03 GRAPHIC REPRESENTATIONS
Unlike oil paintings, graphic portraits are far more mobile and often produced in high volume. They can be sent out, bound into books and collected. The exhibited series of mezzotints show portraits of scholars from Göttingen who, between 1741 and 1755, were featured in the book “Bilder-sal heutiges Tages lebender und durch Gelahrtheit berühmter Schriftsteller” (‘Portrait hall of famous living and learned writers of today’), which was published in Augsburg. The engraver Johann Jakob Haid (1704-1764) created the prints whilst the theologist Jakob Brucker (1696-1770) wrote the corresponding short biographies.
A MARKETING CAMPAIGN OF THE EMERGING UNVIVERSITY
Among hundreds of scholars portrayed in the “Portrait hall”, eight are from Göttingen. This is a comparatively high number and highlights the status of the young Georgia Augusta among the more than thirty German universities. The reputation of the University was not based on established traditions but rather on the new works of the prestigious scholars, which in turn was the best advertisement for attracting students.
The “Portrait hall” follows a long tradition of collecting graphic images of famous scholars. What was new in this publication, however, was that only living persons were included because of their literary achievements. A clear shift in the perception of scholars is evident in the 18th century. It was less the social origins of the individual, but rather individual merit that established careers and membership in the community of academics.
FAMOUS PROFESSORS: IMITATION AND EDIFICATION
From 1741 onwards, the journal “Bilder-sal” was published as a ten-volume series each with ten portraits for which one could register as buyer in advance. Back then, Augsburg was a centre for manufacture and distribution of graphic portraits. Pivotal for the “Bilder-sal” was the perception, widely spread by the 18th century, that the view of portraits of great minds would contribute to edification and encourage imitation.
CHANGE OF MEDIA: FROM OIL PAINTING TO MEZZOTINT
To guarantee the authenticity of the illustrations, the copper engraver Haid created them in the presence of the original whenever possible. The painted originals were first detached from the frames, rolled up in parchment paper and, with the help of travelling tradesfolk, transported to Augsburg. A direct comparison between the oil painting by Georg Gottlob Richter (1694-1773) and the mezzotint leaf illustrate how Haid dealt with the original: while he copied Richter’s face with great precision, he then adapted the body posture and accessories of the person depicted in line with the uniform picture program of the “Bildersals”. Bookshelves, draperies and a table with books, which cannot be found in the original, are less of a reference to the individual person. Rather, they were typical and interchangeable elements of the contemporary representation of scholars.
AS IF WORKED WITH A BRUSH – TECHNIQUE AND AESTHETICS OF THE MEZZOTINT
For the graphic execution of the portrait, Haid made use of a technique, known as mezzotint from the mid 17th century. While in copperplate engraving, the dark areas and lines are created by engraving the plate, the mezzotint process is exactly the opposite: The scraper tool is used to remove the light areas from the deep black base of the copper plate. Because this allowed particularly soft and gentle image components such as hair and robes to be expressed realistically, the mezzotint technique was primarily used for the reproduction of portraits. However, it was also used for natural history illustrations, such as the moon globe project of the then head of the Göttingen observatory Tobias Mayer (1723-1762).
In the 17th century, portrait books of scholars became especially popular. Jean-Jacques Boissard’s portraits, which debuted in Frankfurt/Main between 1697-1599, became very well known.
FRONTISPIECE, Jean Jacques Boissard: Bibliotheca chalcographica illustrium virtute […], Heidelberg 1669, State and University Library of Göttingen