Nützliche Zeitbetrachtung. [Zürich, 1651].
Bound with: MEYER. Spiegel der Christen das ist Bedenkliche Figuren und Erinerungen über die Beruffspflichten aller Stände. [Zürich, 1652].
2 vols. in one, folio (312 x 207 mm).  leaves; 17 leaves, foliated , I-XIII, [XIV], XV. entirely etched and engraved. 1) Zeitbetrachtung: allegorical title and 10 leaves, each with a half-page etched and engraved illustration of a stage of life, with heading and two-line caption above and verses below. 2) Spiegel: title within 7-compartment border with biblical scenes, 10 lines of verses below, printed from a separate copperplate, dedication leaf to Matthäus Merian [the younger], dated Zürich, 31 May 1652; 15 leaves with 15 engraved illustrations of which two on pl. 13, fol. 14 unillustrated, all but leaves 7 and 11 with the caption, illustration, and engraved text at bottom printed from 3 separate copperplates (plates 7 and 11 printed from a single plate), plate 10 with upper caption printed upside down. a full-sized copy with fine, first state impressions of the plates, but well used, with soiling and staining, first few leaves of both works with a few tears in gutters, just touching text of second leaf of the Zeitbetrachtung; stains affecting title and touching images of pls. 7-9 of the Spiegel; sewing of first gatherings loose. Old parchment over pasteboards with partially removed pastepaper covering, remnants of two green silk fore-edge ties, outer half of front free endpaper cut away, pastedowns with repaired tears. Provenance: small sketches on Spiegel dedication leaf and on front pastedown; first title with owner’s stamp in red (illegible); Julius Stadler (1828-1904), Zürich architect and watercolorist, influential architecture professor at the Polytechnikum Zürich, inkstamp.***
First editions of two enchanting and very rare engraved books — print suites with text — by the Zürich artist Conrad Meyer. Both contain engravings depicting both emblematically and realistically the stages and states of human life.
1) Nützliche Zeitbetrachtung: This poignant and funny Baroque survey of the stages of life (a “useful observation of time”) shows the progression of man (and woman) from childhood to senectitude. At center of the engraved title is a bourgeois family (complete with crying baby and a child having a tantrum) considering their fate on Judgment Day, with a crowd of sinners behind them; Death, a skeleton with writhing worms and snakes, reclines in one foreground corner and a saintly beggar prays in the other; in the background hellfire rains down on distant hordes and a few lucky souls ascend to heaven. The 10 engravings are snapshots at ten-year intervals, from 10 to 100, with other ages snuck in (e.g., the ten-year old in a nursery has a little brother and baby sister). All scenes show both men and women. Two are ostensibly self-portraits. The image of the twenty-year old may allude to Meyer’s own Wanderjahre: a man clad in boots and sword points with one hand to a book and with the other to a print, held up by a donkey, showing a peacock-feather-crowned mermaid with a sheepskin around her waist (a similar creature, representing lust or the Devil?, appears on the title and in the Spiegel der Christen), while opposite a pair of cherubs hold up a religious print and a woman sews nearby; all around are scattered emblems of learning (a globe, an anchor, a sextant, a glass beaker, more books...). The thirty-year-old depicts the artist at his easel, his wife nursing a baby with another child behind him; on the easel in turn is a painting of a man about the artist’s age, digging in his garden, with a woman and child at her breast. Behind the painting are Christian emblems (the cross entwined with the snake, a book, and the Tablets of the Law), and a lute occupies a front corner (Meyer was also a musician and composer). The prime of life, one’s 40s and 50s, are shown outdoors, working hard but enjoying the fullness of la belle saison. The 60-year-old counts his money, and it’s downhill from there, until finally death arrives, gently for the lady, and with a spear and hideous visage for her frightened husband, still resisting.
This is one of meyer’s scarcest and most visually satisfying engraved books. Meyer’s engravings contain complex mises-en-scène, depicting two or three foreground figures, often acting independently of each other, while in the background tapestries, murals, pastoral scenes, or pictures within the picture add further symbolic elements to the meticulously planned images. With every element perfectly balanced, the engravings are unconfusing, uncluttered, and clear. The author of the verses is unknown. Meyer was a talented writer and they may have been his own.
2) The Spiegel der Christen describes and illustrates emblematically the duties of various types of devout Christian: the pastor and members of his flock, the powerful (Obrigkeiten) and their subjects (Untertanen), married couples, parents and teachers, children, young men & women and the widowed (lumped together), servants, and those who care for the poor. The dedication to Matthäus Merian (the younger, since Merian senior had died in June 1650), is printed on the second leaf along with a note to the reader, dated 31 May 1652, in which Meyer, embracing his Swissness, describes Christian life as a well-functioning clockwork.
Using the burin only lightly, Meyer illustrates the verse text by the pastor Georg Müller (1610-1672), which weaves together Old and New Testament passages (identified in shoulder notes). Biblical and emblematic episodes or objects complement the main scene. Some are unusually framed. For example, the Duties of Children shows two Old Testament episodes, referred to in the text (one of bears attacking children, from 2 Kings 2:24), on large canvases or prints held aloft by angels flying high above the delicately etched city of Zürich. For Judgment Day (Rechnungstag), the theme of plate 12, Meyer chose an emblematic scene of a monarch directing his underlings to add up (rechnen) numerous bags of money, a busy port visible through an open portal, while a tapestry on the wall behind shows the separation of souls. In plate 13, whose text compares the present day to the times of Noah and Lot, the two etchings show in the foreground different versions of the Devil cavorting with Bacchus, while in the background are the etched Biblical scenes. The final, powerful engraving is of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ child through waters peopled by hideous monsters (and the mermaid with peacock feather crown), the Savior beckoning from the opposite shore.
Conrad Meyer apprenticed with his father, the engraver Dietrich Meyer, and his older brother Rudolf, who died at 35. During five years traveling as a journeyman through Switzerland, France and Germany, Meyer spent many months with the large Merian family in Frankfurt, who introduced him to Netherlandish art, a lasting influence especially on his engraved oeuvre. He became the “dominant artistic personality” of 17th-century Zürich (Lexikon zur Kunst in der Schweiz), painting portraits, historical scenes and mountain landscapes, and his engraved output was prodigious. His work was “of the greatest importance in 17th-century Zurich book-illustration. He placed his stamp on local book illustration during the Baroque period ... As a Little Master [Meyer] found his own artistic style, which expressed the simple, nature-loving Swiss nature along with a streak of idyllic pastoralism. His strength lay in his pathos-free depiction of everyday life....” (Leeman-van Elck, p. 117, my translation).
The Zeitbetrachtung was reprinted in 1675 and the Spiegel in 1657, in letterpress, with the title Christen-Spiegel, and a different title engraving. Of this first edition of the Zeitbetrachtung OCLC and VD16 locate just two copies, at Yale and the Bavarian State Library. Outside Switzerland and Germany OCLC records only the NYPL and British Library copies of the Spiegel der Christen.
1) VD17 12:653572N; Lonchamp, Bibliographie générale des ouvrages publiés ou illustrés en Suisse 2038b.
2) Lonchamp 2038c; Praz, Studies in Seventeenth -Century Imagery p. 425 (1657 ed.) and Supplement, p. 77, mentioning this edition; Landwehr, German Emblem Books, 435. Not in VD17. Cf. Thieme Becker 24:467; Leemann-van Elck, Die zürcherische Buchillustration von den Anfängen bis um 1850 (1952), pp. 117-121 (referring only to the second edition of the Zeitbetrachtung, incorrectly dated). Item #4202