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Felix Maria Diogg

(1762 Andermatt – 1834 Rapperswil)

Portrait of Hans Caspar Hirzel. Etching. 26.8 x 20.1 cm. Heller-Andresen 3.

Felix Maria Diogg is regarded as the outstanding principal representative of portrait painting during the period of classicism in Switzerland. Born and brought up in a family of peasants and craftsmen, Diogg’s talent as a draughtsman secured him a place at the Besançon Academy, having graduated from which he spent two years pursuing his studies in Rome (where he was in contact with the French Academy) and in Naples. Having returned to Switzerland, he launched his career as a portrait painter to the Swiss Council families and scholarly Enlightenment circles and extended his activities abroad, being commissioned to make a portrait of the Russian Tsarina in 1814. His corpus of paintings is estimated to be in excess of six hundred. Diogg painted and was on friendly terms with Johann Caspar Lavater and Hans Caspar Hirzel, the physician, politician and philanthropist portrayed here, whose biography of 1792 recorded the details of Diogg’s life.

This rare etching after the painted portrait of Hirzel (now in the collection of the Pädagogische Hochschule Zurich) is one of four Diogg is known to have made. The marked influence Lavater’s theories of physiognomy had on his work is also discernible in this portrait. Hirzel’s head is propped in his hand in the pose of a thinker, the half-shaded gaze beneath his furrowed brow being directed outwards towards the observer and yet inwards at the same time. The rustic scene visible in the relief on the lectern is a reference to Hirzel’s best-known book on support for farmers entitled Wirtschaft eines philosophischen Bauern (1761), which was translated into several languages. The caption detailing Hirzel’s merits refers to the French translation entitled Socrate rustique. The Latin signature “observatissimus amicus Diogg” turns this sensitive portrait into a pictorial testimony to the friendship between the talented painter of rural origins and the enlightened patrician. A strong, contrasting impression with wide margins around the platemark. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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