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„Undine by de la Motte Fouqué. Composed by C. F. Schultze“. Set of 14 etchings, each measuring approx. 18.2 x 21.3 cm. In a contemporary pink cardboard binding with engraved vignette: “Gift for Friends of the de la Motte Fouqué Muse”. Nuremberg, Friedrich Campe, (1818). Rümann, Die illustrierten deutschen Bücher des 19. Jahrhunderts, 2339; Nagler 2.
Undine, a novella that first appeared in 1811, is generally held to be the best-known work of the German Romantic writer Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (1777–1843). Having pursued a successful military career in his youth, the author acquired a great literary reputation between 1805 and 1820 with mediaeval epics of chivalry, poems and tales. Undine tells the story of a water nymph who aspires to acquire a human soul by winning the love of a knight called Huldbrand. When, after the wedding, Huldbrand learns that his wife is really a soulless water nymph, he repudiates her and returns to his former love Bertalda. Huldbrand’s unfaithfulness has fatal consequences, however: before a new wedding can take place, he dies, stifled by Undine’s kisses and tears.
De la Motte Fouqué’s fantastic tale, with its mixture of nature mysticism, eeriness and mediaeval folklore, was very much in tune with the Romantic zeitgeist and offered artists and illustrators a wealth of fascinating material to choose from. One of the first to interpret it in visual terms was Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, who exhibited the painting Undine’s Wedding in Vienna in 1816 and published a set of twenty-one outline etchings illustrating themes from the story (Andresen 3–23). Strangely enough, almost nothing is known about C. F. Schultze, the author of our set of etchings, which appeared only two years later. Not even the artist’s first name is known, and Nagler merely records two sets of prints which he produced. This gap in our knowledge is all the more remarkable, as the prints are clearly the work of a seasoned etcher. The individual episodes show a gripping sense of drama, and their compositional structure is clear and memorable. The strict purism and vigorous linework reveal unmistakable parallels with the œuvre of the brothers Franz and Johannes Riepenhausen, especially their main work, the cycle of fourteen outline etchings on the Life and Death of Saint Genevieve (1806). Common to both sets are such stylistic elements as the clear outlines emphasizing the individual form and the preference for simple, horizontal parallel hatching, while several details of the mediaeval staffage reveal clear analogies (see A. Griffiths, F. Carey, German Printmaking in the Age of Goethe, London 1994, pp. 173–174, no. 116).
Excellent impressions with full margins. Minor foxing on some sheets, the title page browned, slight signs of ageing, otherwise in very good condition. With the stamp of the Sekundogenitur Bibliothek.