The fascination of Egypt
© Kupferstichkabinett der Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien
He was never there himself, but Norbert Bittner's pictures of an imaginary journey through Egypt kindled enormous enthusiasm in Vienna during the Biedermeier era. The "Egyptomania" that spread throughout Europe was sparked by Napoleon's expedition to Egypt (1798-1801), an account of which was published in the monumental 23-volume Description de l'Égypte (Paris 1809-1828) edited by Dominique Vivant Denon.
This splendid work served Bittner as a model for a series of watercolours now displayed in the Graphic Collection of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.
Although these charmingly coloured pictures are based on the illustrations in the Description, the Viennese artist does not follow the models slavishly. In contrast to the black-and-white etchings, the delicate watercolours are captivating, with their serene, fantastic world – which only an artist who had never set foot on Egyptian soil could dare to portray.
A further model was provided by studies executed by the Cologne artist Franz Christian Gau, who measured and drew the monuments between the first and second cataracts of the Nile as far south as Abu Simbel.
In addition to Bittner's paintings, the collection includes several of the drawings by Franz Christian Gau, as well as copper etchings from the Description de l'Égypte from the collection in St. Peter's monastery in Salzburg.
A co-operation with the Graphic Collection of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.
Curator: Monika Knofler, Graphic Collection of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts; Erika Oehring, Residenzgalerie Salzburg.
Catalogue: Max Kunze (Ed.) Ägypten, Nubien und die Cyrenaika. Die imaginäre Reise des Norbert Bittner (1786 – 1851) mit Beiträgen von Ernst Czerny, Monika Knofler, Mario Kramp und Lisa Schwarzmeier; 124 Seiten, 120 Farbabb. Verlag Franz Philipp Rutzen; Euro 20.00
20.1. – 26.2.2012 Kupferstichkabinett der Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien
17.7. – 14.10.2012 Winckelmann-Museum, Stendal
Spring 2013 Kölnisches Stadtmsuem