Netherlandish Engraving: 15th and 16th Centuries. In the 15th – 16th centuries, the Netherlands was one of the most advanced countries in Europe economically, socially and culturally. A feature of the Dutch culture already in this era was the brilliant flowering of painting; A significant and unique contribution was made by the Netherlands in the history of engraving.
Unlike paintings and miniatures in expensive manuscripts, engraving is intended for a wide range of viewers. The oldest woodcuts of the late 14th and early 15th centuries are of a generalized, primitive character. Due to the bright spots of the coloring filling the pattern from the brownish-black lines in the print, they resemble stained-glass windows in the lead grid of the frame. Their content was often associated with popular beliefs, and the manner of performance foreshadowed the development of the folk picture – lubok.
In the first half of the 15th century, Dutch painting and miniature are undergoing a radical revolution, which was manifested most strongly in the work of Jan van Eyck: the work of art begins to be built as an analogy to the real world. In graphics, the illusion of reality is generally more relative than in painting, besides the masters of early xylography did not set themselves this task.
An example of the Dutch woodcut of the 15th century is the “Madonna in Glory” (about 1450 – 1460). This sheet testifies to the excellent understanding of the features of a woodcut performed by the master who performed it. A simplified, slightly dry pattern is perceived simultaneously and as a decorative pattern. The alternation of curved rays in the radiance surrounding Maria, the folds of her cloak and dress, the curls of the ribbons with the Flemish couplets – everything is marked by a special completion, which is typical for works based on established tradition. The abstract beauty of the decorative solution in engraving is far from the realistic quest for Dutch painting, but a close type of Madonna surrounded by radiance was common in sculpture.
In the 15th century, the achievements of the Netherlands are especially great in the field of xylography. In the cities of Flanders, Holland, Brabant, master printers appear, woodcuts are also used in monastic scriptories, replacing miniatures with colored prints. The text can remain handwritten, and can, as an illustration, be printed from a wooden carved board. Often it boils down to short inscriptions on the wriggling ribbons included in the image, and the book consists, in essence, from some illustrations. Such is the “Song of Songs” – a series of woodcuts, performed in the 1460s. The biblical text is interpreted as an expression of the mystical love of Christ and the church, the embodiment of which is the Virgin Mary.
In engravings, gentle, graceful-flexible figures of Mary and her companions, “the virgins of Jerusalem”, are repeated. The scene of the meeting between the “groom” – Christ and the “bride” – Mary, who gives him fruits from her garden, is distinguished by a delicate harmonious decorative solution, the movements of the figures are natural, the linear manner of performance is somewhat sketchy. Sentimental, naive and at the same time abstract lyrics, which is inherent in the whole series of images, is in a strange contradiction with the passionate words of the ancient text written on tapes.
Among the outstanding 15th-century woodcut books are the Apocalypse, which was made around the 1420s-1430s (the only surviving copy of the first edition is in Paris in the National Library) and Ars moriendi (“How to die”), created about 1460 – 1470-ies (the first edition is stored in London in the British Museum).
In the 15th century engraver and draftsman often combined in one person. Sometimes this led to the fact that the carver, insufficiently gifted and not experienced enough as an artist, created rude, primitive woodcuts. In other cases, the unity of design and performance served as a guarantee of remarkable artistic achievements, as, for example, in the engravings of the Apocalypse. It seems that the live, free lines of sheets are laid out by hand. Their lightness and expressiveness are emphasized the more strongly that woodcuts are completely devoid of shading and are mostly not painted. Flexible folds of clothes and, as it were, “undeclared” and at times not quite definite gestures attest to the continuing ties with the art of the turn
14 – 15 centuries, but the search for a master is not confined to outgoing fashion. The drawing of individual figures is peculiar – the characteristic faces of sinful fans of the “beast”, the blissful smiles of the righteous, whose souls are carried away by the angels, and finally, the appearance of the Saint himself. John – soft disheveled hair and a thoughtful, concentrated face.
