The uncrowned kings of the Rococo: The Klauber brothers’ workshop in Augsburg
If the concept of brand building, marketing, or public relations had existed in the 18th century, it would probably have been illustrated with the Klauber brothers. The brothers established an engraving company in Augsburg in the 1740s, which also employed independent artists, and became the European centre for Catholic icon publishing, and reformed Christian iconography through new representative engraving series, leading it to new paths in the Rococo.
An illustration of the book of Psalms from the Historiae Biblicae Veteris et Novi Testamenti – Piarista Múzeum CC BY-NC-ND
If there are late 18th-century baroque, rococo engravings in a collection, they almost certainly have the Klauber Cath. sign at the bottom of several sheets. Art historians thought of the authorship of a mysterious female copper engraver, Catharina Klauber, behind the acronym, for a long time, of whom no historical data were available. By the 1920s, however, researchers had already reached a full consensus that behind the signature lay the engraving business of the Augsburg brothers Klauber: Joseph Sebastian (1710-1768) and Johann Baptist Klauber (1712-1787). The abbreviation Cath. simply refers to the Catholic religion of the workshop, with which they tried to obtain Catholic customers and patrons among the mainly Protestant engravers. The self-promotion proved to be so successful that their company became the most popular, most employed workshop in Europe, publishing Catholic engravings and sacred images.
Joseph Sebastian Klauber was first a student of Melchior Rein in Augsburg, then went to study at Johann Georg Wille’s in Paris, and later worked for Anton Birckhart in Prague. Returning in his hometown, he produced several mezzotint theses with Johann Andreas Pfeffel. His younger brother, Johann Baptist, mastered the art of copper engraving at Johann Heinrich Störklin Sr., beside whom he was primarily engaged in making engravings depicting religious graphic sheets: portraits of saints and Catholic dignitaries, icons, sacred images, and biblical scenes. In 1737-38, the Klauber brothers founded a joint engraving publishing company with Gottfried Bernhard Göz in Augsburg. Their first major project was a series of engravings illustrating the lives of the saints, which had several editions under the title ‘Annus dierum Sanctorum’. For the first edition, Göz made the delineations, the plans, which were then carved into copper by the Klauber brothers. Between 1737 and 1742, they worked together to produce more than 360 graphic sheets. Later, the Klauber brothers redesigned and re-published the series on their own behalf. The engravings by Gottfried Bernhard Göz and the Klauber brothers depicting Hungarian saints can be seen in one of our previous virtual exhibitions.
As of 1740 the Klauber brothers became independent and established an engraving publishing company under the names J. u. J. K. (Joseph und Johann Klauber) and Fratres K. Cath. (Fratres Klauber Catholici). Shortly afterwards, Joseph Sebastian and Johann Baptist were awarded the title of court copper engraver of the Prince-Electors of Trier and Pfalz, the Prince-Primate of Augsburg and the Prince-Abbot of Kempten, and made many portraits of secular and ecclesiastical leaders and their families. In addition, their workshop poured out multi-purpose reproduced graphic sheets of various sizes and qualities, from lower-quality, simple artisan products like sacred images, images for pilgrims, to series illustrating the lives of saints, the Holy Scripture, the Litany of Loreto, and other Catholic themes, and to large mezzotints and thesis papers of high-quality technical design and artistic demand.
Their delicate, elegant, rococo-decorated and -framed engravings are able to condense many scenes and iconographic elements in a very creative, playful way. Their graphic sheets are very lively, “densely woven”, but thanks to the masterful composition and imaginative framing, we can immerse into the details and can get lost in browsing them in such a way that they remain decorative, harmonious and balanced on the whole. It is worth enlarging, for example, their engraving made on the occasion of the consecration of St. Joseph of Calasanz. They tried to display the attributes and wonders of the Piarist order founder, practically his entire oeuvre, on one small, 9x15 cm graphic sheet.
It was a grandiose and spectacular undertaking, known as the “Klauber Bible”, which had several editions under the title ‘Historiae Biblicae Veteris et Novi Testamenti’… (or Biblical Stories of the Old and New Testaments), first published in 1748. It is a series of engravings illustrating the Scripture on 100 graphic sheets that often try to summarize the contents of one or even more scriptures on a 315x210 mm folio. It is almost impossible to describe the richness of such a sheet. A stunning, overgrown cavalcade of landscape and architecture, people, animals, plants, and contemporary objects, while the various scenes are usually framed by motifs related to that particular book. Thus, in the engraving depicting the Book of Psalms, for example, we can admire a collection of 18th-century musical instruments, while at the depiction of the second Book of Maccabees we can shudder at the arsenal of period instruments of torture in connection with the seven brothers’ martyrdom.
An illustration of the Book of Maccabees from Historiae Biblicae Veteris et Novi Testamenti – Piarista Múzeum CC BY-NC-ND
In addition to brilliantly harmoniously and imaginatively compressing large-scale scenes, oeuvres, or scripture books, the Klauber brothers could also evolve a small motif or an expression and depict it very richly. This happened during the illustration of the Litany of Loreto, where a series of 56 pages was made based on the concept of Jesuit monk Ulrich Probst (and probably the delineations of Gottfried Bernhard Göz) for the various invocations of the Virgin Mary in the litany.
The series was first published in 1749 with accompanying texts by Franz Xaver Dorn, but in the second half of the 18th century, and even during the 19th century, it underwent several new editions and remakings.
The special feature of the Klauber brothers' Catholic engraving business was that it also employed independent artists and copper engravers. The brothers themselves, Joseph Sebastian and Johann Baptist Klauber, created a type of copper engraver and publishing house that usually did less planning and made the engravings mainly on the basis of the inventions and drawings of other artists, which were published and sold afterwards. In 1770, even an extensive shopping catalogue was published under the title ‘Novus Catalogus Imaginum’.
In the case of several of their reproduced graphic sheets and engravings, Gottfried Bernhard Göz and Johann Wolfgang Baumgartner were the inventors and the illustrators. Even in the case of the impressive “Klauber Bible” that contains 100 beautiful engravings, they were probably not the designers either, but could have worked on the invention of Johann Adam Stockmann. But in many cases, it is not possible to know which artists were behind the engravings published by the Klauber brothers. A similarly problematic question is how the brothers divided workflows for each print. It is certain that they created a strong brand in the middle of the 18th century, and they made their engraving business well known and sought after throughout Europe, which also became a rococo innovator of Christian iconography and sacred image publishing.
Leader of the Piarist Museum
Translated by Zita Aknai
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