Ridinger’s  Memento  Mori

in  the  First  State

of  the  Copy  Counts  Faber-Castell

Ridinger, Johann Elias (Ulm 1698 – Augsburg 1767). Memento Mori. On the bible lying on the table death’s-head with several teeth missing. To its right vase with defoliating bouquet, left, as rarer, tray with soap-bubbles on which a four-fingered jagged bar with attached seal rests as well as burned down candle/light of life, on its stand a pair of candle scissors, behind it hour-glass and above curtain with large jagged tear-out for the curtain of life, but since the middle ages also symbol of the mysterious whose possibly religious solace is, however, already countered by the hole. Peeping out from under the bible and projecting beyond the edge of the table a blank sheet of paper with tear and dog’s ear. Mezzotint. Inscribed: Ioh. Elias Ridinger inv. et exc. Aug. Vind., otherwise as above and following. 20¼ × 16½ in (51.6 × 42 cm).

Johann Elias Ridinger, Memento Mori


Counts Faber-Castell

their Ridinger sale 1958
with its lot no. 145 on the underlay carton

Radulf Count of Castell-Rüdenhausen


Stillfried (3rd appendix to Thienemann, 1876) + Schwarz (Gutmann Collection, 1910) 1426, obviously both III (of III); Reich auf Biehla 295 ( “Extremely rare”, 1894 ! Without state detail); Rosenthal, Ridinger list 126 (1940), 434 (without margin, supposedly ditto); Faber-Castell 145, state I (of III) just as the copy of the National Print Room Munich (1963:1644); Wend, Ergänzungen zu den Œuvreverzeichnissen der Druckgrafik, I/1, 289 (1975, quoting Stillfried’s description); Ridinger Catalog Kielce (1997), 172, II (of III) with ills.; Niemeyer, (The Vanitas Symbolism with Johann Elias Ridinger) in Wunderlich (ed.), L’Art Macabre 2, 2001, illustration p. 103 (state III).

Not in Thienemann (1856) , Weigel, Art Stock Catalog, pts. I-XXVIII (1838/57) , Silesian Ridinger collection at Boerner XXXIX (1885) , Coppenrath Collection (1889 f.) , Hamminger Collection (1895) , Helbing XXXIV (Arbeiten von J. E. und M. E. Ridinger), 1554 items; 1900).

With  caption  in  Latin-German:

“ Quid q(uid) agis, prudenter agas et respice finem, Sir. 7.c.

What you do think of the end, then you will never ever do evil .

(Sir. 7th chap.) ”

Earliest  version

of  this  pictorial-beautiful  vanitas  still-life



whose different states have not yet been recorded by literature present here and according to current knowledge here have to be ordered in their variations as following :

  1. as  present  here , with the pair of scissors across the stand of the candle-stick, with the bar resting with its four-jagged head on the tray of soap-bubbles, mounted on it a seal hanging down over the edge of the table. Of the upright flowers two petals fall down.
  2. Omission of the bar with the seal. The sheet of paper minimally modified in its lower edge, its right corner instead of the pointed extension cleanly closed to the below. The bouquet still upright with only unessentially modified composition. The third gap of the right upper jaw closed. The paper strip projecting from the inner book slightly shortened.
  3. Omission now of the pair of scissors on the candle-stick, too, and simplification of the tray of soap-bubbles. The candle-stick set back a little from the edge of the table and the upper bulging gradation of the edges less emphasized. Contrary to each two further gradations with I+II here now three. The turned-over left lower corner of the sheet of paper nervous-pointed, the right one on its part again slightly peaked pointing down. The bouquet less sumptuous and also otherwise modified, the four main flowers, especially the left of the two roses as symbol of transitoriness, emphasize their fading away by bending the heads. Besides the two falling petals, the lower one distinctly modified, now already two on the table-top. The right tooth gap opened again. The paper strip in the inner book shortened further. The chasing of the candle-stick given up in favor of simplified forms, besides the design of the foot in its play of chiaroscuro of downright modern expressionism as for the first time it also finds its echo in the broad tassel of the curtain, but also is taken up by the once more enforced accentuation of the belly of the vase. As this way the vase generally corresponds more convincingly with the candle-stick as with its fine chasing in both the previous states.

Besides more marginal differences. Positively proceeding from the necessity of retouchings of the mezzotint plate technically conditioned extremely fast wearing off which according to the expert Sandrart (1675) only permits 50-60 good impressions, Ridinger, however, used the occasions for elucidation of his intellectual point of view with the original Dutch-based bourgeois-beautiful composition of the picture, as present here, leading to a radicalized spiritualization with from the second state on the sheet of paper being as naked as the skull. A development comparable to the conceptionally deviating last four sheets of his Fable set invented and drawn by himself, but engraved and published posthumously only by his eldest, Martin Elias.

The deliberate further development of the content of a picture has with respect to Ridinger an interesting contemporary parallel by different hands, too.

So when, so Stillfried + Schwarz, reworking the mezzotint plate of Haid’s known Ridinger portrait Th. XX, 2/Schwarz 3, Sebastian Walch (1721-1788) omitted Diana and the landscape accessories outside of the mirror/medallion and set this, anyhow already resting on a pedestal, even into brickwork while at the same time aging the face. By which he imparted to the original express of the picture (“the killed game in the foreground suggests hunt still lives and so reminds of the transitoriness of all mortal”, Morét) a downright sepulchral character.

