Wenceslaus Hollar, Winter, 1643
Winter is one of the most recognized works of Bohemian engraver Wencesclaus Hollar (1607–1677). It is the final image in a series of etchings portraying each of the four seasons as embodied by a female figure. In Winter, the woman is almost entirely covered by layers of furs and warm fabrics, staving off seasonal frigid temperatures. She protects her furs by lifting them off the ground, which also brazenly exposes her ankle, and points her toe, emphasizing the text lining the bottom of the plate: “The cold, not cruelty makes her weare/In Winter, furrs and Wild beasts haire/For a smoother skinn at night/Embraceth her with more delight”
Together—the direct, masked gaze of the female figure, the raised furs exposing dainty, laced ankles, the burning chimneys, and the provocative text—allude to sexual intrigue.
This work was commissioned by Hollar’s patron, the Earl of Arundel, as a symbol of his aristocratic status. Hollar produced thousand of plates on a wide variety of subjects including natural history, mythology, architecture, portraiture, and cartography. He became interested in English society after escaping religious persecution in Catholic Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic), and after traveling extensively in Europe, he settled in London. His skill is widely revered especially because of his poor eyesight.
You can get a sense of his remarkable talent by viewing this image in zoomable format here on our online collections database.
-Liz Crawford, Curatorial Assistant