Hogarth’s Paul before Felix (burlesqued)


William Hogarth. “Paul before Felix.” London, May 1, 1751.   9 3/4 x 13 3/4.  “Design’d & Eth’d in the rediculous manner of Rembrant, by Wm. Hogarth”  On hand laid paper. Tipped to album sheet.   Very good condition.

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William Hogarth (1697-1764) is considered by many to be the greatest English caricaturist of all time. He was an perceptive observer and his illustrations of the social and political conduct of his day are fascinating historical documents and humorous depictions of human foibles, which have remained much the same over the last two centuries. Hogarth was a painter of considerable accomplishment, but it is for his remarkable prints, which he both composed and engraved, that he is best known. Originally, Hogarth sold his prints in his own shop, as well as through other print sellers in London. In the mid-1730s he began also to sell his prints in bound form. Hogarth’s fame spread and his popularity grew. However, while his prints sold well, Hogarth was constantly bothered by the sale of cheap copies. In response, he was instrumental in the 1735 passage of the Engravers’ Copyright Act, often called “Hogarth’s Act,” which prohibited the unauthorized copying of a print for fourteen years following its publication.

This is a burlesque satire of the biblical scene of St Paul declaiming before the Roman procurator of Judea, Marcus Antonius Felix.  The image was first used on a subscription ticket for two of Hogarth’s classical scenes (including his larger “Paul before Felix”) but it was so popular this larger version was produced.  Paul appears before Felix, so sharply convicting the ruler that his bowels are moved.  While those around him complain of the odor, angels and demons battle for Paul’s success or defeat: as the angel sleeps, one demon tries to break through his platform while another reassembles Tertullus’ condemning speech.  In classic Hogarth fashion, details and witticisms abound.