The top of the xylographic book development is marked by the appearance of the publication “Ars moriendi”. Like the illustrations, the text is printed from a carved wooden board. He contains the instructions with which the priest addresses the dying man. The illustrations depict the devil’s attempts to master the soul of a dying man, inclining him to unbelief, despair, impatience, self-interest, and the blessed exhortations of the angel, who ultimately defeats the evil one.
The illustrator was undoubtedly familiar with the work of the greatest Dutch artists of the 15th century – Rogir Vander Weiden and Dirk Bouts, his woodcuts are full of the same intense spiritual quest. This is evidenced by subtle, nervous, mobile figures, freely constructed compositions, expressive faces and especially the person of the dying person – sometimes ecstatic, sometimes pacified, sometimes sorrowful. The language of the engraving gives the image a special sharpness, reducing it to a minimum of lines and strokes. Master
certain requirements of professional skill.
The artistic language of woodcuts, in the form in which it was formed in the second half of the 15th century, formed the basis for the further development of book illustration in the Netherlands. At the end of the century, there are illustrations in a typed book. A set page with a clear, even, mechanically identical font is noticeably different not only from handwritten but also from xylographic. If the text acquires the mechanical can express an individual experience, convey the harmony of the completed artistic whole, preserve the personal identity of the handwriting.
Illustrators of xylographic books of the third quarter of the 15th century do not simply translate the achievements of their contemporary painters into the engraving language. By their works they, in essence, create this language, just as Martin Schongauer does in Germany. If the early illustrations to the Apocalypse were an exception, then the book “How to die” is at the head of a large group of woodcut editions. They testify to the emergence of a stable system of artistic techniques, and hence the character, then the hand-crafted woodcuts become more and more complex and diverse. The type of the book with the type-setting text and black and white illustrations, which is quite familiar to us, is considerably different from the manuscript with miniatures that existed for many centuries. Compared with the manuscript, the brilliant pictorial subtleties and the richness of the miniaturist’s imagination, the printed book looks stricter and more concise. If the miniature was closely connected with the easel painting of the late 14th and 15th centuries, then in the xylographic illustration the image principles inherent in the graphic appear brightly. Gradually, attempts to emulate the miniature disappear, and the coloring of the prints is becoming less common.
Among the masterpieces of Dutch woodcuts is a series of illustrations to the book “The Discourse on the Knight” by Olivier de La Mars (the first edition of the book was published in Gouda in i486, the second in Schiedam in 1498). A dry allegorical poem is accompanied by original xylographic sheets. It begins with the fact that the author “in the autumn of the year and his life” leaves home accompanied by the Duma. The illustrator portrays them in the form of a lively conversing gentleman and lady. The dress of the gentleman, contrasted with the black patch and white shading, is contrasted with the pattern of the brocade dress of the lady.
The clothes of the gentleman and the ladies expressively stand out on the white sheet. However, this is not an abstract white background: two flowering bush at the feet of the chatters show that they are standing on the lawn, the bends of the road lead away to the castle. The lock is placed on the sheet above the figures in such a way as not to disturb their outlines. Like many castles in the paintings of Dutch painters, it is perceived not as a fortress, but as a home. It is from here that the author-hero starts off.
Other illustrations depict how he fights Death and Old Age, as he visits a hermit named Razumenie, who is present at the death of the recent Dutch ruler of the Burgundian Duke Karl the Bold in a duel with the Case (de La Marsh really participated in the battle of Nancy in 1477 and later the battlefield of the body of the murdered duke). Ladies, hermits, knights – allegorical characters of the poem, find flesh and blood, they think and act vigorously. First of all, this refers to the author. The large characteristic features of his face, elegant gestures and confident footsteps, in all likelihood, convey the face of Olivier de La Marsch himself.
