern moral series was first created as paintings and then engraved to be more widely distributed to his audience. Each painting in the series was set in chronological order of satirical episodes illustrating his opinion of the moral shortcomings of eighteenth-century English society (Bindman, ODNB).
The Four Stages of Cruelty
The Four Stages of Cruelty is a series of paintings, which were later made into engravings published by William Hogarth in 1751. They were printed on less expensive paper to reduce the price and make available to wide audience (Bindman, ODNB). Each image in the series depicts a different scene following the life of the fictional character, Tom Nero. As he grows older, he progresses through different stages of cruel behavior before his ultimate demise.
The third and fourth images of The Four Stages of Cruelty were created to draw attention to animal cruelty. William Hogarth was an animal lover and was so distressed by the acts of cruelty he witnessed on the streets of London that he published a series of engravings.
All four images are centered around the figure of Tom Nero and the barbaric treatment of animals, which leads to his own downfall after arrested for murder. In the third image, seen here, Nero has murdered his pregnant mistress in a country churchyard. On the ground beside Nero lies a pistol and stolen watches, which is evidence that he has turned to theft to make his living. In the image, you can see the expressive reactions from the bystanders which are used to lead the viewers to conclude Nero’s guilt. Nero is punished for his cruelty by being sentenced to death. He is hanged and dissected in an anatomy theater (Saska, The Art that Made Medicine).
The fourth image in the series is one of William Hogarth’s most famous and unforgettable engraving in his collection. Tom Nero’s body has been delivered to the Royal College of Surgeons for an anatomy lesson. The doctors relish in the dissection of Nero's body the way the boys felt while tortured in the First Stage of Cruelty. The surgeon that is gouging out Nero’s eyes draws a comparison to the boys torturing the bird in the first engraving. As well, the dog eating Tom Nero’s heart at the bottom of the image exacts revenge upon Nero’s boyish cruelty to animals (Saska, The Art that Made Medicine).
- Michael White