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Socrates Dictates His Last Will and Testament. Etching. 22.9 x 34.2 cm. 1800. Andresen 11 III; Meyer, Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon I, 21, 11 III (of IV).
Josef Abel studied at the Viennese Academy from 1783 onwards and was a pupil of Heinrich Füger. On the advice of his teacher he devoted himself to historical painting and won the gold medal for his picture Daedalus and Icarus in 1794. In the years 1801–1807 the artist lived in Rome, where he worked after the masters of the High Renaissance while pursuing his training as a historical painter. In this period he had friendly relations with the German landscape painter Johann Christian Reinhart. After his return to Vienna, Abel developed a Neo-classicist style of historical painting which was modeled on Füger’s example and almost exclusively devoted to themes of antiquity. While Abel’s paintings often have something dry and dogmatic about them, his printed work reveals a quite different aspect of his talent. The present rare print depicting Socrates owes its charm to the spiritual and unusually vivid treatment. Abel wields the etching needle with great skill and refinement. The cultivated, subtle etching technique, which uses an astonishing variety of different hatching patterns, makes the scene appear in a vibrant light and creates striking chiaroscuro contrasts.
A very fine, differentiated impression, printed with tone and with even margins around the inky platemark; before the change of the date into 1808. From the collection of King Friedrich August II of Saxony (Lugt 971); verso with two collectors’ stamps not recorded by Lugt.