During the 15th century, the Renaissance artistic culture was being formed in the Netherlands. In engraving medieval traditions are felt stronger than in painting. This also affects the rough decorative “folk sheets” depicting the saints, and in the illustrations of xylographic books reflecting the religious consciousness of the era. Unlike them, the illustrations to the “Discourse on the Knight” – a genuine product of the Renaissance. It’s not just their secular storyline. They have a new image of a person – thinking and acting, active and independent. The new world view corresponds to the bold originality of the graphic solution. The illustrations to the book by O. de La Marsha complete the development of the Dutch woodcut of the 15th century, they are already closely related to the art of the 16th century – with the graphics of Jacob Cornelis van Ostsenen and Luka Leidensky.
Somewhat later, than woodcuts, the engraving on copper begins to develop in the Netherlands. If woodcutting, sharply differing in their capabilities from the art techniques that existed before, requires from the very beginning the creation of a special visual system, then the cutter engraving is less independent.
Thin lines and small hatching, forming a complex chiaroscuro, make it possible to approach the pictorial possibilities of drawing with a silver pencil, miniatures and paintings. Most professional jewelers, masters of cutter engraving use as examples works of these old, highly developed art techniques. Often they turn to the works of their German counterparts, because in Germany earlier than the Netherlands, large original artists-engravers were nominated. Finally, a significant proportion of the cutter engravings of the 15th century reproduce extremely complicated gold and silver items of late Gothic. These sheets were used as samples in the jewelry business.
In the second half of the 15th century, a number of major cutter engravers appeared in the Netherlands. Between 1465 and 1485 a master worked here, who signed his works with the letter W and a sign resembling the image of a hand mirror or key (the so-called Master W with a key). The most original two series of incisive engravings, apparently executed in the years when he worked at the court of Charles the Bold. One of them is called “Battles and military camps of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy” (the father of Charles the Bold). The sheets with the tents of the duke and his entourage alternate here with images of equestrian and foot troops of the Burgundian army. Another series is interesting – “Sailing ships”.
In the last quarter of the 15th century Monogramist FVB worked. His best works are The Judgment of Solomon, The Crucifixion with Mary and John, St. George “reproduce the world with the same subtlety as the works of his contemporaries – Dutch painters. He masterly owns the technique, using its capabilities: silvery
a dashed patch, a gentle transition of a shadow or several light lines of a distant landscape. At the same time, most of his works are not original enough, they were influenced by Dirk Bouts, Hans Memling and Martin Schongauer. Among the master’s works attract attention unusual for his time genre sheets: “The fight between two peasants” and “Monk and spinner”.
A significant place in the history of Dutch art is occupied by the Monogrammist I.A.M. pictures of Zwolle taken by. The art of this master, who worked in the north of the Netherlands, may seem provincial; the anatomy of the figures sins with errors, the compositions are overloaded. In his most accomplished works, the influence of Dutch painting was manifested. So, for example, his engraving “Lamentation” (1490) testifies to the acquaintance with the painting of Rogier van der Weyden. Nervous, sometimes cold-restrained, then tense and disharmonious, the work of the master from Zwolle bears the stamp of a brighter individuality than the engravings of the Monogrammist FVB.
Apart from the Dutch graphics of the late 15th century, there are a few sheets of Alart Duhamele. A man of versatile giftedness – an architect, sculptor and jeweler – he was a resident of Hertogenbosch, a city where Jerome Bosch worked in the same years. In the engravings of Duhemeille, acquaintance with the art of the great painter left a notable mark. In earlier works, such as “The Copper Serpent” and “St. Christopher”, the outlines of objects are repeatedly rounded with rough strokes, the stocky figures are full of energy and emotional tension. Later Duhameel’s graphic style changed dramatically. An example is the engraving “Lovers in the Fountain”, almost the last one created by the master. In it, a thin line creates a nearly transparent shading from the outlines of grape leaves, silhouettes of figures and a light pattern on the fabric of clothing. The lady lowered her eyes, her beautiful face was serene, a smile on the chevalier’s lips, and his whole figure in a freakish fashion suit is characterized by rhythmic sharpness and
sophistication. In the engraving of Duhemeille, that original combination of enjoying the beautiful and the consciousness of his sinfulness, which was a characteristic feature of Bosch’s creativity, was transferred.
