|Five Grotesque Heads|
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Born in Prague, Bohemian etcher Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) spent much of his life in England. There, he attracted the attention of wealthy patrons and noblemen, including Thomas Howard 21st Earl of Arundel and the Royal Court. During the English Civil War, his income naturally suffered, but he created some of the most gripping records of the war.
This study by Hollar shows his penchant for the theatrical and grotesque. Created in 1646, the original drawing for the published etching depicts of five men. An older man who is clean-shaven is crowned with a wreath of oak leaves. Another man has his head tilted back and opens his mouth in a horrid yawn. A bald man is seen in the lower background. On the right, a laughing man is depicted and the composition is balanced by the profile of a man with a headband.
This sort of grotesquerie was quite in vogue in the early Seventeenth Century. Grotesque figures were the subjects of many a medium from porcelain to architecture. Hollar shows us his masterful hand and ability to show both motion and emotion while also satiating the taste for the horrible which was prevalent in arts of the era.