The Eruption of Vesuvius 14 May 1771 by Heinrich Guttenberg (after Pierre-Jacques Volaire) (c. 1800)

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Eruption du Mont Vésuve, du 14 Mai, 1771 (Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, May 14, 1771) is an engraving by Heinrich Guttenberg after a painting by Pierre-Jacques Volaire.

In this imposing composition, molten lava spews from the mouth of Mount Vesuvius in Italy and winds down the hillside towards the Bay of Naples. Energetic human figures observe the spectacle, their small scale emphasizing the volcano’s enormity.

Vesuvius erupted six times between 1707 and 1794 and thus became a touchstone of popular culture at the time. The excavation of Pompeii that began in 1748 helped launch a popular mania for the ancient world and contributed to increased interest in Naples as a destination for travelers on the grand tour of Italy. Volaire first depicted the volcano when it erupted once again in 1771; the sea of glowing molten lava throws the tiny spectators into relief. He went on to paint numerous views, many sold as souvenirs to wealthy tourists. The romance of Vesuvius simultaneously wondrous and terrifying, ancient and contemporary—made it a frequent subject in 18th-century European art and literature. 

Guttenberg was first trained as an engraver by J.J. Preissler and then by A.L. Wirsching. He also trained in Paris under Wille, and remained for many years in France (1770-93 and 1803-16). 

Marked in the plate, LL: Peint d'apres nature par Volaire a Naples, No. 32
Marked in the plate, LR: Grave par H. Guttenberg, A.P.D.R.
Marked in the plate, TR: Naples

France, circa 1800.

Condition: The engraving has been professionally conserved and mounted on an acid-free mat. Wear commensurate with age.

Materials: Paper, Engraving

Dimensions: 24-1/4" W x 1" D x 18-1/2" H 

SKU: 1219

Tear sheets are available on request. 


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