Many of the phenomena of the Dutch art culture of the 15th century became the source of the formation of art of the 16th century, at the same time these two centuries largely resist each other.
In the 15th century, compared with the brilliant flowering of painting, engraving played a modest role. In the next century, it not only became very popular, but also began to actively participate in the process of artistic development. The 16th century – the time of profound historical changes in Western Europe, was for the Netherlands an era of bourgeois revolution. The artistic culture of this time is particularly complex. The national artistic tradition undergoes profound changes, the fascination with the art of the Italian Renaissance spreads, and the strongest influence of Albrecht Durer is reflected in the graph. Varied tendencies are sometimes intertwined in the same work. The appeal to a wide audience and to a narrow circle of educated connoisseurs, the desire to approach nature and the logical construction of abstract forms, immediate experience and extreme rationalism, adherence to tradition and a bold experiment – all this exists simultaneously.
So, almost the same years of the beginning of the century are dated the sheets of Jakob Cornelis van Ostsenen and Luka Leidensky. The first of them – an outstanding Amsterdam painter – has studied woodcuts a lot. His sheet “St. Hubert” (1510) from the series “Holy Knights” testifies to a certain connection with the illustrations to the “Discourse on the Knight”, but at the same time is deeply different from them. Expressiveness, inherent in the work of an unknown illustrator of the 15th century, was replaced in the work of Jacob Cornelis van Ostsanen with magnificent decorative splendor. Curls of curls, bends of ostrich feathers and rays of a halo create a triple crown around the head of a saint. Ability to transfer volume through a variety of hatching, knowledge of anatomy is based not so much on personal achievements of Jacob van Ostsanen, as on Durer’s schedule. For borrowings from the engravings of Durer, indicate and some details, for example, surrounded by herbs stump, to which a plate with the date and monogram of the master is leaning. The artistic language of Jakob Cornelis van Ostsenen’s engravings is modern, but the figurative structure of his sheet is extremely traditional. There is no hint that the artist lives in the era of spiritual ferment, which prepared the Reformation. Meanwhile, this circumstance in one form or another often affects the work of his younger contemporary, Luka Leidensky.
The largest Dutch painter and engraver of the first third of the 16th century, Luka Leidensky already in his earliest sheets, dated 1508, appears as a brilliant master of cutter engraving. Who was his teacher in this field is unknown. In the Netherlands, there was enough ground for the emergence of a great master, but here (unlike Germany at the time of Durer’s youth), there were no established traditions in engraving, which, while contributing to the formation of Luke’s style, would at the same time guide his searches in a certain direction. The artist shows astonishing independence in the choice and interpretation of plots and in the technical solution of his works.
Among the earliest works of the master is the engraving “Susanna and the Elders” (circa 1508). Hiding behind a tree, two men peek behind Susanna. Departing from the biblical text, the artist depicts them not as old, but emphasizes the ugliness and malice of one of them and the defectiveness of the other. Wide light clothing of the latter lays down indefinite, crumpled folds, the finest hatching conveys the play of shadows in their bends. Figures of both men are surrounded by closed outlines of a cliff, as if fenced off from the peaceful distant landscape surrounding Susanna.
No less dramatic episode of the biblical story is reproduced by Luke in the engraving “David before Saul” (circa 1509). He achieves undoubted psychological expressiveness in the image of the insane king Saul, absorbed in depressing thoughts and visions. Before his throne stands a strong figure of David. In the crowd filling the second plan, two men near the throne of Saul reason about what is happening. The left one, pointing to the king’s hand, features features of the artist himself. In these characters, one can see the manifestation of a new understanding of the Bible for the era: its text is perceived not as a system of theological dogmas, but as a statement of real events, giving food for moral and philosophical reflection.
