Prints and printmaking, £12.99
Georg Frederic Schmidt, Self-portrait with Spider at the Window, an etching
Germany, AD 1758 (state III)
In the style of Rembrandt
As a teenager Schmidt (1712-75) attended the Academy of Art in Berlin, but he acquired his mastery of engraving in Paris, where he had worked for ten years. After his return in 1746, his professional success was assured by his ability to engrave in the French manner any shape, texture or tone. Yet in his later career, he set aside that formal brilliance to etch in the style of Rembrandt.
This signed and dated self-portrait was etched while Schmidt was working in St Petersburg. Through the open window, the onion-shaped dome of a Russian church appears behind a log cabin. He has closely followed Rembrandt's etched Self-portrait of 1648. As well as the similarity of composition, Schmidt has adopted Rembrandt's pose and hat and he draws on a similar sheaf of papers resting on a book. His technique consciously emulates Rembrandt's irregular mesh of scratched marks. Unlike Rembrandt however, Schmidt turns his gaze away from us, and includes a bottle and wine glass, the violin and sword hanging on the wall, and the spider spinning its web. These details probably refer to Schmidt's own interests and to his circumstances far from home. Spinning was traditionally associated with fate and the passage of time.
F. Carey and A. Griffiths, German printmaking in the age, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)