Daily Archives: March 22, 2011

Springing into the Seventeenth Century

Despite the fact that it’s not exactly New England’s shining season, I love spring.  It’s my favorite season by far; I even get a little glum when it turns into summer.  It’s just such a hopeful time, and so dramatic; one year I watched the grass turn green in an afternoon. There are signs of spring in the garden (goldfish awakened from their states of hibernation, little green buds on shrubs and trees), but we sustained so much tree damage this past winter that I kind of dread going back there for long, yet.  I did put a pot of hellebores—my harbingers of spring–on the front stoop, but that’s the extent of my spring “gardening” so far.

Instead of tending to my garden, I’m going to welcome spring in my closet by indulging in a biannual ritual:  the changing of the clothes.  I’m also putting together a series of lectures on the “consumer revolution” of the seventeenth century this week, and am consequently indulging in another passion:  perusing the works of  Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77).

Hollar escaped war-torn central Europe and ventured to England with Thomas Howard, the Earl of Arundel, to document the “Collector Earl’s”  large and growing collection through his amazingly-detailed etchings.  Hollar’s work did not end with Lord Arundel’s collection; he went on to document many aspects of his adopted country’s society and culture in over 2700 etchings, most of which were printed.  Hollar’s focus and images are so varied that he really transcends the role of artist and becomes a “photographer” of sorts, capturing the street life, architecture, and events of his age.  It’s not just Hollar’s range, though, it is the details, and the texture,  that he infuses into every work that makes his images so captivating.  My students love them, and so do I. 

Hollar’s skill at capturing surface detail is particularly apparent in his depictions of clothing, which two of his print collections, The Severall Habits of English Women and The Seasons, do so vividly.  So here is Spring, represented by a fashionable young noblewomen in mid-seventeenth century England and several seasonal pastoral scenes, all from the Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection at the University of Toronto:

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