Such subjects as “Susanna and the Elders” and in particular “David before Saul” did not have a stable iconographic tradition; in the art of that time they met quite rarely and only later became more popular. Their choice was a manifestation of the creative independence of the young artist. On the contrary, in the famous engraving of “The Man” (1510), he addresses one of the scenes of the Passion of Christ, extremely common in the Dutch art of the end
15 – the beginning of the 16th century. However, in his engraving, Luka retreats not only from the external iconographic canon, but also from the range of thoughts and emotions associated with the traditional interpretation of this story. Before, the attention of artists was focused on the figure of Christ. Luke moves Christ away from Pilate and a group of guards to the background. True, he emphasizes the importance of this group, placing it in the center, on a high esplanade, and opposing the rest of the figures. The artist is captivated by the architectural side of the image. Flawlessly building a perspective, he cleanly conveys the outlines of some imaginary beautiful city, in which the Gothic towers alternate with the Renaissance palazzo. The city serves as a stage where the events are played out as a spectacle, and the focus is not Christ, but the crowd of citizens. A group of people at the foot of the esplanade menacingly, excitedly gesticulating, demanding his execution, but there are also calm, indifferent observers: a woman leads the child’s hand, curious peeps out of the windows. / The dramatic events are largely lost, the high tragedy recedes into the background in front of genre scene. Fascinated by the innovative solution of professional problems, Luka looks from the outside as he looks at what is going on, not taking too much into his tragic meaning. The engraving of Luke caused a long string of imitations. Her composition in the 16th century is repeated by Peter Artsen, and in 17 by Rembrandt.
In the writings of Luke Leidensky, a tendency to pre-writing is often manifested, but it is purely
there are very few genre scenes among them. In the Dutch art of the beginning of the 16th century, such images usually have an instructive meaning: the old man embraces a young woman, and in the meantime, his wallet is stolen; changed, counting coins, betrayed the sin of stinginess. A great rarity in the art of these years is the appearance of a domestic scene that does not contain any hint of an entertaining story or a moralizing conclusion. This is the engraving of Luka Leidensky’s “Cowboy” (1510). The everyday life of the barnyard seemed so interesting to the artist that it became the theme of his work in itself. The composition, built on the horizontals and verticals, is distinguished by a severe geometricity. Powerful trees, animals, a shepherd, a young woman-barn – all this lives a single life, which is hardly true (as sometimes the researchers do) reduce only to physical existence. Everything here has a special hidden spirituality, an inner significance inherent in nature.
The work of Luke reveals the greatness of ordinary people and things, thus the artist anticipates one of the most important trends: several decades later, in the middle of the 16th century, the peasant household genre, under the brush of P.Artsen, I. Bakelar and the great P. Brueghel, will become one of the important components of the Dutch art.
Works relating to the early period of Luke Leidensky’s creative work are striking in the variety of themes, moods, compositional decisions and techniques of cutter engraving.
In the same sheet, the artist uses a white background of paper and dark spots of thick hatching, a thin line and a complex system of strokes that convey the subtle nuances of chiaroscuro and textures. Engravings Luke give the hand of a born painter with a characteristic for the Dutch acute sensation of the light and air environment. It is not for nothing that the landscape landscapes in the engraving “Susanna and the Elders” and the full motions that shine with the cloudy skies of heaven in the “Se-Man” sheet are remarkable for their special subtlety and artistic richness.
In the following years, Luke moves from a tense, diverse creative quest to a greater uniformity in narrative techniques, compositional decisions and technical execution (a series of scenes from the biblical story of Joseph, 1512, “Idolatry of Solomon”, 1514, “Esther before Artaxerxes,” “Temptation of Christ, 1518 and others). Despite the appearance of such an outstanding sheet as “Golgotha” (15×7), in general, its work dramatically weakened dramatic. “In some cases, the action seems to spread over the sheet, splitting into several groups and episodes. This is especially characteristic of the well-known engraving “The Dance of the Magdalene” (1519). The beautiful Magdalene slowly moves in a quiet dance, around her there are several loving couples. In the distance, a holy figure repeats, she rushes on horseback at the head of cavalcade hunters. At the top of the sheet are depicted angels, carrying to the sky its tiny figure. This last episode is barely noticeable and does not at all affect the perception of the whole. Instead of an instructive story about the ascetic life of the hermit, Luke shows the carefree existence of beautiful, healthy people among nature. The artist refers here to the well-known theme “The Garden of Love,” which acquires in his work a Renaissance full-bloodedness.
