A view of a thoroughfare lined by buildings in St. Petersburg, Russia, with pedestrians in what was then contemporary dress. This engraving is in the general format and size of a vue d’optique -- a perspective view produced as a hand-colored print generally intended to be viewed through a convex lens. Vues d’optique often were rendered in high-key color and dramatic linear perspective that enhanced the illusion of three-dimensionality when viewed through the lens, making it seem like the viewer was really there. Thus, they served as a form of visual entertainment. The viewing devices were known variously as zograscopes, optiques, optical machines or peepshows. According to the Getty Research Institute, street performers would set up viewing boxes with a series of prints giving a pictorial tour of famous landmarks, dramatic events and foreign lands. Vues d’optique were also purchased by Grand Tour travelers as souvenirs to be viewed at home as a parlor activity. To cater to this broad audience, the prints often had titles and descriptions in two or more languages. Because the images are reversed in the viewing device, the main titles on some vues d’optique are backwards. Vues d’optique were also hung on walls as decoration.
Georg Balthasar Probst was a German artist, engraver and publisher in Augsburg, a major European publishing center in the 17th and 18th centuries. He produced architectural views of places around the world intended as vues d’optique, which were published in various places during the last half of the 18th century, including Paris, Augsburg and London. He was also known for his portraits.
Probst came from an extended family of printers, whose businesses can all be traced back to the publishing firm of Jeremias Wolff (1663-1724). After Wolff's death his firm was continued as “Wolff’s Heirs” (Haeres Jer. Wolffii) by his son-in-law Johann Balthasar Probst (1689-1750). After Probst’s death in 1750, his descendants divided the business and published under their own imprints: Johann Friedrich Probst (1721-1781), Georg Balthasar Probst (1732-1801) and Johann Michael Probst. Another part of the Wolff-Probst firm was acquired by the Augsburg publisher Johann Georg Hertel (1700-1775), whose son Georg Leopold Hertel had married a sister of the Probsts. In the next generation, Georg Mathäus Probst (d. 1788), son of Georg Balthasar Probst, also became an engraver of portraits and views.
Inscriptions: Titled in Latin, French, German and Italian, and inscribed, “Cum Gratia et Privilegio Sac[rae]. Caes[area] Majestatis. Georg Balthasar Probst execud A[ug].V[ind].” [By the grace and favor of His Sacred Imperial Majesty. Georg Balthasar Probst made it in Augsburg.]
Condition: Generally very good, the colors bright, with the usual overall toning, wear, soiling, soft creases. Some small chips, losses, short tears in margins, all restored as professionally rebacked on Japanese paper.
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 7, p. 32.
“Emperor’s Palace in Beijing.” Devices of Wonder. J. Paul Getty Trust. 2001. http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/devices/html/homepage.html (30 September 2002).
Ritter, Michael. [Maphist] “Re: Friedrich Bernhard Werner panoramic maps of cities.” 6 March 2006 and 7 March 2006. MapHist Mailing List. List Information: http://www.maphist.info. (7 March 2006).