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Johann Gottlieb Prestel

(1739 Grönenbach – 1808 Frankfurt am Main)

Ruines du Théatre de Paestum En Lucanie. Chute D’eau. Colour aquatint etching, heightened with white, coloured in places with gouache; on a contemporary publisher’s mounting with the address of J. G. Reinsheimer, Frankfurt a. M. 47.4 x 65.2 on 59 x 75.5 cm. 1793. Not in Nagler and Heller-Andresen.

After spending the years of his apprenticeship in Venice, Rome and Florence with longish stays in Augsburg, Nuremberg and Zurich – where he painted a portrait of Goethe in 1775 – the painter and etcher Johann Gottlieb Prestel finally settled down in Frankfurt am Main in 1783. Although considered to be an
eccentric and a loner, it was in Frankfurt that the restless artist found a lasting occupation. Abandoning painting, he devoted himself wholly to printmaking, a field in which he achieved such mastery that his contemporaries spoke of the “Prestel manner”.

It was in his application of the aquatint technique introduced shortly beforehand by Jean Baptiste Le Prince that Prestel soon attained a remarkable virtuosity, as can be seen from the present etched veduta from his later work. The original was a gouache by the Roman architect and Pannini pupil Alessandro Moretti, who was also active in Frankfurt and Berlin in the 1780s. In its technical refinement the etching not only does full justice to the unique strengths of the Prestel manner, but also casts an interesting light on how the 18th century viewed classical antiquity. Shown here are the remains of the Doric temple of Neptune in Paestum that had only been discovered a few decades earlier. They are viewed from a low-level angle and rendered with extreme foreshortening, creating a dramatic sense of space and depth. The scene resembles a huge stage set. Isolated little staffage figures – some of them in picturesque oriental dress – wander about the ruined site, which is strewn with crumbling blocks of masonry and overgrown with rank vegetation. A contemplative and elegiac mood prevails in keeping with the sense of transience and nostalgia so typical of 18th century attitudes. The grandeur of the ancient remains testifies to past greatness and the futility of human endeavour. The mild, subdued tints enhance the poetic mood of the scene. The warm reddish brown of the rocky terrain contrasts effectively with the subtly and richly gradated grey and brown tones of the temple architecture. In order
to give it a proper finish, Prestel used both printmaking and drawing. With a few accurate brush strokes and great lightness of touch the artist has sketched in the soft white clouds of the sky. The staffage figures in the foreground have been picked out with bright gouache paints, which adds a charming touch of colour.

A superb impression with fresh colours and full margins. Minor traces of handling, otherwise in mint condition.

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