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Totenblatt for the Brothers and Sisters of the Third Franciscan Order. Etching after Franz Anton Maulbertsch. 43 x 57 cm. Meyer, Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon, vol. III, 335, 5; Nagler p. 488; Garas (Maulbertsch) 156.
Few details are known of the life and work of the painter and etcher, Johann Beheim, who was a member of the close circle around Franz Anton Maulbertsch. He was in Milan in 1762 and in Rome in the following years up to at least 1770. The artist is thought to have mostly lived and worked in Vienna, however, where he produced several reproductive engravings after works by Maulbertsch along with prints after some of his designs. Meyer records a total of just eleven prints by Beheim, including the large-format, extremely rare etching on offer here in the form of a trial proof avant la lettre.
At the top of the Totenblatt for the Brothers and Sisters of the Third Franciscan Order we see the order’s father St. Francis in ecstasy accompanied by an angel with a crucifix. Starting from here, an imposing selection of saints is arranged laterally in an oval; an impression with text in the Albertina (inv. no. DG2022/2/89, Sammelband ÖK/Maulbertsch/34) can be used to identify the saints more exactly. This impression has a blessing on the writing area in the centre as well as the names of the individual saints, who are either connected with the life of St. Francis of Assisi or are of particular importance to the Franciscan Order. They include St. Luchesius of Poggibonsi, who is shown kneeling before Francis, and St. Rosa of Viterbo on the left with roses and flames on her body. Occupying a prominent position below her in the foreground is St. Florian dressed in armour holding a banner and a sword; he was one of the most widely revered saints in Austria from the late Middle Ages onwards. An etching by Maulbertsch (Nagler 6), the authorship of which is disputed (the work could be by Beheim), shows the saint in a very similar pose.
The purpose of the sheet is indicated in an inscription beneath the image: “When a brother or sister dies, his friends or acquaintances should either send this letter to the Regul Father or otherwise authentically report the death, so that the ordinary Holy Mass and prayer service may be performed by the living members of this Order for the poor soul.” Beheim has transferred Maulbertsch’s florid, vibrant composition to the print medium with a large number of hatchings and several etching steps. A superb, nuanced impression, trimmed to just inside the platemark, of which it bears occasional traces. Minor surface soiling, other insignificant signs of ageing, otherwise in immaculate condition.
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