The Divinity of Detail: Raphael and Johann Gotthard Müller

Left: Johann Gotthard von Müller, detail from La Madonna della Sedia (late 18th–early 19th century), engraving. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Right: Raphael Morghen, detail from La Madonna della Sedia (late 18th–early 19th century), engraving, plate 42.3 × 36.5 cm, sheet 64 × 50 cm. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of William Gray from the collection of Francis Calley Gray, G2760. Photo: Imaging Department ©President and Fellows of Harvard College.

During the 18th century, regular discussions about prints occurred between engravers and the people commissioning the work, mostly about overall appearance and quality of execution and/or the terms of payment.1 One case, however, stands out for what it reveals about the visual interpretation of one of the most praised artworks of the time—Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola (1513–1514)and because of the light it sheds on the minute observations, comparisons and modifications that went into ambitious reproductive engraving.

In April 1794 Johann Gotthard Müller, a renowned academic engraver from Stuttgart, wrote a critique of Raphael Morghen’s engraving after the painting, which had been published the previous year. A few years later, when Müller was himself commissioned to reproduce the Madonna della Seggiola, he corresponded closely with his son, Johann Friedrich Wilhelm—later a well-known academic engraver in his own right—on the correcting of three trial proofs.2

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  1. Many of these contracts have been published in the past. For a general overview see: Robert Verhoogt, Art in Reproduction: Nineteenth-century Prints after Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Jozef Israëls and Ary Scheffer (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2007), especially chapter 2. []
  2. For a more detailed discussion, the older literature and all sources see my remarks in Christian Rümelin, Johann Gotthard Müller (1747–1830) und das Stuttgarter Kupferstecherei-Institut: mit einem Werkverzeichnis der Druckgraphik von Johann Gotthard Müller (1740–1830) und Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Müller (1782–1816) (Stuttgart: Thorbecke, 2000), 64–67 and cat. 30. []