And still at Ridinger’s lifetime from this the reduced anonymous half-length portrait medallion Th.-St., 1876, p. 2, top, Morét, Ridinger Catalogue Darmstadt, 1999, p. 57 with illustration, was created which now was deprived of anything except for the pedestal. Thus also palette and easel within the medallion/mirror. And instead of the brickwork it is set into a heavy curtain with tassel. A path therefore from the pictorially harmonic origin to the naked core of just portrait, pedestal, and, as sustainer of the mysterious and concealed, curtain. Just in outline anymore and much reduced this anonymous final version is finally found in 1775 as “3.” in Lavater, Physiognomic Fragments, vol. I, p. 253. At the same place then, too, the window-curtain-portrait Th. XXI, 3 (s. 1876 Stillfried appendix p. 2, middle).

Another example of retouching of a mezzotint plate by Ridinger himself occurs in Schwarz 1499/1500.

Here  then  now  the  first  state

of  Ridinger’s  very  own


worked  in  the  manner  of  the  Dutch  vanitates

in deep-brown impression of finest plasticity on buff laid paper with watermark WANGEN and separate IV as both standing for contemporary impressions. With laterally 8-14 mm, top 17 mm margin, below trimmed with partial minor cut of the signature, but loss of the “Sir. 7. Cap.” as final line of the caption. Small tears backed by old in the free field outer left of the toned-fine lower text margin with still minimal extending into the closure of the table edge just as within the two quoted lines with near-loss of the letters “uid” in the second “quid” of the first and minimal touching of the letters “as” in the “Was” of the second line. In the picture itself isolated tiny(est) injuries done by old, optically like a hair crack four of these in the curtain upper left and one in the skull’s right eye, pinhead-like three further ones at the rim of the skull, on the bible, in the curtain. One further tiny injury in the white edge of the table lower right barely perceptible, from the front not at all a few untreated pinhead-small little holes just as also the not unusual smoothed centerfold still visible in the skull only. Of two backed tiny tears in the white right margin one reaching 7 mm into the picture filling. A slight touch of browning down from the foot of the candle-stick optically almost eliminated by the brown of the ink. Generally thus somewhat age-marked, but not only with regard to the additional rarity as first state and the with respect to Ridinger important provenance through and through worth acquisition as an

outstanding  example  from  the  group

of  the  vanitas  works  and  dances  macabres

and  grand  proof  for  the  “ Minimized  Ridinger ”,

so the art-historical contribution here at the Ridinger ceremonial act by the Dresden Technological University on occasion of the 300th birthday, demonstrating at the same time the master’s deep rooting in the Dutch’s emblemism to whose works he generally is more obliged to than supposed till now. And here not least documented by his inv(enit) removing any doubt about his intellectual copyright.

And how much these works are integral part of the master’s artistic credo is reflected by all those symbols of the vainness and transience we come across again and again in the œuvre throughout down to the peace of the Colored Animal Kingdom. See on this “The Vanitas Symbolism at Johann Elias Ridinger” as contribution here to the 6th annual convention of the Dances Macabres d’Europe 2000 in Bamberg (partially illustrated version in the society’s yearbook “L’Art Macabre 2”, April 2001). Quite within the meaning of the ancient idea spread by Erasmus in the Adagia of

homo bulla – man a soap bubble .

The latter then here in the picture just as the folio equally weighted to the skull as antithesis, as hope, even though the latter appears to be a Period for the former. For

“ Solely the book as metaphor for scholarly studies could be an indication that only

the mind overcomes death ”

(Martina Brunner-Bulst and others, Pieter Claesz Stilleben as catalog book to the exhibition at Haarlem/Zurich/Washington, Stuttgart 2004, pp. 42/II & 72/II; cf. for the latter also idem, Pieter Claesz … Œuvrekatalog, Lingen 2004, p. 154/1).

With regard to the precious mezzotint technique in general finally – in Faber-Castell’s written inventory present here stressed by exclamation mark + underline as “Schabk!” (mezzotint) – Thienemann resumed already 165 years ago with the words:

“ The  mezzotints  are  almost  not  available  in  the  trade  anymore

… all worked by and after Joh. El. Ridinger (are) that rare that they are to be found almost only in some public, grand print rooms. I have come across most of the described ones only in the famous printroom at Dresden … ”

(pages VIII & 270).

Present one was not among these. And could be described for the first time only 20 years later by Count Stillfried. It documents the inseparable-multi-layered Ridinger, the artist in his entirety. For the “harmless“ Ridinger of common art historian’s judgement never existed thank goodness. Rather he remained

“ one  of  the  few  German  baroque  artists

… who … never  fell  into  oblivion ”

(Rolf Biedermann, [Master Drawings of German Baroque], 1987, p. 338).

Offer no. 14,856 / price on application

“ I hereby confirm safe receipt of the two dias you so kindly sent us … Thank you so much for your kind help and splendid service ”

(Mrs. M. K., September 16, 2003)


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