Place de St. Jaques a Londres, ca. 1750-1800, 298 x 445 mm, etching/engraving/watercolour/illuminated|
Optical prints, also known as the 'Vue d’Optique', are curious objects. These prints are characterized by mirrored titles, an exaggerated perspective effect and multilingual descriptions. Once mass produced as tourist prints, nowadays these objects are increasingly valued for their artistic character. The preserved optical prints give us an very interesting eye on how the 18th century elite viewed the world.
Stad Huys van Amsteldam |
Daumont, Paris, ca. 1750-1800, 300 x 450 mm, etching/watercolour
On top of this the holes are coloured. When held in front of the light you get the illusion of a landscape by night, like a magic lantern. The Print ‘t Stad Huys van Amsteldam is a good example of such an illuminated version.
Illumination was not what these print were intended for. Their main feature was the perspective effect. When viewed under a so called 'zograscope', also known as a 'optical diagonal machine', the perspective of the scene was enhanced, giving the print a 3D-like effect. The print was layed in the zograscope or on a flat surface. A mirror allowed, finally, the lettering to be read straight. Throughout time the zograscope became rare, but fortunately optical prints were so beautiful they remained a popular collector's item on it’s own merit.
As mentioned, optical prints were produced as tourist souvenirs. This explains subjects as architecture, land- and cityscapes. Yet there are also other kinds of optical prints, made to tell stories. For example biblical scenes and news worthy events as the great fire of New York. Optical prints are therefore a genre going beyond picturesques mementos.
Representation du Rue terrible a Nouvelle York
Augsbourg, ca. 1750-1790, 295 x 412 mm, etching/engraving/watercolour
Augsburg in Germany was the centre of European printmaking. Many optical prints found their origin here. Georg Balthasar Probst (1732-1801) was the most important optical printer of Augsburg. His prints, mostly after works of popular artists, are known for their clear and detailed looks. His oeuvre contains cityscapes from all over the world (China to Delft and New York to St. Petersburg), but he also printed allegorical scenes like the planet series or biblical scenes like the The plagues of Egypt.
Iuppiter cinqutiéme Planéte et Son in influxion |
Georg Balthasar Probst, Augsbourg, ca. 1750-1800
346 x 424 mm (plate: 327 x 417 mm), etching/engraving/watercolour
This blog is a teaser to our new catalogue Catalogue 39: Optical Prints. One hundred and forty-six of our most beautiful and extraordinary optical prints are described and illustrated in this catalogue and it will give you an example of how 18th century well-to-do men and women looked at the world from the comfort of their sofas.