Category Archives: Martin Engelbrecht

Martin Engelbrecht’s Garden Dioramas

Six perspective prints as diorama – gardening
© Deventer Museums

This brightly coloured scene, with its band of male and female gardeners preparing the ground and planting, is a garden themed paper diorama designed and published by the studio of Martin Engelbrecht (1684 – 1756).

The highly organised and productive garden is framed by a pair of fig trees planted in narrow raised beds, trained tightly against a wall and supported by a framework of wooden trellis.  Further back, cold frames with wooden lids are propped open and plants in terracotta pots are arranged on shelves and stands, adding height and interest to the garden.  A gardener appears to be pruning a tree planted in an avenue, and an ornate looking glasshouse is visible in the distance.

Rich in detail, the composite image is formed from a series of six engravings, each containing elements of buildings, plants, people and landscape features.  These were designed to be cut out, arranged in the correct sequence, and attached at intervals to a wooden frame.  When viewed together from the front, an illusion of perspective is created, forming a three dimensional miniature world into which an imaginative guest is invited to enter.

This diorama is one of dozens produced by artist and engraver Martin Engelbrecht’s studio in Augsburg, Germany during the mid 1700s.  According to the Houghton Library at Harvard University, Engelbrecht was the only publisher to be given royal permission to publish these miniature scenes.  His project was a success with public, enabling Engelbrecht ‘to employ several artists, including Jeremias Wachsmuht and Johann David Nessenthaler, who were mostly involved in developing the peepshow series’.

Despite their ephemeral nature, and great fragility, examples of Engelbrecht’s dioramas still survive in museum collections around the world.  Many of these depict grand houses, gardens and Biblical tableaux, but Engelbrecht’s studio also produced scenes more connected to ordinary life, such as trades.

The extensive diorama collection held at the Deventer Museums in The Netherlands include scenes from a bookbinder’s shop and a printer’s studio, as well as this working garden.  There are also scenes from a coal mine, a shipwreck and a field battle.  Engelbrecht’s dioramas are fore-runners of miniature paper theatres, which became hugely popular in the 19th century, both as toys and souvenirs of a trip to a performance.

© Deventer Museums

© Deventer Museums

There are several elaborate garden dioramas in the Deventer collection, full of interest for those curious about historic gardens as destinations for entertainment.  Featuring ornate statues, fountains, orange trees in containers and long avenues of clipped hedging with topiary, these formal gardens are populated with fashionably dressed visitors.  Engelbrecht’s artists always pay close attention to details of their clothes, and even their pet dogs.

Six perspective prints as diorama: Garden with statue
© Deventer Museums

© Deventer Museums

Four perspective prints for diorama – possibly views of Versailles?
© Deventer Museums

© Deventer Museums

Three perspective prints as diorama – by the fountains
© Deventer Museums

© Deventer Museums

Engelbrecht’s dioramas present a challenge for the production of images for online viewing.  Some institutions place all the layers together on top of each other – which is effective, but results in some details being obscured or appearing to be cut off.

Here, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has photographed each level of their Italianate Garden diorama separately, which shows clearly how the final composite image is built up and draws attention to features such as the parterre and canal (see below).

Paper Theater or Diorama of an Italianate Villa and Garden (ca. 1730 – 56) Studio of Martin Engelbrecht, Ausburg  Metropolitan Museum of Art

This garden diorama from the Smithsonian Libraries is assembled in a wooden frame, and the edges of its cut-out layers are clearly visible.  This enables the photographer to explore the texture of the paper, as well as to demonstrate the depth of field created in the diorama.  Some detail in the engravings at the sides and towards the back is lost, but the image somehow captures very successfully the heady atmosphere at this garden party.

Garden Scene with Dancers c. 1740 Smithsonian Libraries

All these garden dioramas possess an abundance of charm, but my favourite remains the behind the scenes glimpse of Engelbrecht’s gardeners, working together to make a beautiful garden.

Martin Engelbrecht (1684 – 1756) artist, engraver, publisher of prints

Further reading:

Deventer Museums’ Collection of Engelbrecht’s Dioramas here

Houghton Library blog re. Engelbrecht’s Miniature Theatres here

Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Italianate Garden here

Garden Scene with Dancers (Smithsonian Library here

Martin Engelbrecht’s Parterre Gardener

The Parterre Gardener
50 coloured plates engraved by Martin Engelbrecht, from eighteenth century German works. Courtesy Wellcome Collection.

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.

The Parterre Gardener’s Wife
50 coloured plates engraved by Martin Engelbrecht, from eighteenth century German works. Courtesy Wellcome Collection.

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