Old Master Prints from the Ashmolean Collection

The Ashmolean Museum of art and archeology presents “Spectacular Impressions – Old Master Prints from the Ashmolean Collection,” on view through September 14, 2003. Beside many important drawings by eminent masters such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Dürer, Claude Lorrain, Guercino, Turner and numerous others, the Print Room in the Department of Western Art in the Ashmolean Museum houses one of the finest print collections in the UK from the 15th century to the present day. The print collection is based essentially on several large, important holdings given to the University in the 19th century. The founding collection of prints was assembled in the late 18th and early 19th century by Francis Douce and was given to the University in 1834. This collection covers all schools but concentrates on German and Italian prints of the 15th and 16th centuries. The collection given by Chambers Hall in 1855 is smaller and concentrates on Dutch 17th century printmaking and on landscape prints, in particular, which did not interest Douce. The Sutherland Collection, also formed in the 19th century, contains 19,000 prints, collected for the purpose of illustrating the history of the Civil War, and includes many rarities. The Hope Collection, which forms the final part of the original print collection in the museum, is a much consulted archive of approximately 200,000 portrait and topographical prints.

The main focus of the collection concentrates on the Northern Schools but it also contains some thousands of items which Douce added for the sake of illustrating his many antiquarian interests. There are few collections outside Germany with material of this quality. The Ashmolean ranks alongside the Albertina in Vienna, the British Museum and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris as one of the major repositories of early German prints.

This exhibition aims to put on display some of the most important and astonishing prints in our old master collection. The idea behind the show was not that of presenting an entire history of printmaking or even the development of techniques, but that of starting a series of exhibitions based on our old master print collection. The content of such a series is outlined in this show, since many interesting and strong aspects of printmaking are represented here, with impressions of high quality and often of rare occurrence. The choice was never intended to be complete or even fully representative: many areas are missing, such as early Netherlandish printmaking, German printmaking in the 18th century, English printmaking from the 15th to 18th century, other aspects are under represented or just outlined in a few examples. Nevertheless each section of this exhibition will form the subject of a future display which will allow us to examine these works in much more depth and in a broader context.

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Published in: on August 4, 2003 at 3:30 am  Leave a Comment  

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