Wenceslaus Hollar

Wenceslaus Hollar (13 July 1607  25 March 1677) was a prolific and accomplished Bohemian graphic artist of the 17th century, who spent much of his life in England. He is known to German speakers as Wenzel Hollar; and to Czech speakers as Václav Hollar Czech: [ˈvaːtslav ˈɦolar]. He is particularly noted for his engravings and etchings. He was born in Prague, died in London, and was buried at St Margaret's Church, Westminster.[1]

Wenceslaus Hollar
Portrait of Wenceslaus Hollar by Jan Meyssens (with Prague Castle in the background).
Václav Hollar

(1607-07-13)13 July 1607
Prague, Bohemia
Died25 March 1677(1677-03-25) (aged 69)
London, England
Known forEtching

Early life

After his family was ruined by the Sack of Prague in the Thirty Years' War, the young Hollar, who had been destined for the legal profession, decided to become an artist. The earliest of his works that have come down to us are dated 1625 and 1626; they are small plates, and one of them is a copy of a "Virgin and Child" by Dürer, whose influence upon Hollar's work was always great. In 1627 he was in Frankfurt where he was apprenticed to the renowned engraver Matthäus Merian.[1] In 1630 he lived in Strasbourg, Mainz and Koblenz, where Hollar portrayed the towns, castles, and landscapes of the Middle Rhine Valley. In 1633 he moved to Cologne.[2][3]

It was in 1636 that he attracted the notice of the famous nobleman and art collector Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, then on a diplomatic mission to the imperial court of Emperor Ferdinand II. Employed as a draftsman, he travelled with Arundel to Vienna and Prague.[1] In Cologne in 1635, Hollar published his first book. In 1637 he went with Arundel to England, where he remained in the earl's household for many years.

Life in England

Though he remained an artist in service of Lord Arundel, he seems not to have worked exclusively for him, and after the earl's death in Padua in 1646, Hollar earned his living by working for various authors and publishers, which was afterwards his primary means of distribution. After Lord Arundel's death in 1646, probably at the request of Hendrik van der Borcht, he etched a commemorative print done after a design by Cornelius Schut in Arundel's honour, dedicated to his widow Aletheia. Arundel is seated in melancholy mode on his tomb in front of an obelisk (perhaps commemorating the one he tried to import from Rome), and surrounded by works of art and their personifications.

In 1745, George Vertue paid homage to their association in the vignette he published on page one of his Description of the Works of the Ingenious Delineator and Engraver Wenceslaus Hollar. It featured a bust of Arundel in front of a pyramid, symbolizing immortality, surrounded by illustrated books and the instruments of Hollar's trade.[4]

During his first year in England he created "View of Greenwich", later issued by Peter Stent, the print-seller. Nearly 3 feet (0.9 m) long, he received thirty shillings for the plate, a small fraction of its present value. Afterwards he fixed the price of his work at fourpence an hour, and measured his time by a sand-glass. On July 4, 1641 Hollar married a lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Norfolk. Her name was Tracy; they had two children. Arundel had left England by 1642, and Hollar passed into the service of the Duke of York, taking with him his young family.[1]

English Civil War

He continued to produce works prolifically throughout the English Civil War, but it adversely affected his income. With other royalist artists, notably Inigo Jones and William Faithorne the engraver, he stood the long and eventful siege of Basing House, and as there were some hundred plates from his hand dated during the years 1643 and 1644 he must have turned his enforced leisure to good purpose.[1] An etching dated 1643 and entitled civilis seditio epitomizes the war with a snake with a head at each end pulling in opposite directions in front of the Giza pyramids and sphinx. Hollar took his setting, presumably symbolizing longer term values, directly from an engraving published in George Sandys' Relation of a Journey begun An. Dom 1610.[5]

Hollar joined the Royalist Regiment and was captured by parliamentary forces in 1645 during the siege of Basing House. After a short time he managed to escape. In Antwerp in 1646, he again met with the Earl of Arundel. During this period of the unrest of the Civil Wars, he worked in Antwerp, where he produced many of his most renowned works, including Dutch cityscapes, seascapes, depictions of nature, his "muffs" and "shells". In 1652 he returned to London, and lived for a time with Faithorne near Temple Bar.[1]

In the following years, many books were published which he illustrated: Ogilby's Virgil and Homer, Stapylton's Juvenal, and Dugdale's Warwickshire, St Paul's and Monasticon (part one). However, his work for the booksellers was poorly paid, and Hollar's commissions declined as the Court no longer purchased his works after the Restoration. During this time he also lost his young son, who was reputed to have artistic ability, to the plague.[1]

After the Great Fire of London he produced some of his famous "Views of London"; and it may have been the success of these plates and other cityscapes such as his 1649 Great View of Prague which induced the king to send him, in 1668, to Tangier, to draw the town and forts.[6] During his return to England a desperate and successful engagement was fought by his ship, the Mary Rose, under Captain John Kempthorne, against seven Algerian men-of-war; a battle which Hollar etched for Ogilby's Africa.[1]

He lived eight years after his return, still producing illustrations for booksellers, and continuing to produce well-regarded works until his death, for example a large plate of Edinburgh dated 1670. He died in extreme poverty, his last recorded words being a request to the bailiffs that they would not carry away the bed on which he was dying.[1] Hollar is interred in St Margaret's Church in Westminster.


