1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hollar, Wenzel
HOLLAR, WENZEL or WENCESLAUS [Vaclaf Holar] (1607–1677), Bohemian etcher, was born at Prague on the 13th of July 1607, and died in London, being buried at St Margaret’s church, Westminster, on the 28th of March 1677. His family was ruined by the capture of Prague in the Thirty Years’ War, and 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 at Frankfort, working under Matthew Merian, an etcher and engraver; thence he passed to Strassburg, and thence, in 1633, to Cologne. It was there that he attracted the notice of the famous amateur Thomas, earl of Arundel, then on an embassy to the imperial court; and with him Hollar travelled to Vienna and Prague, and finally came in 1637 to England, destined to be his home for many years. Though he lived in the household of Lord Arundel, he seems to have worked not exclusively for him, but to have begun that slavery to the publishers which was afterwards the normal condition of his life. In his first year in England he made for Stent, the printseller, the magnificent View of Greenwich, nearly a yard long, and received thirty shillings for the plate,—perhaps a twentieth part of what would now be paid for a single good impression. Afterwards we hear of his fixing the price of his work at fourpence an hour, and measuring his time by a sandglass. The Civil War had its effect on his fortunes, but none on his industry. Lord Arundel left England in 1642, and Hollar passed into the service of the duke of York, taking with him a wife and two children. With other royalist artists, notably Inigo Jones and Faithorne, he stood the long and eventful siege of Basing House; and as we have some hundred plates from his hand dated during the years 1643 and 1644 he must have turned his enforced leisure to good purpose. Taken prisoner, he escaped or was released, and joined Lord Arundel at Antwerp, and there he remained eight years, the prime of his working life, when he produced his finest plates of every kind, his noblest views, his miraculous “muffs” and “shells,” and the superb portrait of the duke of York. In 1652 he returned to London, and lived for a time with Faithorne the engraver near Temple Bar. During the following years were published many books which he illustrated:—Ogilby’s Virgil and Homer, Stapylton’s Juvenal, and Dugdale’s Warwickshire, St Paul’s and Monasticon (part i.). The booksellers continued to impose on the simple-minded foreigner, pretending to decline his work that he might still further reduce the wretched price he charged them. Nor did the Restoration improve his position. The court did nothing for him, and in the great plague he lost his young son, who, we are told, might have rivalled his father as an artist. After the great fire he produced some of his famous “Views of London”; and it may have been the success of these plates which induced the king to send him, in 1668, to Tangier, to draw the town and forts. During his return to England occurred the desperate and successful engagement fought by his ship the “Mary Rose,” under Captain Kempthorne, against seven Algerine men-of-war,—a brilliant affair which Hollar etched for Ogilby’s Africa. He lived eight years after his return, still working for the booksellers, and retaining to the end his wonderful powers; witness the large plate of Edinburgh (dated 1670), one of the greatest of his works. 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’s variety was boundless; his plates number some 2740, and include views, portraits, ships, religious subjects, heraldic subjects, landscapes, and still life in a hundred different forms. No one that ever lived has been able to represent fur, or shells, or a butterfly’s wing as he has done. His architectural drawings, such as those of Antwerp and Strassburg cathedrals, and his views of towns, are mathematically exact, but they are pictures as well. He could reproduce the decorative works of other artists quite faultlessly, as in the famous chalice after Mantegna’s drawing. His Theatrum mulierum and similar collections reproduce for us with literal truth the outward aspects of the people of his day; and his portraits, a branch of art in which he has been unfairly disparaged, are of extraordinary refinement and power.