Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Great Executioner with the Head of Saint John the Baptist

Prince Rupert of the Rhine (Bohemian, Prague 1619–1682 Westminster)
Mezzotint with engraving; third state
Sheet: 25 × 17 7/16 in. (63.5 × 44.3 cm)
Image: 24 15/16 × 17 3/8 in. (63.3 × 44.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, in honor of George R. Goldner, 2015
Accession Number:
Not on view
Prince Rupert of the Rhine’s The Great Executioner is the most ambitious and beautiful mezzotint produced during the seventeenth century. This luscious impression shows the work in all its glory. The deepest tones are rich and velvety. The energetic sweeping marks of the rocker employed to initially darken the copper plate show the rough, experimental nature of the mezzotint technique in its early stages. The print reproduces a painting (now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich) considered at the time to be by Ribera but now thought to be by an artist in his circle. This impression has an illustrious provenance beginning with the Parisian print dealer Pierre Mariette II who inscribed his name and the date on the verso only six years after the print was created.
Prince Rupert’s biography is a story made for the movies. He was the third son of the Elector of Palatine Frederick V and Elizabeth Stuart, the eldest daughter of James I of England and grew up in courts of The Hague and London. At the age of 14, he was already fighting the Spanish in the Netherlands. He joined the Royalist army during the Civil War in England. He was exiled under Cromwell during which time he fought against Spain on the side of the French then he became a Royalist corsair in the Caribbean. After the Restoration he returned to England where he became a high commander of the Navy and was finally appointed the first governor of the Hudson Bay Company in Canada. It was during his exile from England, while living in Frankfurt, that Prince Rupert created his mezzotints.
Mezzotint is a technique of subtraction, working from dark to light. The printing plate is first roughened all over to achieve a rich, velvety tone and then the image is created by polishing, also known as scraping, the areas of light. Prince Rupert was one of the very first practitioners of the technique. In fact, he invented the “rocker,” the tool used to roughen the plate. He learned the technique just prior to creating this print from its inventor, the amateur artist Ludwig von Siegen, whose early form of mezzotint created works from light to dark. Prince Rupert’s rocker allowed a large copper plate like the one used to produce this print to be roughened overall and, as a result, he created the mezzotint technique as we have come to define it, one that works from dark to light,. Prince Rupert introduced the technique to England by teaching it to John Evelyn who published a description along with a print by Prince Rupert in his manual on printmaking Sculptura, 1662. The technique subsequently took off in England in the eighteenth century.
Inscription: Signed and dated in pen and brown ink verso: P. Mariette, 1664 – signature of Pierre Mariette II (Lugt 1788)
Inscribed in brown ink on verso by Joseph Gulston (Lugt 1113): “N20756” and “£ 3”13”6” and presumably also inscribed by him: “Scraped by Prince Rupert”
Inscribed with Colnaghi's stock number: “C.28114(?)” of Colnaghi’s, London

Marking: Verso, blue ink stamp of an anonymous collector, probably 19th century (L.352a)
Verso, purple ink stamp of Albert W. Blum (Lugt 79b) with the date 1951
Pierre Mariette le fils (French); Joseph Gulston (British); Anonymous owner (Lugt 352a); Marquess of Bute(according to Alfred Blum's notes, info perhaps via Colnaghi); P. & D. Colnaghi & Co.; Dr. Albert W. Blum, acquired in 1951; Private European Collection, 2014; Christie's, London, 3 Dec 2014 (sale 1540), lot 81; Vendor: Katrin Bellinger Kunsthandel
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," March 19, 2015–June 22, 2015.

Hollstein XXXVI.166.14.iii; LeBlanc III.382.10
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