Around 1520, Luke left his native Leiden and undertook a trip to the Southern Netherlands.
In 1521 he met in Antwerp with Durer, whose graphic works he had known before. Durer wrote in his travel diary that he had exchanged a set of prints of all Luke’s engravings for a corresponding number of his own sheets. The Dutchman met with Durer and a more detailed acquaintance with his work made a strong impression. Apparently, after learning about the experiences of the German master in the field of etching, Luke begins to use etching as early as 1520. The etchings of Durer are very few, but they are noticeable that the master guesses the special features of the new technique. Luke does not make clean etchings; he connects etching and work with a cutter on the same copper board. An example is the “Portrait of the Emperor Maximilian I” (1520). Borrowing an image from the woodcut of Durer, the artist with brilliance reproduces it in a cutter engraving, reaching very clear, sculpted plastic volumes. Okolichnosti and framing are executed in the technique of etching. Naturally, the task of creating a single graphic work gave rise to the desire to liken the etching to a cutter engraving. True, there was also the opposite: the experience of working in etching sometimes led the engraver to a freer, more flexible handle of the cutter, and the curved “commas” of short lines began to resemble the techniques of an etching. Probably, it is no coincidence that this more fluent and lively manner is especially noticeable in the engraving, known as “Ulenspiegel” (1520), which depicts a wandering piper with his numerous family with casual humor.
Masterly mastering the technique, Luka Leidensky could easily repeat certain techniques of Durer, but he was completely unavailable the most complex content of the art of the German master. The attempt to compete with him in this leads Luka from his own path. The change in the creative interests of the artist was also influenced by the acquaintance with the painter Jan Gossart, who, returning from Italy, sought to imitate antiquity and the Italian classics. This fascination seized many Dutch people, including Luka Leidensky. In his later pages, the generalized volumes of nudes are constructed using mechanical shading (the series “Virtues”, “Venus, Mars and Cupid”, 1530), the subtle picturesque play of light and shade disappears, which was one of the most important sources of the artistic wealth of his engravings.
Under the incisor of Luke Leyden, Dutch engraving begins to play an active role in the overall artistic development of the era. Often it is in the engraving that the master first poses those problems that will subsequently be of concern to several generations of artists. Luke’s work falls on one of the turning points in the history of Dutch art – the moment of the final transition from the traditions of the Middle Ages, which still made themselves felt in the culture of the 15th century, to the principles of Renaissance art. Luka Leidensky was one of the masters who carried out this revolution. The Renaissance culture in the Netherlands took on a peculiar form: interest in human personality was combined here with a heightened interest in the environment in which man lives. It is no accident that the landscape plays an important role in Luke’s engravings. Understanding the beauty of nature master inherits from his predecessors – Dutch painters of the 15th century. In this respect, he could have learned little in an engraving of the 15th century with its generalized, rather abstract language, especially characteristic of the then dominant woodcuts.
In the 16th century chart, woodcut continues to occupy a significant place. The possibility of a large circulation makes it especially suitable for book illustrations. Woodblock continue to be used for folk pictures of religious and secular content. In this technique, working and major artists, but for the most part they are limited to what make a drawing and transmit it for reproduction by an experienced carver. This was already done by Albrecht Durer, and under his guidance the carvers achieved high technical perfection, which served as a model for neighboring countries.
Figures for woodcuts were made by Luka Leidensky. In most cases, the sheets on them are coarser and archaic than its incisive engravings. However, some of them are distinguished by high decorative qualities, for example, the well-known sheet “Aristotle and Phylida”, and sometimes the genuine innovative expressiveness of the graphic language (“The Sacrifice of Abraham”, circa 1567 – Tsgo).