Hollar was one of the best and most prolific artists of his time. His work includes some 400 drawings and 3000 etchings. Hollar produced a variety of works; his plates number some 2740, and include views, portraits, ships, religious subjects, heraldic subjects, landscapes, and still life in many different forms. Examples of the complexity and scale of his projects include the eight-plate Portuguese Genealogy and 12-plate series of insects published as Muscarum Scarabeorum Vermiumque varie figure.[7] His architectural drawings, such as those of Antwerp and Strasbourg cathedrals, and his views of towns, are to scale, but are intended as pictures as well. He reproduced decorative works of other artists, as in the famous chalice after Mantegna's drawing.[1]

One of Hollar's most famous etchings is a picture of the Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp), dated 1649. The work's lively figural decoration, so typical of Hollar's work, includes a procession towards the entrance of the cathedral, a horse-drawn coach, and passerby and dogs in a square in front of the church. The picture of the Antwerp cathedral was on display at the Lobkowicz Palace during the Lobkowicz Library exhibition "Architecture in the Work of Peter Paul Rubens and Vaclav Hollar, which ran through the 30th of May, 2013.

Collections of Hollar's work are kept in the British Museum in London, the print room at Windsor Castle, the Fisher Library at the University of Toronto, and the National Gallery in Prague. Hollar's works were first catalogued in 1745 by George Vertue, with a second edition in 1759. The prints were subsequently catalogued in 1853 by Gustav Parthey and in 1982 by Richard Pennington. A new complete illustrated catalogue has been published in the New Hollstein German series. Much of Hollar's work is available online from the University of Toronto in its Wenceslaus Hollar digital collection.[8] The Folger Shakespeare Library also holds some 2000 prints, drawings, and other works by Hollar.

A very rare original copper plate produced by Hollar has survived, an engraving of the city of Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire, and is held in the British Library.[9]

There is a High School of Arts and Higher Art School in Prague, named after him Výtvarná škola Václava Hollara.[lower-alpha 1]

Costume Book

Hollar also engraved a costume book entitled Livre curieux contenant la naifve representation des habits des femmes des diverses parties du monde comme elles s'habillent a present.[10][lower-alpha 2] The book includes a series of 28 plates representing the attire of common women, mostly from European countries, from the 17th century. The book was published in 1662 in Paris, by Baltazar Moncornet rue St Jacques a la belle Croix.

See also



  1. Wenceslaus Hollar Secondary School of Art
  2. "Curious book containing the [naïve: natural, simple, spontaneous] representation of women's clothes from different parts of the world as they dress now"


  1.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Hollar, Wenzel". Encyclopædia Britannica. 13 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 611.
  2. Godfrey 1994
  3. Pennington 1982
  4. Chaney 2011, pp. 147–70.
  5. Chaney 2011, pp. 154–5.
  6. Martin Malcolm Elbl, Portuguese Tangier (1471-1662): Colonial Urban Fabric as Cross-Cultural Skeleton (Toronto/Peterborough: Baywolf Press, 2013), 109-110.
  7. For these series see respectively, Connors, Joseph (March 2019). "The Portuguese Genealogy of Wenceslas Hollar and the Lost Lisbon Monouments by Francois Duquesnoy". Print Quarterly. XXXVI (1): 17–30.; Stocker, Mark; Kaspar, Julia; Sirvid, Phil (December 2019). "Wenceslas Hollar's Muscarum Scarabeorum Vermiumque varie figure Anatomized and Identified". Print Quarterly. XXXVI (4): 390–403.
  8. Wenceslaus Hollar digital collection at library.utoronto.ca
  9. Hollar's Hull at bryarsandbryars.co.uk
  10. "Gallica".


  • Edward Chaney, "Roma Britannica and the Cultural Memory of Egypt: Lord Arundel and the Obelisk of Domitian", in Roma Britannica: Art Patronage and Cultural Exchange in Eighteenth-Century Rome, eds. D. Marshall, K. Wolfe and S. Russell, British School at Rome, 2011, pp. 147–70.
  • Richard Godfrey, Wenceslaus Hollar: A Bohemian Artist in England (New Haven and London, 1994).
  • Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677 (Cambridge, 1982).

Further reading

  • Gillian Tindall, The Man Who Drew London: Wenceslaus Hollar in reality and imagination (London, 2002).
  • Johannes Urzidil, Hollar, a Czech émigré in England (London, 1942).

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