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Michael Willmann

(1630 Königsberg – 1706 Kloster Leubus)

The Assumption of Mary. Etching. 47.7 x 34 cm. 1683. Nagler 9 II; Kloss 6 II. Watermark: Five-pointed Star and Crescent.

Michael Lucas Leopold Willmann, who was called the “Silesian Apelles” during his lifetime, is best known as a painter and leading master of the German Baroque. In the course of his long and successful career he produced, together with his pupils and assistants, an oeuvre of over five hundred paintings, many of which have been preserved in churches, monasteries and museums in Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany. Taught initially by his father Peter, Willmann travelled at the age of around twenty to Amsterdam, where he was trained by Jacob de Backer and was greatly influenced by the work of Rembrandt. Given his aspirations to be an artist, he may well also have stayed in Antwerp, since there is no overlooking the stylistic inspiration of Rubens and van Dyck in his work. Having spent some two years in the Netherlands, Willmann travelled for an extended period. Among the cities he visited were Prague and Wroclaw, where he received his first commissions for the Leubus Monastery from the Cistercian Abbot Arnold Freiberger. Around 1657/58 Willmann was probably in Berlin, where he was appointed court painter to the Elector. A few years later he converted to Catholicism and married Helena Regina Lischka from Bohemia. Willmann found his final workplace in about 1660/61, settling in the Royal Cistercian Abbey in Leubus, where he remained for the rest of his days. Willmann had achieved such renown in the meantime that he and his workshop received numerous important commissions from aristocratic Silesian and Bohemian families and religious orders. He became the leading painter in Silesia; the dramatic pathos of his religious paintings and the technical virtuosity of their execution were to influence the style of painting for several generations to come.

Willmann was also an outstanding draughtsman and gifted printmaker. His printed oeuvre is very limited, comprising eleven etchings in his own hand, mostly on biblical and religious themes, executed in a free and experimental technique that was remarkable for its time. The Assumption of Mary is a reproduction of an altarpiece made by Willmann for the monastery church in Saar. The artist shows great ingenuity in transferring the Baroque pathos of the complex composition with its host of figures and the flickering chiaroscuro of the original painting to the black-and-white medium of etching. The looks and gestures of the disciples as they throng in amazement to the grave are full of vigour and expressiveness; their faces reveal tremendous emotional tension and inner involvement in the face of this wondrous happening. Mary ascends to heaven, borne by a host of playful little angels and bathed in a blinding, supernatural light. The incredible technical facility with which Willmann portrays the divine event is quite astonishing. Demonstrating consummate skill, he contrasts unorthodox, very dense and complex hatching patterns with areas deliberately left light, thereby producing an agitated, pulsating ensemble with dramatic chiaroscuro. Willmann proves to be a master of stage biting, enabling him to produce a rich scale of subtle tonal gradations. The artist sets individual pitch-black areas in the foreground against the diaphanous light of the assumption scene, thus achieving a highly spectacular effect.

A superb impression with much burr and tone, with thread margins around the inky platemark. In impeccable condition. From the collection of Johann Konrad Ammann (Lugt 9).

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