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Wenceslaus Hollar

Wenceslaus Hollar is one of the premier engravers of the 17th century. Influenced by Albrecht Durer, Hollar is perhaps best known for his views of London before and after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Less well known are his military-themed works, which encompass the full spectrum of 17th century European warfare.

Born in Prague in 1607, Hollar moved across a Europe ravaged by the 30 Years War before finally settling in London under the patronage of the Earl of Arundel. The English Civil Wars saw Hollar leave London and actually join Rawdon’s Royalist Regiment, although he was not present at the fall of Basing House (as some histories have suggested) as he probably had moved to Antwerp sometime in 1645. He visited England again during the 1650s and returned at the Restoration. Appointed as ‘his Majestie’s Scenographer or Designer of Prospects’, he joined the 1669 expedition to Tangier.

Hollar’s works featured battles (including Oppenheim in 1631), sieges (such as Plymouth), continental urban fortifications (Mainz, Deutz (below), and Antwerp amongst others), English coastal fortifications (Dover, Deal and Jersey for instance), English castles (including Windsor Castle, the Tower of London and Kenilworth), British urban defences (including Hull and Kings Lynn), British cities (such as Edinburgh and Oxford), and finally culminating in a wonderful series of engravings of the fortifications of the North African city of Tangier in 1669.

Whilst it is not possible to reproduce these here, they are available to view from two digital collections: University of Toronto and the British Museum

Whilst his engravings are not architectural plans and his interpretation of his subjects sometimes calls their complete accuracy into question, his works never-the-less are a marvellous visual representation of 17th century warfare.

Further reading

I have contributed a chapter to Perspectives on the Art of Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77), published by Brepols Publishers. My chapter, ‘Useful for all Commanders’, considers Hollar’s views of castles, fortifications and sieges.

My essay 'His Majestie's Scenographer: the Military Art of Wenceslaus Hollar' was published as part of Home and Away: The British Experience of War 1618-1721: Proceedings of the 2017 Helion and Company 'Century of the Soldier' Conference

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