The Transformation of Picus into a Woodpecker
About the work
This delicately coloured illustration shows a scene from ‘Metamorphoses’, a narrative poem by Roman poet Ovid (43BC-17/8AD), which describes the creation and early history of the world. The image has a thick, decorative border, drawn to resemble a three-dimensional frame, and descriptive lettering along the lower edge, which appears as though written on a title plate, attached to the frame.
The print is one of a series of 17 engravings, made after drawings by French artists Charles Eisen and Charles Monnet, which were first published in Paris between 1767 and 1770 as illustrations to ‘Les Métamorphoses d’Ovide’. However, this particular example comes from a set which have English lettering. As there is no known English version which includes the plates, it seems they were published without the accompanying text.
Such images were popular with those who travelled on the Grand Tour, to study ancient architecture, sculpture, Old Master paintings and classic literature.
About the artist
Line engraver William Walker I was born in Thirsk, in Yorkshire. He was the brother and pupil of the line engraver Anthony Walker (1726-1765) and he lived and worked in London, mainly producing bookplates. Walker’s other subjects include portraits, landscapes, topographical views, genre and allegorical subjects, engraved after the works of contemporary artists and the Old Masters. He is known as William Walker I to distinguish him from the two Scottish engravers, known as William Walker II and III.
Charles Joseph Dominique Eisen was born in Valenciennes, France; the son of Flemish artist François Eisen. He was taught by his father, before entering the studio of French engraver Jacques Philippe Le Bas in Paris. Eisen later became Drawing Master to Madame de Pompadour and rose to be Court Painter. He was a member of the Accademia di San Luca, Rome, and the Academy of Fine Arts, Rouen. He made illustrations for numerous publications and the entry for him in A. Graves’ ‘Dictionary of Painters and Engravers’ states: ‘Almost all the more important books published in France in his time contain his exquisite plates.’ In 1777 Eisen left Paris, possibly having displeased Pompadour, and moved to Belgium with his wife. He died there, aged 57.