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Joseph Anton Koch

(1768 Obergibeln – 1839 Rome)

Scenes from Dante’s Inferno. Four etchings on wove paper, in contemporary light brown rag paper stitched with red hemp ribbons. Each approx. 32.7 x 37.7 cm and 39.5 x 31.5 cm respectively. 1807/08. Andresen 21–24; Frances Carey, Antony Griffiths: German Printmaking in the Age of Goethe, London 1994, nos. 101–104.

Joseph Anton Koch made a name for himself primarily as a landscape painter, although in his paintings and drawings he frequently took up themes from mythology and world litera­ture. He developed a passionate interest in the Divina Commedia by the 14th century writer Dante, for instance, which he studied scrupulously from 1801 onwards and was the source of inspira­tion for many of his works. In the 1790s Koch had attended the Dante lectures given in Rome by the art critic, Carl Ludwig Fernow, that were based on Schlegel’s German translation of the Commedia. Gottlieb Schick wrote of Koch’s predilection for Dante: “Ever since reading Dante’s Inferno Koch has become completely and utterly obsessed by it; he wishes to turn the writer’s every word into a painting and, moreover, to devise a geometric plan of hell.” (cited from Otto R. von Lutterotti, Joseph Anton Koch. Mit Werkverzeichnis und Briefen des Künstlers, Berlin 1940, p. 30). In the course of his lifetime Koch produced over 200 drawings featuring motifs from the Commedia, all of which show scenes from the first part of the work, the Inferno.

In 1808 Koch tried subscriptions as a way of “throwing light on his depictions in over 75 prints of considerable size comprising light and shadow in the manner of Dürer’s woodcuts” (letter to Uexküll of 12 November 1808, cf. op. cit. p. 32). The Cooperation with his Munich publisher, Franz Xavier Dall’Armi, came to nothing, however, and only five etchings were made after Koch’s drawings. Now of the utmost rarity, they include the four on offer here plus an additional scene depicting the Punishment of the Thieves from Dante’s Inferno, the different size of which means it does not count as part of the series. The four etchings in the series show Dante Sleeping, Attacked by Wild Beasts and Encountering Virgil (Inferno I, 31–60), Charon’s Bark with Souls Crossing the River Styx (Inferno III, 82–136), Dante Crosses the Stream of Blood of the Tyrants and Murderers on the Back of Nessus the Centaur (Inferno XII, 98–139) and the Struggle between the Devil and St. Francis of Assisi for the Soul of Guido da Montefeltro (Inferno XXVII, 67–132). A few years later Koch returned to the subject in the frescoes he made for the Casino Massimo in Rome, his adopted resident city. Christian von Holst later referred to him as the “foremost artistic interpreter of Dante’s work in his century” (cf. Christian von Holst, Joseph Anton Koch, 1768–1839. Ansichten der Natur, exhibition catalogue Stuttgart 1989, p. 48).

The complete series of scenes from Dante’s Inferno in superb, contrasting and vibrant impressions with wide margins, stitched in the order Andresen 22, 21, 24 and 23. Slightly foxed and minor traces of handling along the margins, occasional insignificant creasing and scuffing in the margins, other minor ageing and handling marks, otherwise in pristine condition. “4. Blaetter Illustration zum Dante.” inscribed in an old hand in pen and black ink on the front paper-cover and “No. IVX” (?) in pencil at the top right. Possibly one of the old subscription copies.

18.000 €

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