“La Mer Agitee et Naufrage de plusieurs Vaissaeaux.” Paris, Augsburg, London, etc., ca. 1750-1800. Small folio. Etching. Full original hand color.
This print is a perspective view, or “vue d’optique,” a special type of popular print published in Europe during the eighteenth century. These prints were a form of entertainment meant to be viewed through a device called an “optical machine” or an “optique.” This machine used a lens to enhance for viewers the magnification and perception of three-dimensional depth of the prints. A mirror was often used so that the perspective prints could be viewed when laid flat, and this meant the image was viewed in reverse. Therefore, it is not unusual that the scenes shown in these prints were drawn in reverse, and there is also often a title printed in reverse along the top, allowing the viewers to quickly read the title. There was also usually further text at the bottom of the prints, often in several languages, which could be read by the operator of the optique for the benefit of his audience. The most characteristic feature of the perspective views is their emphasized linear perspective, done to further intensify the enhanced appearance of depth and illusionistic space in the prints when viewed through an optique. When displayed in the optique, the prints were able to transport the viewer into a far-away place—an unknown city, or perhaps into the midst of a dramatic bit of contemporary history. Another attribute of these prints is their bright, often crude hand coloring, applied boldly so to show the tints when viewed through the lens.