CALLIGRAPHIC DEMONSTRATION SHEET, Ein Kesselflicker hatte lieb vollgeletten..., ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Austria or Germany, mid 17th-century]193 x 300mm. Nine lines written in an elegant Fraktur hand in mirror writing, flourished and framed in liquid gold, over a mesh of fine black lines giving the effect of twill weave, perhaps printed from fabric, with some diagonals reinforced over the text, justification: 74 x 143mm, surrounded by two roundels, framed by delicate patterning in liquid gold, and two ovals, with frames extending into intricate interlaced flourishing with stars in liquid gold, all four with figures copied from engravings by Jacques Callot (slight staining below lower roundel, small retouchings in gold frame). Grey cloth folder with gilt lettering piece.
This is an exceptional masterpiece of trompe l'oeil. The conceit is that the viewer is looking at a piece of semi-transparent grey silk laid face down on vellum so that the beautifully lettered account of a tinker's misadventures is seen through the silk from the wrong side and therefore in reverse. The 'silk' is placed between figures copied, also in reverse, from prints by Callot (1592-1635). The beggars in the roundels are taken from Les Caprices, c.1617; the itinerant musicians in the oval cartouches come from Les Gobbi, published probably after 1621. The artist was presumably active in Germany or Austria: mirror writing is a characteristic of the bravura exercises of German writing masters (see lot 18) and the interlace has a rounded regularity typical of the German tradition.
The sheet has been related to the work of the Florentine calligrapher and printmaker Valerio Spada (1613-1688), who was in contact with the court of Archduke Ferdinand Charles in Innsbruck from 1646, when he lettered and decorated a volume of poetry presented to the Archduke on his marriage to Anna de'Medici in Florence (New York Public Library, Spencer ms 189, for Spada, see P. Dearborn Massar, 'Valerio Spada 17th-century Florentine calligrapher and draughtsman', Master Drawings 19, 1981, pp.251-275). Spada may never himself have been in Innsbruck. In 1653 he was definitely in Florence when he signed and dated the frontispiece of a collection of his scripts for presentation to the Archduke. Spada's work, with its combination of drawing and calligraphy, was obviously appreciated in Innsbruck and perhaps influenced a more local calligrapher. Archduke Ferdinand Charles (1628-1662) was a lavish patron, whose court appreciated demonstrations of technical skill and artistic imagination of the high levels demonstrated by the Arcana sheet.