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Johann Heinrich Schönfeld

(1609 Biberach an der Riß – 1682/83 Augsburg)

The Philosopher Democritus Immersed in Meditation. Etching. 16.2 x 13.1 cm. 1654. Nagler 18, Hollstein 17.

Johann Heinrich Schönfeld is considered one of the outstanding artistic figures in the period of German Baroque. The many years he spent in Italy, where he stayed in both Rome and Naples, meant that his works enjoyed great esteem far beyond the borders of Germany. In 1652 Schönfeld settled in Augsburg, one of the main artistic centres in southern Germany, where he not only made paintings but also produced a series of etchings. In order to make his paintings better known he had them reproduced by capable etchers and engravers such as Georg Andreas Wolfgang, Anton Joseph Prenner and Gabriel Ehinger.

Around 1655 Schönfeld addressed the theme of earthly tran­sience in several of his works. In the present, very rare etching he shows the philosopher Democritus musing at the foot of an ancient tomb. He is lost in thought, his head resting on his right hand in a melancholy pose. In the foreground an animal skull, dead animals, scattered folios and an open coffin with a decaying human corpse symbolise the transience of all earthly things. This highly idiosyncratic iconography was probably inspired by Salvator Rosa’s painting Democritus Meditating of 1650 (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen); (see The Illu­strated Bartsch, vol. 45, Commentary, p. 345) and is eloquent proof of the lively exchange of artistic ideas between Italian and German artists during the Baroque period.

A fine impression with thread margins. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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