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Egypt, Nubia, and the Cyrenaica | Norbert Bittner's Imaginary Journey (1786–1851)

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Opening hours: Tue-Sun, 10 am - 6 pm, free entrance
Special opening hours during Open Days 2012
20. and 21.01.2012 10 am - 8 pm

Welcome adress | Eva Blimlinger, Rector of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
Introduction | Monika Knofler, Director of the Graphic Collection
About the Exhibition | Lisa Schwarzmeier, art historical examination
About the Egypt series | Ernst Czerny, Austrian Academy of Sciences

Team: Ernst Czerny, Monika Knofler, Mario Kramp, Lisa Schwarzmeier
Curator: Monika Knofler, Director of the Graphic Collection

Touched off by Napoleon's expedition to Egypt from 1798 to 1801 and the publications in its wake, Dominique Vivant Denon's book of 1802 and the monumental twenty-three-volume documentation Description de l'Égypte that appeared between 1809 and 1828, Europe was seized by a veritable Egyptomania. In Austria, Norbert Bittner's fifty-seven watercolors, which are part of the Graphic Collection at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna today, constitute the first testimony to this enthusiasm for Egypt in the Biedermeier era and were an early contribution to the dissemination of knowledge about Egyptian monuments.

Since Norbert Bittner (1786-1851) never visited the Orient himself, he drew on publications concerning three expeditions. His choice of motifs was obviously aimed at providing a survey of the region's important buildings and works of art by reconstructing an imaginary journey from the north to the south, from Cairo to Aswan, and onward to Nubia and the Cyrenaica. Though Bittner's attractively colored sheets are based on his models, they do not keep really close to the originals. Endowed with a strong will to create without hindrance, Bittner did not only change the details depicted, but occasionally also added new architectural elements, staffage figures, and pieces of vegetation. He tried to "improve" his models aesthetically and compositionally by presenting the monuments in stage-like settings. Ensuring his sheets' artistic value, Bittner intended to reach a public interested in Egyptian art. Compared with the black-and-white copperplate engravings, his delicate watercolors heighten the scenic and emotional experience of the Nile expeditions.

Besides Bittner's works, the exhibition also presents a number of drawings and watercolors by Franz Christian Gau and Franz Caucig, respectively, also to be found in the Graphic Collection, as well as sketches by Simon Leo Reinisch, the founder of Egyptology in Austria, from the Institute of Egyptology at Vienna University and publications from the University Library of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna on the following expeditions: Napoleon's campaign from his landing in Alexandria to the First Cataract of the Nile by Dominique Vivant Denon (publ. 1809-1828), the Cologne architect and archaeologist Franz Christian Gau's journey through Nubia from 1818 to 1820 (publ. 1821-1827), and Jean Raymond Pacho's exploration of ancient Libya to the Gulf of Sidra from 1824 to 1825 (publ. 1827-1829).

The exhibition is based on the art historian Lisa Schwarzmeier's scholarly examination of Norbert Bittner's Egypt series in the Graphic Collection of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Ernst Czerny from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Section Egypt and the Levant, is responsible for Egyptological issues of both the exhibition and the catalogue. Mario Kramp, author of the Gau monograph and Director of the City Museum of Cologne, could be won for the presentation of Franz Christian Gau's sheets, which are also to be found in the Graphic Collection.

Norbert Bittner enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in 1806. He began to study landscape painting under Laurenz Janscha and Albert Christoph Dies, but soon changed to the architecture class of Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf zu Hohenberg and Johann Martin Fischer. From 1812 to 1816, Bitter worked as a drawing instructor at the Imperial Seminary, where Franz Schubert was one of his pupils. Bittner became known mainly for his etchings of Joseph Platzer's (1751-1806) and Antonio de Pian's (1784-1851) complete stage designs.

Bittner's Egypt watercolors were added to the Graphic Collection of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna by way of Franz II. Jäger's legacy in spring 1840, though they were already listed in the transfer inventory of the Jäger collection of 1837.


A catalogue with contributions by Ernst Czerny, Monika Knofler, Mario Kramp, and Lisa Schwarzmeier is published on the occasion of the exhibition; 144 pages, 173 mostly color illustrations, EUR 20,--
Verlag Franz Philipp Rutzen , Ruhpolding.

Exhibition tour

April 4 - July 1, 2012: Residenzgalerie Salzburg
July 17 - October 16, 2012: Winckelmann-Museum , Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt
Spring 2013: Kölnisches Stadtmuseum , Cologne

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