Skip to Main Content
Michigan State University

Vibrant Treasures: Botanical Illustrations from the 16th to 20th Centuries: Martin Engelbrecht Peepshow

This guide provides more information about the plant-centric illustrations, herbals and books displayed in the exhibit in the MSU Libraries Murray and Hong Special Collections Reading Room, March-May, 2011.

Martin Engelbrecht

Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756), a native of Augsburg was the son of a colour merchant. He began his career as an artist by the attachment to a local publishing house but had by 1708 moved to Berlin where he was engaged in the designs after Eosander von Goethe of a the Silberbüfett im Ritterall at Berlin and of a porcelain cabinet in Charlotttenberg. Returning to Augsburg he was involved in illustrating a wide variety of works after various artist mainly on subjects connected with the decorative arts. However in 1711 Engelbrecht was again in Berlin working at a fine art publishers with his older brother Christian Engelbrecht (1672-1735). They decided to start their own independent publishing house at Augsburg in 1719 where they produce a wide variety of graphic works. It was with peepshows Martin Engelbrecht excelled having the unique position of no other publishing house or place of publication to compete against him. Engelbrecht was kept busy with the many other special graphics and employed two artists, Jeremias Wachsmuth (1711-1771) and Johann David Nessenthaler (1717-1766), to produce designs for the peepshows. Wachsmuth’s work can be found as early as 1731, and those by Nessenthaler starting from 1737. With Martin Engelbrecht's death in 1756 the business continued to thrive under the management of Engelbrecht's daughters and sons-in-law, and continued on well into the nineteenth century. ---Marlborough Rare Books Catalog, List XLV, 2009. pp. 33-34.

The Peepshow

Peepshow: Eine Eremitage odor eindiedlerei. Martin Engelbrecht. [Ausberg, C. P. Maj. Mart. Englebrecht. excud. A. V. circa 1740.

Around 1730, the Augsburg copperplate engraver and publisher Martin Engelbrecht created 'miniature theaters'. They consist of 5-8 scenery-like sheets, which create a perspective image if arranged one behind the other. Along with religious themes, these scenes show courtly life, the seasons...These small-size dioramas are regarded as the precursors of the paper theaters that became popular in the 19th century." (Montanaro, Ann. A Concise History of Pop-Up and Moveable Books).

This peepshow represents an ornamental hermitage, a must-have in the mid-18th century in a large ornamental garden.  The cut aways depict; [1] An opening in the rocks with trees, bushes and other foliage; [2] a bearded hermit on the right, in a brown habit, staff in hand walking in a wooded landscape, to the far left a warren of rabbits at a tree hollow; [3] a hermit to the left in his grotto deep in thought and pouring over a book, behind him a temporary alter with a crucifix and a flask, on the right a large rustic cross set on a tree branch; [4] a hermit in a grey riding habit tending a garden with rows of cabbages to his right; [5] a hermit in a grey habit, seated, his right hand holding a crucifix while reading from a devotional text propped up on a rock, behind him a wooden shelter holding on a peg a hat and cloak and a shelf of victuals, below him the entrance to a subterranean grotto; [6] a vista with a mountain in the distance, a lake in the middle ground and rocky outcrops to the left and right.

More information

The Miniature Theaters of Martin Engelbrecht 

Werner, Friedrich Bernhardt, and Martin Engelbrecht. Accurater [Akkurater] Abriss und Vorstellung von 94 der merckwürdigsten und fürnehmsten Städte Europas. Nach der Natur und Situation auf das fleissigste gezeichnet. München: Bruckmann, 1966. Catalog link.

Michigan State University