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Franz Anton Maulbertsch

(1724 Langenargen – 1796 Vienna)

The Image of Toleration, First Version. Etching. 47.4 x 49.5 cm. 1785. Nagler 5 II; Le Blanc 6 II.

Franz Anton Maulbertsch was without doubt one of the pre­eminent artistic figures in Austria in the second half of the 18th century. His expressive, often dramatic and compositionally innovative paintings, frescoes and etchings earned him great renown and paved the way for the international signifi­cance that Austrian Baroque came to acquire.

His large allegorical composition with the enigmatic title Image of Toleration is saturated with the elaborate Baroque opulence that is so characteristic of his work. Maulbertsch grappled extensively with this work, for the publication and reworking of which he cooperated with Jakob Matthias Schmutzer. Impressions have been pulled from two different plates; the first, incomplete one, which is printed here, is in reverse to the second, changed final version. While the final version of the etching is extremely rare (it was published – thanks to Schmutzer’s intervention – by the Viennese art dealer, Franz Xaver Stöckl, in 1785), only a few trial proofs are known to exist of the first composition on offer here (Albertina, Sammelband ÖK/Maulbertsch, fol. 10–12).

The Image of Toleration is an allegorical glorification of Emperor Joseph II’s Enlightenment-inspired Edict of Toleration that promised Protestants and Jews certain religious freedoms. Were it not for the explanatory legend the artist has inserted in the lower margin it would be all but impossible for the present-day viewer to understand this idiosyncratic composition with its multitude of symbolical and allegorical figures.

At the top Chronos raises a curtain to provide a view of the Goddess of the Enlightenment, who is led by a genius to the Christian faith – in the present first version, this part is only visible as a pale sketch on the still empty area. The personification of Faith is flanked by Moses and the three representatives of the newer Christian enominations, while the naked winged genius of Toleration is sat on the steps beneath her in the middle of the picture playing his lyre and looking thoughtfully at the observer. Several sub-themes depicting contradictions from earlier times enrich the exuberant scene.

The present first version of the print, together with a transfer drawing, document the image-finding process. Maulbertsch mirrored the entire scene and altered individual details, such as the figure, posture and positioning of Chronos. The pre-Enlightenment night with demons and Goya-like owl creatures was originally darker and more threatening, whereas in the published print the entire composition appears lighter and more ceremonial, dignified, with truth and the light of Enlightenment triumphant. A very fine impression with narrow margins around the image, on wove paper. Minor ageing, otherwise in very good condition.

Literature: Tomáš Valeš, Franz Anton Maulbertsch, Jakob Matthias Schmutzer and the Allegory on the Edict of Toleration, 1785, in: Print Quarterly, Vol. XXXIX, no. 3, September 2022, S. 269 ff.; Franz Martin Haberditzl, Franz Anton Maulbertsch 1724–1796, published by Gerbert Frodl and Michael Krapf, Vienna 2006, pp. 320–322, fig. 306.

34.000 €

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