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The Coppersmith. Pen and brown ink over a preliminary drawing in graphite, grey wash. 20.2 x 16.3 cm.
The painter, draughtsman and engraver, Augustin Braun, underwent training in Cologne in the 1580s in a studio that may well have been run by a master from the Netherlands. He allegedly joined the painters’ guild in Cologne in about 1603. Braun’s style reveals the powerful influence of Dutch and Flemish art around 1600. At the same time, the inspiration he derived from the Prague style and Italian Late Renaissance art is also readily apparent in his paintings and drawings. Only a fraction of the numerous paintings mentioned in official documents has survived to the present day, and the stylistic delineation of Braun’s oeuvre has proved very difficult in the past. For example, a number of works now recognised as being by Braun were previously attributed to Hans von Aachen. Credit is due to Horst Vey for his pioneering essay that has made Braun’s graphic oeuvre accessible and secured him “a place among the best German draughtsmen of his time” (“Kölner Zeichnungen aus dem 16. und 17. Jahrhundert”, in: Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, 26, 1964, pp. 91–122).
Braun first entered the scene as a draughtsman in 1600 with a cycle of 14 pen-and-ink drawings featuring scenes from the life of the Holy Archbishop and Chancellor Anno II of Cologne. Formerly part of the Jabach Collection, they are now in the Louvre in Paris. The Beheading of St. Catherine, the earliest dated and signed preliminary drawing by the artist, is in Budapest (Szépmüvészeti Museum); this pen-and-ink drawing with brown wash and white heightening is in quarto format and bears the date 1608. Vey has compiled an extensive compendium of dated preliminary drawings and engraving models by Braun which he produced between 1608 and 1622 and are now, inter alia, in London (British Museum), Paris (Louvre, Fondation Custodia), Vienna (Albertina), Dresden (Kupferstichkabinett) and Frankfurt (Städelsches Kunstinstitut). Many of these drawings were commissioned by prominent engraving publishers in Cologne, such as Peter Overadt, Gerhard Altzenbach and Crispijn de Passe (father and son).
Our drawing shows a coppersmith’s workshop. Braun presents a scene of domestic harmony. Sat on a stool in the left foreground, the smith is fashioning a copper kettle on the anvil with his hammer. His wife is fully absorbed in her sewing, while a small child holds a little hammer in its hand emulating its father and injecting a humorous note into the scene. Typical items to be found in a smithy, such as a smoking furnace, a pair of bellows and numerous copper kettles, bedpans and other artefacts, are depicted in brisk and expressive fashion. In stylistic terms our drawing readily stands comparison with the Happy Society from the year 1610 (British Museum, London), whose compelling method of observation and feeling for the narrative moment reveal the unmistakeable influence of Dutch genre painting of the time. Both drawings have a similar figurative style distinguished by robustly modelled shapes and precise, flowing washes. The consummate graphic style and the vigour of the penwork are typical of Braun. Our piece is followed by another pen-and-ink drawing of about the same size portraying a tanner and his wife. Both drawings may have arisen as preliminary designs for an unrealised series of engravings portraying various occupations.
Provenance: Colnaghi, Exhibition of Old Master Drawings,
London, April – May 1955, no. 1; Collection A. Scharf, London.