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The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine and the Christ Child. Etching. 17.0 x 11.8 cm. Circa 1745–50. Not in Heller-Andresen or Nagler; Wilhelm Soldan, “Die Radierungen von Johann Ignatz Zimbal” in: Galerie Bassenge, Berlin, Auction Catalogue 56, 1990, Part II, p. 53, 4; L. Slavícek, “Johann Cimbal as Etcher”, in Ex Fumo Lucem. Baroque Studies in Honour of Klára Garas, Budapest, 1999, pp. 106, 2.
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The painter and etcher Johann Ignaz Zimbal belonged to a group of Austrian artists of the Late Baroque whose biographies have, thanks to intensive research, gradually assumed clearer contours in recent decades and whose work has consequently undergone reassessment. The best known artists of this period, such as Paul Troger, Franz Anton Maulbertsch and Michelangelo Unterberger, were among the first to be assigned their rightful place in the history of art, while other masters of their generation, including Zimbal, still await a comprehensive appreciation of their oeuvre.
Zimbal, the son of a carpenter, began his artistic training at the Vienna Academy in 1742 and studied there until 1745, when it was forced to cease its teaching activities for several years. In the subsequent period Zimbal continued his association with the Academy and, in the early 1750s, took part in several academic painting competitions it organized. It is symptomatic of many artists of his generation that far less is known about Zimbal’s drawn and printed oeuvre than about his painting. As Slavícek points out, in the Vienna of the 1750s the existence of an independent Drawing and Engraving Academy (Zeichnungsund Kupferstichakademie), with which artists like Troger and Maulbertsch maintained close relations, created the necessary artistic climate in which academic painters could venture into the realm of printmaking. Artists such as Franz Karl Palko, Franz Sigrist and Johann Zimbal found that etching was their preferred artistic medium, as it requires less technical experience than engraving and permits a freer, more painterly mode of expression. As the creations of non-professional engravers, who were more interested in the expressive potential of the medium than in perfect craftsmanship, the works of these masters owe their appeal to their spontaneity and freshness. As the time lapse between the original artistic idea and its final realization is correspondingly short and the output of those artists is often very limited. They often amount to private excursions into the field of printmaking, finger exercises undertaken for the artist’s personal pleasure. This is precisely the case with Zimbal’s exquisite printed work, of which only five etchings are known to have survived to the present day, all of them extremely rare. Two of these five were only discovered in 1990 – the credit for the find belongs to Wilhelm Soldan.
Our print is treated in a virtuoso performance of free and spontaneous etching that resembles the speedy informality of a pen-and-ink sketch. Innumerable rapid scratches of the needle give the background a distinctive, atmospheric character. The majestically enthroned Madonna dominates the scene, while Saint Catherine kneels humbly before the gentle baby Jesus, who slips the engagement ring on her finger with a gesture of affection. The scene radiates great spirituality and is all the more compelling for the highly original iconography and the artist’s apparently effortless mastery of the medium. Apart from the present impression only two other impressions of the present etching are known to exist: one is kept in the Albertina in Vienna and the other in the collection of Wilhelm Soldan, Berlin (cf. Slavícek, op. cit., p. 106, note 28).
A superb, contrasting impression with even margins around the inky platemark. Minor ageing, otherwise in impeccable condition. From the E. H. Collection (not in Lugt).