The artistic ideas and techniques brought to the Dutch graphics by Luka Leidensky, the technical achievements of Durer and the artists of his circle, and finally the spirit of innovation inherent in the culture of the era – all this leads to a noticeable shift in the Dutch woodcut. This can be seen by comparing the sheet of Jacob Cornelis van Ostsenen “St. Hubert” (1510) with the xylograph “The Sermon of Christ on the Lake,” which was performed by an unknown master in the 1520s according to the drawing of the painter Jan Swart van Groningen. Graphic sheets of both masters reflected the general situation that has developed in Dutch art. The difference in the time of their creation is relatively small – a little more than ten years, but these were years of Luke Leidensky’s active work and ever more extensive familiarity with the graphics of Albrecht Durer. A woodcut by the drawing of Jan Swart van Groningen shows that for the Dutch art it was the years of radical changes. There is a new understanding of nature and man, space and volume. Expressive lines of xylography convey the majestic expanse of sky, earth, water. Despite the generality, the landscape is very convincing and reliable. This is facilitated by a new unity of spatial resolution for the art of that time. The image of the sermonists is also specific. The artist tries to imagine the gospel episode as a real event, happening somewhere in the East. In the foreground, he identifies a group of respectable husbands in exotic clothes. All these conquests are the basis for the further development of Dutch graphics.
Europe of the 16th century is flooded with a mass of engravings depicting everything that could interest people of that time: episodes from the Holy Scripture and the hagiographic literature, historical events, landscapes, costumes, everyday life and customs of peoples of different countries, various sights, occupations and crafts, portraits of contemporaries, as well as historical and legendary persons, instructive allegories. Here and the execution of the criminal, and the entrance of Emperor Charles V to Rome, and “The customs and customs of the Turks” (a series of woodcuts according to the drawings of Cook van Alst). There are large traders, they are publishers of engravings, which are constantly working a large group of masters. Famous merchant Jerome Kok, Antwerp publisher and engraver, owner of the shop “On the four winds,” published prints on drawings by Peter Brueghel. The name of the Antwerp publisher of Planten is widely known. A significant part of the graphic production was book illustrations.
The wave of reproductive graphics is growing in the middle of the century. The basis for the creation of engravings are the drawings of major Dutch painters. Especially a large number of prints was performed according to the drawings of Martin van Heemskerk. Many of them were not distinguished by high artistic merit, but they gave an original solution of this or that biblical scene. They exerted a noticeable influence on the iconography of religious subjects, which undergoes in
16th century significant changes in connection with the Reformation. Naturally, these tendencies were more likely to be reflected in engraving than in altar paintings written by the order of the church. Signs of a new attitude to the biblical text are visible even before the Reformation began in some works of Luke Leidensky.
The greatest Dutch painter of the 16th century Peter Bruegel the Elder, nicknamed the Muzhitsky, for a long time was associated with the publisher Jerome Kok. By his order Bruegel made drawings with a pen for incisive engravings, in which the requests of the art market were combined with the original creative searches of the master.
After returning from Italy, Bruegel makes Kok drawings for the series “Great Landscapes” (1553 – 1557) – / In them the majestic views of the Alps alternate with peaceful pictures of Brabant. Apparently, the Alps were one of the most powerful impressions that Bruegel had brought out of his journey to the south. As well as his drawings, engravings convey a view of the rocks that struck the artist.
In the “Alpine landscape” sheet, the axis of the composition is a narrow mountain river. On both sides it is crowded with cliffs of rocks, now naked, now overgrown with firs. On the tops of the mountains here and there are towers of castles. In the center, the artist compares the castle and the group of rocks closer to the spectator in such a way as to emphasize the terrible greatness of nature compared to the work of man’s hands. Bruegel is interested in the structure of stones, the very earth in this amazing mountainous country. The artist shows the structure of the earth with the help of cut-off contrasts, traces out the protrusions of the soil with bizarre bends of mountain roads. The rhythm of the whole appears as an expression of the hidden life, the irresistible force of nature, piling up these giant blocks.
