This professional gardener, posed with the tools of his trade, a selection of choice garden plants and a design for a fashionable parterre garden, was engraved by the German artist Martin Engelbrecht (1684 – 1756). The Parterre Gardener is just one example from Engelbrecht’s series of coloured engravings depicting caricatures of tradesmen and their wives; a project remarkable for the traders’ elaborate costumes, constructed out of items used in their line of work.
The array of items they sell – from clocks and musical instruments to spices and medicines, suggests the status of these traders is far above the humble street hawker – these are suppliers of luxury goods and services to a wealthy clientele. While the traders’ youthful faces and fine clothes display confidence and indicate success in their chosen professions, the exaggerated stylisation of their costumes, beyond any ordinary practicality, imparts a doll or puppet like character to these figures.
Our parterre gardener is dressed in a smart green jacket, edged with lace and gold brocade – perhaps a costume in which to meet clients rather than engage in hands-on gardening. Flanked by two citrus trees in containers, he is located in a walled garden containing three precisely constructed parterre beds, demonstrating the quality of his work.
His tools include a rake, a hoe and an edger, while suspended from the arm of his jacket are pegs for laying out parterre designs, a pocket knife, a sickle and gardening scissors – all used for pruning and shaping plants before the invention of the secateurs and lopper.
The flowers which decorate the gardener’s straw hat and jacket include red and white roses, daffodils, white lilies, hyacinth, snowdrops and peony – as well as striped or ‘broken’ tulips. Under his arm is a terracotta pot containing carnations, another example of blooms especially popular with ‘florists’ or collectors of flowering plants in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Balanced against a lemon tree, the gardener’s drawing for a parterre garden indicates his skill as a designer. His dynamic pose, as if approaching to greet the viewer (or client) underlines his ability both to plan and implement a stylish, contemporary garden.
Most of Engelbrecht’s tradespeople are accompanied by their wives, also wearing costumes incorporating elements relating to their husbands’ businesses. The parterre gardener’s wife is dressed in a vibrant yellow dress with a blue bodice, shaped to resemble a flower pot. Her basket is full of flowers, broadly similar to those worn by her husband, but with the addition of a sunflower (perhaps to complement the colour of her dress) and the herb marjoram. Next to her, in wooden containers, are fine examples of an aloe and a flowering yucca plant.
Perhaps the women were included partly to give the artist another opportunity to show his skill and ingenuity in constructing elaborate sets of costumes – but at the same time, it is known that women in this period became involved in family businesses, in a variety of ways, if not as equal partners. In any case, it is pleasing to see them represented as part of the series.
Based in Augsberg, Germany, and sometimes working with his brother Christian, another accomplished engraver, Martin Engelbrecht was also known for his paper miniature theatres.
His extraordinary series of coloured engravings of tradespeople can be found at the Wellcome Collection’s website – full details below.
Link to Engelbrecht’s tradespeople here
Link to Martin Engelbrecht’s wikipedia entry here