Sunday, 5 August 2018

Salvator Rosa’s etching with drypoint, “The Academy of Plato”, 1662

Salvator Rosa (1615–1673)

“The Academy of Plato”, 1662, based on a preparatory study executed in black and red chalk with pen and brown ink held by the British Museum:,0714.54&page=1

Etching and drypoint on heavy laid paper trimmed along the image borderline.
Size: (sheet) 44.9 x 26.5 cm
Inscribed on plate: (Latin text on scroll at lower left) "In Villa ab Academo attributa / Sua Plato condit Academiam / Salvator Rosa Inv. scul." (transl. “In the villa given by Academus Plato founds his Academy.)

State ii (of ii)
This attribution is based on Richard W Wallace’s (1979) description of the plate in the second state:
“The ear of the figure seated in the left foreground removed by being burnished out. His hair worked over with light drypoint. Light drypoint shading added to the tree trunk behind his head. Small amount of light drypoint shading added to Plato’s drapery at his right shoulder, to the cap and drapery of the figure farthest in depth at the right, and to the drapery of the figure in the foreground at the extreme right. Light drypoint added to several portions of the background foliage especially near Plato. Some additional burnishing of the ground and background foliage.” (Wallace, p. 273)

TIB 4512. 003 S2 [B. 3 (269)] (Paolo Bellini & Richard W Wallace [eds.] 1990, “The Illustrated Bartsch: Italian Masters of the Seventeenth Century”, vol. 45, Commentary, Abaris Books, pp. 337–39); Wallace 1979 109.II (Richard W Wallace 1979, “The Etchings of Salvator Rosa”, Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp. 272–74); Bartsch XX.269.3

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“The academy of Plato; in centre, Plato seated talking to his students in the gardens of his academy.”
See also the description of this print at the Rijksmuseum:

Condition: richly inked, well-printed, crisp impression trimmed along the image borderline. The sheet is in near faultless condition but the lower right corner has a few nibbles/losses.

I am selling this large etching by Rosa—one of his largest prints!—for AU$410 in total (currently US$303.48/EUR262.27/GBP233.45 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world (but not, of course, any import duties/taxes imposed by some countries).

If you are interested in purchasing this masterwork by Rosa, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

To make this very large print by Rosa extra interesting to contemplate, the British Museum holds a preparatory study for it executed in black and red chalk with pen and brown ink.

At first glance the preliminary drawing and the etching may seem very different, but close examination shows that the seated figure at the lower right in the drawing is a mirror image of the same figure on the left in the etching (as one would expect through the printing process). Going further the almost silhouetted hands of the standing figure in the near foreground of the drawing have been retained in the design of the etching.

For me, Rosa’s retention of these hands, caught in a momentary gesture of communication with Plato, is pivotal to the expressed meaning of the composition. After all what is portrayed in the scene is a discourse between Plato and his followers.

Beyond the compositional connections linking the drawing and print there are some significant differences that I find surprising. For example, Rosa has changed the arrangement of the two standing men behind the seated chap on the right of the drawing. From my standpoint in comparing the two compositions, I believe that the intimate interaction of these figures in the drawing is lost in the changes to the same figures in the etching.

Rosa’s portrayal of Plato is another major departure in the designs of the two compositions. Again from a personal standpoint, I find that the etching’s arrangement which shows the great philosopher in a seated position makes Plato seem diminutive and almost lost in the composition compared to the standing pose in the study. Going further, I also find that the leg of the seated man in the immediate foreground of the drawing pictorially “pushes” Plato back into the centre of the ring of his followers, whereas in the etching showing the seated figure’s leg less in front of Plato adds a note of spatial confusion to the composition.

(Of course, these observations are strictly personal responses and everyone will have different readings when comparing the chalk study with the etching.)

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