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A Cavalry Battle Waged in Front of a Wide Open Landscape with Fortifications. Pen and point of brush and brown ink. 45 x 62.5 cm. Signed: “G. P. Rugendas”. Circa 1738.
Georg Philipp Rugendas left a very extensive drawn oeuvre, the bulk of which consists of preliminary studies, sketches or final drawings made in preparation for paintings of his own or as designs for reproductive engravings. It includes innumerable little figure sketches along with nude studies, still life-like detailed studies of arms and armour, and studies of fabrics and draperies. One group of high-quality works consists of large preliminary drawings executed as final drawings, whose sober realism and purity of line put them among the best of Rugendas works. Autonomous drawings, on the other hand, are somewhat rare.
In the context of his drawn oeuvre, therefore, the present large-scale turbulent battle scene is something of an exception; the only comparable drawing is one from his late period dated 1738 which is also devoted to the “Ottoman Wars” (Städtische Kunstsammlungen Augsburg, Inv. no. 13899, see Gode Krämer, “Georg Philipp Rugendas d. Ä. als Zeichner”, in: Rugendas. Eine Künstlerfamilie im Wandel und Tradition, Augsburger Museumsschriften 10, Augsburg 1998, p. 34, fig. 22; colour plate p. 65, p. 112, cat. no. 106).
The intensity and artistic freedom with which Rugendas has portrayed the cruel, bloody and terrifying man-to-man fighting are unique in his drawn oeuvre. In both drawings the eye of the beholder is directed towards the highpoint of the battle in the centre of the picture, where an inextricable tangle of horses and riders rises up like a pyramid. The adversaries are adequately distinguished by means of a flag with a double eagle and a standard with a half-moon, but this time the artist has paid little attention to specific folkloric detail. His intention is rather to produce a universally valid depiction of struggle and human suffering. The broad, painterly treatment with its generous, very accurate and effectively applied washes proves an extremely effective artistic means of conveying the vehemence of the unrelenting battle. Brightly illuminated areas alternate with dark patches, thereby creating a dramatic and richly varied chiaroscuro.
A search for stylistic parallels in Rugendas’ late work reveals that the visual effect of this free and superbly executed drawing is similar in certain respects to that of the large mezzotint thesis prints made by Rugendas and his sons.