Allegorical works of art of the four seasons have long been a popular genre; nonetheless, according to Czech National Gallery curator Alena Volrábová, Hollar’s approach in this 17th century set was very original in his use of contemporary urban women dressed in seasonal garments. She also observes that Hollar showcases his masterful printmaking technique technique in depicting different textures in the etching medium, such as lace and fur. Between 1641 and 1644, Hollar made at least three such sets –with different figures of women and verses — the three quarter length allegories being the first set of this series. Following scholar Richard Pennington’s catalogue raisonee of Hollar’s etched works, the prints in the offered set all appear to be State ii, except for Spring, which is State iv.
The following are descriptions of the subject of each print, with transcriptions of the verses under the image in each print in old English and Latin, and also the respective artist and date credit lines:
I. Spring is represented by a woman holding tulips gesturing toward a table covered with a lace-trimmed cloth, on which there is a vase holding a lush bouquet of lilies, irises, carnations, and tulips. At her right is an open chest, in which she has put away her furs, as is referenced in the verse below. In the background is a garden view which the British Museum says was presumably one of the residences of the Earl of Arundel, one of Hollar’s patrons.
Inscriptions in English and Latin: “SPRING Ffurs fare you well, the Winter is quite gone/ and beauty’s quarter now is coming on./ When nature striveth most to shew her pride/ our beauty’s being the cheefe we must not hide.” VER Iam dedessit Hyems, pelles et vela valete […] Dic, celare an nos ora venusta decet.”
Beneath Latin verse, lower left margin: W. Hollar inventor et fecit Londini. A[nn]o 1641.
II. Summer is a woman standing before a window with draped curtains and a view along the Thames with Westminster Abbey in the distance. Her face is veiled to keep it “fair” as the verse says,, i.e., protect against sunburn. She holds a fan in one hand — to dispel the heat, according to the verse — and rests the other on a pair of gloves lying on the table that are presumably no longer needed in warm weather. Two gourds also sit on the table.
Inscriptions in English and Latin: “SUMMER In Sumer when wee walke to take the ayre./ Wee thus are vayl’d to keepe our faces faire/ And lest our beautie shoold be soyl’d with sweate/ wee with our ayrie fannes depell the heate. AESTAS Lenes æstivi ZEPHYRI dum carpimus auras, […] Immodicos aestus flabra levare solent.”
Publication credits in design, lower center: W. Hollar inv: 1641.
III. Autumn wears a dark scarf tied under her chin over a broad lace-trimmed collar that covers her shoulders. One hand rests on a plate of fruit, the other holds an apple. The verse explains that while the season brings fruit, it also brings cold weather, so she is dressed for warmth.
Inscriptions in English and Latin: “AUTUMNE Our ioy and sorrow now come both together/ Autumne brings freute, but Autumne brings cold weather/ here tast the first, the last you’ll feele no doubt/ except attir’d like mee you kepe it out. AUTUMNUS Convenere simul iam nostra et gaudia luctus, […] Ni bene munitus veste, vel igne cales.”
Publication credits in design lower right: W. Hollar inv: 1641.
IV. Winter wears a dark scarf fastened under her chin and wide white collar covering her shoulders, one hand hidden within a large fur muff, the other in long gloves. On the table beside her is a fur stole and a half mask.
Inscriptions in English and Latin: “WINTER Thus against winter wee our selves doe arme/ and thinke you then the cold can doe us harme/ but though it be to hard for this attire/ yet wee’ll orecome it not with sword but fire. HYEMS Cum deformis Hyems gelidas constrinxerit undas/ Pectore, ne Sanguis torpeat hisce tegor/ Pellibus Armenÿs, et velis, vincimus auras,/ (non gladio) et claro MVLCIBER Igne tuo.”
Publication credits in design, lower left: W. Hollar inv: 1641
Wenceslaus Hollar was a Czech-born draftsman and etcher who spent most of his career in other European countries, especially Germany and England. He left Prague as a young man and studied art in Frankfurt. After traveling around Germany he eventually made his way to England where he received the patronage of Thomas, Earl of Arundel and King Charles I. In London, he collaborated with his contemporaries at Arundel’s court and with the renowned painter Anthony Van Dyck. Hollar left England during the civil war in 1645, taking refuge in Antwerp, where Arundel was also staying, and worked for him until the earl’s death. After the restoration of Charles II, Hollar returned to England. In 1665, he traveled to Africa in the company of Lord Howard to execute drawings and engravings. An extremely prolific printmaker, he is known for his detailed depictions of people, architecture, and landscapes, and executed more than 2,700 works. In 2012, the Czech National Library in the Schwarzenberg Palace mounted a major exhibition of his work which featured his four seasons series, including an example of the set offered here.
Condition: Generally very good to fine overall, recently professionally cleaned and deacidified with little remaing evidence of toning or wear. Each with substantial margins, and all with the same outer dimensions.
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 4, p. 740.
Pennington, Richard. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677. 610-613.
Volynsky, Masha. “Muffs and veils – Hollar’s original take on the Four Seasons.” Radio Prague International. 31 August 2012. https://www.radio.cz/en/section/arts/muffs-and-veils-hollars-original-take-on-the-four-seasons (2 October 2019).