Liechtenstein Museum Presents Norbert Bittner’s Egypt From The Biedermeier Era

. June 18, 2011 . 0 Comments

The Liechtenstein Museum presents Norbert Bittner’s Egypt Imaginary Visions of the Land on the Nile from the Biedermeier Era On view through 20 September 2011.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, Norbert Bittner (1786–1851) executed 57 views of a journey to Egypt – without ever having set foot in the country himself. Using French and German volumes of engravings, he made imaginative use of the details he found there, combining them to create his own personal vision of the Land on the Nile.

This series of watercolours was left as a legacy to the Kupferstichkabinett of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in 1839. Twenty-six of these views, arranged in topographical order from north to south and juxtaposed with historical and modern photographs of the same sights, will be shown in the Neoclassical Library of the Liechtenstein Museum.

Norbert Bittner studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna from 1806. Having initially enrolled as a student of landscape painting, he soon transferred to the class for architecture. His exceptional achievements led to the award of a bursary from 1807. Besides making etchings of all the stage designs produced by the theatre designer Joseph Platzer (1751–1806), it seems that he mainly worked for Count Gregor Rasumofsky (1759–1837), who probably commissioned the Egyptian series.

For the latter Bittner drew on the Description de l’Egypte (Paris 1809–1828), the monumental documentation of the French expedition, and works by the Cologne-born artist Franz Christian Gau (1789–1853), Antiquité de la Nubie, ou Monuments inédits des bords du Nil, situés entre la première et la seconde cataracte, published by Cotta between 1820 and 1827, and Jean Raymond Pacho (1794–1829), whose illustrated account of his expedition to the ancient sites of Libya including Syrtis Maior in 1824/1825 appeared under the title Voyage dans la Marmarique, la Cyrénaïque et les Oasis d’Audjelah et de Maradèh in Paris in 1827/29.

The selection made by Bittner from the Description de l’Egypte and the engravings of Gau was intended to show the important edifices and works of art from Cairo and Abu Simbel and represent a fictitious journey from the north to the south of Egypt. In his views, Bittner drew on the topography of the individual sites but sometimes gave his imagination free rein, combining various details. He sought to ‘improve’ the original images aesthetically and in terms of composition by depicting the monuments in a stage-like fashion. This invests his views with an intrinsic artistic value, ensuring their impact on anyone interested in Egyptian art.

In contrast to the monochrome copperplate engravings, the delicate watercolours deepen the emotional experience of the Nile expeditions and the Egyptian landscapes. They also attest to the huge interest in Europe for the rediscovery of Egypt, and the fashion for all things Egyptian that spread across Europe after 1809, thus representing an early contribution to the popularisation of the monuments of ancient Egypt.

Loaned by the Kupferstichkabinett of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, the watercolours are complemented by works from the Library of the Princely Collections which provide a historical view of Egypt, and are contrasted with modern photographs of the same sights as they are today.

The exhibition was designed by the director of the LIECHTENSTEIN MUSEUM, Dr Johann Kräftner, in scholarly collaboration with Dr Monika Knofler of the Kupferstichkabinett of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and Dr Lisa Schwarzmeier, free-lance art historian. Dr Ernst Czerny provided expert advice on aspects of Egyptology.

Image: Norbert Bittner (1786–1851) View of the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid Pen and black ink, watercolour, pencil underdrawing; 465 x 690 mm
Akademie der bildenden Künste Vienna, Kupferstichkabinett

Category: Fine Art

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