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paul troger
(1698 Welsberg – 1762 Vienna)

David with the Head of Goliath. Etching. 11 x 7.9 cm. Nagler 1; Aschenbrenner / Schweighofer 282.

To this day Paul Troger’s printed œuvre remains inadequately researched and rare. Nagler described a total of twenty-three etchings, of which two are considered to be questionable, and the 1965 monograph by W. Aschenbrenner and G. Schweighofer has no additions to make (Paul Troger. Leben und Werk, Salzburg 1965). Troger’s lightly and painterly treated etchings are distinguished by the originality of their iconography, as the present small print David with the Head of Goliath clearly illustrates. According to Nagler, several authors before him supposed the Old Testament hero, as shown here, to be a self-portrait of the artist. But Nagler’s assumption that the model could have been the sculptor Paul Troger, the artist’s son, or his colleague Raphael Donner, seems rather unlikely. Although the more recent literature does not deal with this question, the self-portrait thesis is a persuasive one and cannot be dismissed out of hand. The Self-portrait of the Artist in Innsbruck (Tiroler Landesmuseum) shows clear similarities with this David. The broad, massive shape of the head with the pronounced nose, the fleshy lips and the receding hairline at the temples are reminiscent of the young man in the etching. One could interpret Troger’s slipping into the role of David as an expression of the combativeness and unbridled ambition of a young artist who has set himself the task of storming Mount Olympus.

The value of this print lies in its freedom of execution and lightness of treatment. In his use of the etching needle Troger largely dispenses with clear contours, using instead a delicate network of cross-hatchings, fine lines and stippling to suggest volume and textures. The whole seems utterly spontaneous, as though the artist had sketched it on the copper plate in just a few minutes.

Disappointingly, little is known about Troger’s youth and his life between 1716 and 1724. What is certain is that the artist spent several years travelling in Italy, with stops in Rome, Bologna and Padua. Of fundamental significance for his artistic development was a lengthy stay in Venice, where he was crucially influenced by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Sebastiano Ricci and, above all, Giovanni Battista Pittoni. After his return from Italy in the mid-1720s, Troger threw himself into producing a very considerable œuvre. Together with Daniel Gran and Raphael Donner he is one of the most important representatives of the Austrian Baroque.

A fine, harmonious impression with narrow margins around the platemark. Minor ageing, otherwise in impeccable condition.