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Johann Georg Platzer (St. Paul in Eppan, nr. Meran 1704-1761 St. Michael in Eppan)
Johann Georg Platzer (St. Paul in Eppan, nr. Meran 1704-1761 St. Michael in Eppan)

A young couple and a huntsman in a woodland garden; and An old man, his wife and her lover in an interior

Details
Johann Georg Platzer (St. Paul in Eppan, nr. Meran 1704-1761 St. Michael in Eppan)
A young couple and a huntsman in a woodland garden; and An old man, his wife and her lover in an interior
the first signed 'JG·Platzer' (lower left); the second signed 'Jg. Platzer.' (lower right)
oil on copper
10¾ x 8¼ in. (27.2 x 21 cm.)
a pair (2)

Lot Essay

From a family of painters in South Tyrol, Platzer was the leading painter of conversation pieces of the Austrian Baroque. The majority of his oeuvre consists, like the present pair, of small-scale pieces on copper, characterised by their delicate brushwork, lively palette and highly detailed compositions. Eclectic in his influences, Platzer's genre scenes - and especially his conversation pieces - demonstrate the influences of the French Rococo and the Netherlandish cabinet painters, whilst the frequent use of architectural motifs in his work, as in the second of the present pair, derives from northern Italian painting.

These two conversation pieces demonstrate Platzer's delight in the use of symbolism to load his paintings with surreptitious meaning. Ostensibly conversation pieces, both in fact, albeit without too much attempt at subtlety, depict scenes of future - and probably past - infidelities. The second of the two is based on a well-known theme, that of the Ill-Matched Couple, which draws upon two of the Deadly Sins: lust and greed. The old husband reaches towards his young wife who, in turn, looks up towards her lover. She holds in her hand her husband's pince-nez, perhaps to ensure that he cannot see her actions, but also a reference to the old man's foolishness (a traditional emblem, deriving from the German expression 'jemand Brillen vekaufen', meaning both 'to sell glasses' and 'to fool through deception'). Her paramour holds before her a mask, symbolic of deception. Near them sits an ape, personifying lust (and holding in its hand a seed stolen from the nearby pomegranate, the emblem of chastity) whilst in the foreground lie musical instruments, representing love, and, most tellingly, in the background hangs a painting of Mars, Venus and Vulcan, the classical tale of divine infidelity.

The first of the pair is a little more obscure in the nature of the protagonists, if not of their intentions. A young couple sit in a bowery glade, behind them a third man approaching. Beyond is a statue of Venus and Cupid; closer inspection shows, however, that the particular aspect of those two deities depicted is the story of Venus plucking Cupid's wings, a reference to the fact that all is not as it might seem. The man behind, one therefore infers, is the young girl's lover; his calling is otherwise unclear, but the owl on the perch that he holds, and the quiver over his shoulder, perhaps suggest that he is a huntsman. An owl was thus used as a decoy to lure birds towards it (they would approach to mob it), to which an obvious parallel could be drawn; in addition, although most famously an emblem of wisdom, it was also conversely used on occasion by artists to represent foolishness. In the hand of the seated male is a birdcage with three birds in it, presumably a reference to the lovers themselves (traditionally a single bird in a cage represented either virginity or frustrated love), including a goldfinch, a second of which the young woman holds to her breast.
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