Handel’s Great Interpreter

Caterina Galli’s Love Song as Monkeyana

Landseer, Thomas (1795 London 1880). When first I saw thee graceful move. Love scene on a stage before harbor scenery. She slim and languishing, he singing entranced. In the background brawl. The persons as humanly dressed monkeys. Etching. (1827/28.) Inscribed: T. Landseer, otherwise as below. 6½ × 8 in (16.6 × 20.2 cm).

Rümann, Das Illustrierte Buch des 19. Jhdts., Leipsic 1930, pp. 99 ff.; Nagler 1; Thieme-Becker XXII, 305. – On especially wide-margined strong paper. – Lower and lateral margins feebly foxing in the outside parts. – With caption from Caterina Galli’s love song:

Thomas Landseer, When first I saw thee graceful move

“ When first I saw thee graceful move. Ah me, what meant my throbbing breast
Say soft confusion, art thou Love! If Love thou art — then farewell rest. ”

Caterina Galli (Cremona? c. 1723 – Chelsea 1804) came to England at the age of 19 and obtained as mezzo-soprano great popularity, particularly in breeches roles. Returned to Italy for about a decade in 1754, numerous performances in premieres at the leading opera houses of Genoa, Venice and Naples followed. Back in England, she had a particular triumph as contralto in the Messiah at the Haymarket Theatre in 1773. Lasting legacy then also generally her parts – frequently in world premieres – in many of Handel’s oratorios, including Judas Maccabaeus, Joshua, Alexander Balus, Solomon and Theodora.

Fine impression on large paper from the famous set of the “Monkeyana” , one of Landseer’s but few early and thus typical works :

“ That Thomas Landseer may be judged only by these illustrations a little book with woodcuts proves which show next to nothing of his intellect ” .

Worked since 1827 the 25 etchings incl. title were published in numbers and with classical captions till 1828 in three editions: standard edition in quarto, edition on larger paper in large quarto, edition with proofs in large quarto, too. Besides copies on mounted China.

Otherwise qualified by Rümann i. a.:

“ Much more important was Edwin’s brother Thomas Landseer …

… in the ’20s he distinguished himself by a series of 25 plates that were published 1828 under the title of ‘Monkeyana’ (ills. 57).

Technically his etchings are masterly ,

no less admirable the intellectual grasp of the subject. With much humor and sharp observation he transfers the plain life of his time to the monkey’s life. His sarcasm is biting, almost vicious. ”

In regard of the latter judgement Landseer’s contemporary Nagler, Monogramists V, 686, might be more to the point :

“ … the habits, costumes, and follies of his time
(Landseer has) caricatured delectably ” .

And Stechow sovereignly sums up :

“ Monkeys always fascinated artists ”

(Pieter Bruegel, Cologne 1977, page 76).

“ The monkey as the animal most similar to man plays an important rôle in art history since antiquity.

As figura diaboli ,

as symbol of sin and the fall of man ,

as fool , as figure of vanity

he appears in most varied context … (A)lso the usual religious reference in the interpretation of the monkey as

man mixed up in his passion for profane things … ”

(Hella Robels, Frans Snyders, Munich 1989, page 43).

Later Thomas Landseer devoted himself largely to the reproduction of the animal depictions by his brother Sir Edwin.

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„ ich wende mich in (obiger) Angelegenheit an Sie als ausgewiesene Johann-Elias-Ridinger-Experten … “

(Bundesamt für …, Berlin, 11. Juli 2014)