Christian Ezdorf

A panoramic view of Prague
Signed with monogram and dated lower center on the bridge: CE 1821
Gouache on paper
29½ by 96½ in.; 75 by 245 cm (unframed)
Private collection, Sweden
Sold by the above at Uppsala Auktionskammare, Important Sale: Classic & Asian, 9-11 December 2020, lot 463
Private collection, Canada, purchased from Sotheby’s New York, 26 January 2023, lot 144

German artist Christian Ezdorf created this monumental panorama of Prague in 1821. The elevated vantage point for this sweeping view over the city and the Vltava River has likely been The Old Town Water Tower (Staromestska vodarna), from which the artist, looking Northwest, captured Prague’s spectacular skyline from the Tyn Church on the far right of the picture to the spires of the Strahov Monastery on the far left. The Old Town Bridge Tower and the iconic Charles Bridge, flanked by baroque statuary, are the central focus points in this composition. Providing an abundance of detail, Ezdorf entices the viewer to let the eye wander over the roof tops and church spires of Prague’s Old Town, the Baroque dome of the church of Saint Francis of Assisi, across the river, through the Lesser Town, and up the hill towards the Prague Castle and the Saint Vitus Cathedral which dominate the opposite shore. On this sunny morning the historic stone bridge is busy with traffic: there are soldiers parading, elegantly attired ladies and gentleman can be seen out for a stroll, farmers are bringing their animals to the market, two clerics are engaged in a conversation. One can spot a chimney sweep, a beggar, a musician carrying his instrument, as well as stagecoaches carrying dignitaries and humble horse-drawn carts transporting goods.

We don’t know if Christian Ezdorf created this impressive wide-angle portrait of the Bohemian capital from freehand drawings, or if he worked with an optical aid, e. g. a camera obscura, in order to achieve the almost photo-realistic accuracy of his depictions. By 1821, the year he created this work, photography was not yet invented, but portable pinhole cameras were widely used as tools in artistic practice. 18th century the Venetian masters Canaletto (1697-1768) and Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) are known to have used camera obscuras for creating their celebrated vedute, large-scale and highly detailed city views of Venice.

With this work present work Ezdorf clearly follows the tradition of the veduta. The sharp precision of his architectural and topographic representations makes this panorama of Prague an intriguing document of its time. It is astonishing how little the appearance of the Czech capital has changed in the two centuries since the work’s creation.