Today is the birthday (1607) of Václav Hollar, a Bohemian engraver whose etchings are of considerable historical importance. When he moved to England he was known as Wenceslaus or Wenceslas. Hollar was born in Prague, and after his family was ruined by the Sack of Prague in the Thirty Years’ War, Hollar, who was supposed to go in for law, decided to become an artist. The earliest of his works that have come down to us are dated 1625 and 1626; they are small plates, and one of them is a copy of a “Virgin and Child” by Dürer, whose influence upon Hollar’s work was considerable. In 1627 he was in Frankfurt where he was apprenticed to the renowned engraver Matthäus Merian. In 1630 he lived in Strasbourg, Mainz and Koblenz, where he portrayed the towns, castles, and landscapes of the Middle Rhine Valley. In 1633 he moved to Cologne where he published his first book of etchings.
In 1636 he attracted the notice of Thomas Howard, 21st earl of Arundel, then on a diplomatic mission to the imperial court of Emperor Ferdinand II. He employed Hollar as a draftsman and they traveled together to Vienna and Prague. In 1637 he went with Arundel to England, where he remained in the earl’s household for many years.
Though he became Arundel’s servant, Hollar seems not to have worked exclusively for him, and after the earl’s death in Padua in 1646, he earned his living by working for various authors and publishers. In around 1650, probably at the request of Hendrik van der Borcht, he etched a commemorative print done after a design by Cornelius Schut in Arundel’s honor and dedicated to his widow, Aletheia. Arundel is seated in melancholy mode on his tomb in front of an obelisk (perhaps commemorating the one he tried to import from Rome), and surrounded by works of art and their personifications.
In 1745, George Vertue paid homage to his association with Hollar in a vignette he published in Description of the Works of the Ingenious Delineator and Engraver Wenceslaus Hollar. It featured a bust of Arundel in front of a pyramid, symbolizing immortality, surrounded by illustrated books and the instruments of Hollar’s trade. During his first year in England he created “View of Greenwich,” later issued by Peter Stent, the print-seller. The print is nearly 3 feet (0.9 m) long and he received 30 shillings for the plate. Afterwards he fixed the price of his work at four pence an hour, and measured his time by a sand-glass. Hollar continued to produce works prolifically throughout the English Civil War, but it adversely affected his income. With other royalist artists, notably Inigo Jones and William Faithorne, the engraver, he withstood the long and eventful siege of Basing House, and as there are around 100 plates from his hand dated during the years 1643 and 1644 he must have turned his seclusion into concentrated work time. An etching dated 1643 and entitled “” epitomizes the war with a snake with a head at each end pulling in opposite directions in front of the Giza pyramids and sphinx. Hollar took his setting, presumably symbolizing longer term values, directly from an engraving published in George Sandys’ Relation of a Journey begun An. Dom 1610.
Hollar joined the Royalist Regiment and was captured by parliamentary forces in 1645 during the siege of Basing House. After a short time he managed to escape. In Antwerp in 1646, he again met with the earl of Arundel. During this period of the unrest of the Civil Wars, he worked in Antwerp, where he produced many of his most renowned works, including Dutch cityscapes, seascapes, depictions of nature, his “muffs” and “shells”. In 1652 he returned to London, and lived for a time near Temple Bar.
During the following years many books were published which he illustrated: Ogilby’s Virgil and Homer, Stapylton’s Juvenal, and Dugdale’s Warwickshire, St Paul’s and Monasticon (part one). His income fell as booksellers continued to reject his work, and the Court did not purchase his works following the Restoration.
After the Great Fire of London he produced some of his famous “Views of London”; and it may have been the success of these plates and other cityscapes such as his 1649 Great View of Prague which induced the king to send him, in 1668, to Tangier, to draw the town and forts. During his return to England a desperate and successful engagement was fought by his ship, the Mary Rose, under Captain John Kempthorne, against seven Algerine men-of-war; a battle which Hollar etched for Ogilby’s Africa.
Hollar lived eight years more after his return, still working for the booksellers, and continuing to produce well-regarded works until his death. However, he died in extreme poverty on 25th March 1677 in London. His last recorded words were a request to the bailiffs not to take away the bed on which he was dying. Hollar is interred in St Margaret’s Church in Westminster.
I will turn to Robert May’s The Accomplisht Cook (1660) for today’s recipe. You can find the whole text here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/22790 If my choice does not appeal, pick another. I found a recipe for a salad of buds of Alexanders which I thought was intriguing, mostly because Alexanders is virtually unknown as an ingredient nowadays because they have been replaced with celery. Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) is an edible cultivated flowering plant, belonging to the family Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae). It is also known as alisanders, horse parsley, and smyrnium. It was known to Theophrastus and Pliny the Elder. The plants grow to 150 centimeters (59 in) high, with a solid stem which becomes hollow and grooved with age. Alexanders is native to the Mediterranean but is able to thrive farther north. The flowers are yellow-green in color and arranged in umbels, and its fruits are black. It flowers from April to June. Alexanders is intermediate in flavor between celery and parsley. It is now almost forgotten as a food source, although it still grows wild in many parts of Europe, including Britain. It is common among the sites of medieval monastery gardens. May’s recipe is typical of the period. You could replace the Alexanders with celery if you wanted to try the flavorings.
A grand Sallet of Alexander-buds.
Take large Alexander-buds, and boil them in fair water after they be cleansed and washed, but first let the water boil, then put them in, and being boil’d, drain them on a dish bottom or in a cullender; then have boil’d capers and currans, and lay them in the midst of a clean scowred dish, the buds parted in two with a sharp knife, and laid round about upright, or one half on one side, and the other against it on the other side, so also carved lemon, scrape on sugar, and serve it with good oyl and wine vinegar.