HUMBOLDT, Alexander von.

Fine mezzotint portrait by Paul Sigmund Habelmann after the painting by Emma Gaggiotti Richards

[legend reads:] Alexander von Humboldt. Das Original Gemälde befindet sich im Besitz Sr. Königl. Hoheit des Prinzes von Preussen. Verlag und Eigenthum von Alexander Duncker, Hofbuchhandler Sr: Majestät des Königs von Preussen.

Berlin: printed by E. Pfeiffer for Alexander Duncker, 1854 Stock Code: 131927

"A spirited likeness... which ranks as one of the best portraits that have been taken of him"

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Rare and very attractive half-length portrait of the great German naturalist, explorer and botanist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), the finest and most impressive version from the oil by Emma Gaggiotti Richards, an oval head-and-shoulders portrait, the original of which is at the Archiv der Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. It shows the white-haired 85-year old Humboldt seated, facing right, wearing what we believe to be the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle and another decoration at his throat.

"Emma Gaggiotti 1825-1912 was born in Rome but spent most of her youth in Ancona, where she was a pupil of Nicola Consorti. While there she met an Englishman, Alfred Bate Richards, and, upon their marriage, moved to London where her talent was quickly recognised by a number of influential patrons. In 1854 she returned to Italy, where she continued to paint landscapes and mythological scenes. In 1850, Queen Victoria received the first of a series of four allegorical paintings by Richards (depicting Religion and the Three Theological Virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity), commissioned by Prince Albert as gifts" (Royal Collection Trust). Thieme-Becker notes that in 1854 she was recommended to Humboldt by the Prussian ambassador in London, the cultured Christian Charles von Bunsen. The engraver Paul Sigmund Habelmann (1823-1890) studied at the Berlin Academy under Ludwig Buchhorn and Eduard Mandel; his work featured in Academy exhibitions virtually uninterruptedly from 1842 to 1886.

Gaggiotti Richards, "resided for some years in Berlin during the closing period of Humboldt's life, and attracted the notice among others of the great philosopher by her talents, beauty, and amiability. Ht sat to her for a spirited likeness in oils, which ranks as one of the best portraits that have been taken of him" (Löwenberg, Avé-Lallement and Dove, Life of Alexander von Humboldt, II, p. 402). For some years sitter and artist maintained a warm correspondence.

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Sheet: 442 x 365 mm; Image 334 x 270 mm. Mezzotint with etching by Habelmann after Emma Gaggiotti Richards.


Marginal tear to right hand margin, small portion of upper left corner torn away; a little surface wear and light foxing to lower panel; withal a very good example. Presented in a black gesso frame with conservation acrylic glazing.


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