Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, The Improvement of Morals, an etching

Germany, AD 1786

Satirizing the attempts of a Berlin publisher to improve public morals

By the age of 60, Chodowiecki (1726-1801) had been the most successful printmaker in Berlin for some twenty years. His professional standing was such that he helped reorganise the Berlin Academy of Art, of which he later became director. When a Berlin publisher issued a series of prints aimed at improving public morals, a field he had already claimed as his own, Chodowiecki issued this plate to mock the upstart's presumption.

Chodowiecki shows his rival on a raised platform pointing to thirteen prints that illustrate contemporary conduct: a ball, a play, skating, theft, murder, divorce, etc. Neither he nor the small crowd notice the scenes of human folly visible in the background, that are recorded by two draughtsmen. On the left they include different forms of suicide, a duel, and a balloonist falling to his death.

Chodowiecki was largely self taught as an etcher, and his technique of dots, flicks, parallel lines and cross-hatching is free from the conventions of contemporary engraving. At his death he owned a collection of 12,000 prints, including 200 by Callot, who seems to have inspired his observation of the figures around this platform. The dog stealing from a basket on the right is a quotation from Hogarth.

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More information


F. Carey and A. Griffiths, German printmaking in the age, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)


Height: 334.000 mm
Width: 210.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1863-6-13-1299 (Engelmann 572)



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