The allegorical use of fish and sea life in these prints to comprise aspects of the articles of clothing on the fishers relates to anthropomorphic prints in which the compositions are made by cleverly assembling objects that resemble body parts or clothing. They also relate to physiognomy, the art of determining personal characteristics from the form or features of the body, which was a major preoccupation of Enlightenment art and thought of Great Britain and Continental Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries. The patriarch of the art of composing inanimate objects to form faces and bodies was the Italian Mannerist painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo (c. 1527-93), who painted allegorical portraits made up of natural or manmade objects, in series representing the four seasons, the four elements, occupations such as gardener, etc. Nicolas Armessin II, a French artist, apparently was the first to systematically portray various professions by assembling the bodies or costumes from the tools of the trade in his series of engravings Costumes Grotesques (1695). His series was very influential and 35 years later Engelbrecht composed and etched a series of prints of workers and their dress titled Assemblage Nouveau Des Manouvries Habilles (1730) with images much in the same style as Armessin. Indeed, it is likely that the offered pair of fisher prints are from that series, as its format follows other examples known to us. See other examples of physiognomies and occupational portraits in our online exhibition The Eccentric Mind.
Martin Engelbrecht and his brother Christian were printsellers and engravers in Augsburg, Germany. Martin engraved some plates after Rugendas and other masters. His other works included illustrations for Ovid’s Metamorphoses, The War of Spanish Succession, and P. Decker’s Les Architectes Princiers, as well as other views, including 92 views of Venice. In about 1730, he created cards for miniature theaters depicting religious scenes or genre pictures of daily life that created a dimensional scene in one-point perspective when inserted into a peep box. Notably, he composed and etched a series of prints of workers and their dress, Assemblage Nouveau Des Manouvries Habilles, published at Augsburg, circa 1730. Some of his etchings of tradespeople and sportsmen are documentary or tell a story, with explanatory text or poems. Others are anthropomorphic inasmuch as the tradespeople are dressed by cleverly assembling respective trade objects that resemble clothing. Numerous examples of these are offered by George Glazer Gallery.
Inscriptions on Un Pecheur/Ein Fischer:
“1. Ecrevisse. 1. Krebs. 2. Thon. 2. Asch. 3. barbe. 3. Barbe. 4. poissons blancs desseiches. 4. gedörrte meikfisch. 5. Anguille. 5. Hal. 6. Carpe. 6. Karpffe. 7. Saume. 7. Salm. 8. gouvion de mer. 8. Roth. 9. merlus. 9. Stockfisch. 10. brochet. 10. Hecht. 11. filet de pecheur. 11. Fischers Nez. 12. grenoüilliere. 12. Fisch behre. 13. herring. Cum Priv. Maj. Mart. Engelbrecht excud. A.V.”
[1. crayfish. 2. tuna. 3. barbell. 4. dried whitefish. 5. eel. 6. carp. 7. Saume. 7. salmon. 8. roach. 9. hake. 10. pike. 11. fisher’s net. 12. frog pond. 13. herrring.]
Inscriptions on Feme d’un Pecheur/Eine Fischers Frau:
“1. Ane mari. 1. Meer Esel. 2. le macriau. 2. hecht. 3. Carpe marine. 3. Karpffe. 4. barbe. 4. Barbe. 5. le breme. 5. Breme. 6. Anguille. 6. Hal. 7. la Lampre. 7. Lampret. 8. le cancer. 8. Meer Krebs. 9. jone. 9. Schiff od. Bintze. 10. Phoxine. 10. Phoxinum. 11. rousette. 11. Bakerschlange. 12. anchois. 12. Sardelle. 13. l’Ecoille marine. 13. eine Schildkrötte. 14. ecrevisse marine. 14. ein grober Meer krebs. 15. moules. 15. Müscheln. 16. Dauphin. 16. Delphin. Cum Priv. Maj. M. Engelbrecht excud. A.V.”
[1. sea donkey. 2. pike. 3. sea carp. 4. barbel. 5. bream. 6. eel. 7. lamprey. 8. crab. 9. bulrushes. 10. minnow. 11. dogfish. 12. anchovies. 13. sea turtle. 14. a net with fish. 15. mussels. 16. dolphin.]
Condition: Generally very good with the usual light overall toning and wear. Fine early or original hand color. Toning variation in margins from former matting can be rematted out. Some paper edges slightly irregularly cut.
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol.3, p. 582.
Williamson, George C., ed. Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. London: G. Bell and Sons: 1930. Vol. 2, pp. 128-129.