The series “Great landscapes” is adjacent to the engraving “The Great Alpine Landscape”. The rider stopped at the right edge of the sheet on a high ledge. His figure serves as an indication of where, from what height the artist (and after him the viewer) surveys the deep valley and mountains, sweeping up to the sky countless sharp peaks. However, this does not imply a single point of view. On the contrary, for such works of Bruegel, a multiplicity of points of view is characteristic, although it is not striking: only a moving view can cover an immense panorama. The landscape of Brueghel is not an image of a specific locality. It is based on real impressions, but it arbitrarily combines and complements them, achieving extreme expressiveness and greatness. The image of nature reaches universal scales, since it is correlated not so much with one or another real species as with the general idea of the universe.
In some sheets of the series “Big landscapes” the artist depicts the nature of his native Brabant. One of the best among them is “A Landscape with Travelers Going to Emmaus.” If it were not for the signature and not the halo over the head of the average traveler, it would be impossible to guess the heroes of the Christian legend in these three peasants. Bruegel, as usual, “paints” an extremely diverse and picturesque landscape, combining what is really scattered across the country: the mouth of the river, the crossed terrain resembling the Ardennes, village huts in a quiet lowland, a castle on a hill and a city in the distance. Particularly occupied by the artist is a magnificent tree in the foreground, a complex pattern of its branches and transparent masses of foliage. In his early graphic series, Brueghel introduces a special type of panoramic landscape, whose remarkable examples he will later create in the paintings from the series “The Seasons” (1565). This type of composition sums up the previous development of the Dutch landscape and serves as a model for many artists of the late 16th – early 17th centuries.
In the diagram of the Bruegel circle, another version of the image of nature appears: small corners of the terrain, devoid of special beauties, they seem directly sketched from nature. Such are the modest rural species that make up the series of “Small Scenes” (1561). Now rejected the traditional opinion that the author of the drawings to them was Brueghel. It is clear, however, that the draftsman was close to the great master in his creative aspirations. For “Small Scenes” is characterized by a sharp decline in the horizon, so that perhaps the most expressive decorative motif is the pattern of tree branches against the sky, then naked, then in spring, transparent, then covered with lush foliage. Often engravings reproduce the village street, along which pets and people roam. Even if people are not visible, their housing is necessarily shown – village houses with low walls and high roofs. These roofs, covered with moss and straw, seem soft and warm. In the graphic there is a feeling of warmth of human habitation, which will be inherent in the Dutch art of the 17th century and with special force will affect the drawings and etchings of Rembrandt.
A different character is the curly composition, painted by Bruegel for engravings. Among them
the series “Mortal sins” (1556 -1557) and “Christian virtues” (1559 -1560) occupy the central place. They are dominated by a “carpet” construction: the composition consists of many independent motifs and scenes that fill the plane of the sheet. The artist does not seek the illusion of reality in the transfer of space and the depicted plot. A great role here is played by fantastic creatures, the humor of many scenes is built on ridiculous situations. Exalted moral teaching is replaced by a sarcastic story about human stupidity and depravity. The content and artistic language of prints resembles the work of Bosch, whose posthumous popularity in those years reached the zenith. Undoubtedly, Bruegel quite consciously refers to his heritage.
If in the series “Mortal Sins” a great place is occupied by all sorts of devilry, going back to the art of Bosch, in the series “Virtues” Brueghel directly depicts modern customs and customs. So, the engraving “Justice” shows different ways of interrogation and execution. Individual scenes are transmitted realistically, however, their combination on one sheet with an extremely arbitrary comparison means a rejection of the likelihood of the whole. The irony sounds in a heap of scenes (fishermen with fishing rods, sinking seamen, prisoners in prison), illustrating the manifestations of patience or hope.
One of the most outstanding engravings, executed according to drawings by Bruegel, “The Alchemist”, dates back to 1558. This is a spatially uniform, convincing image of the room in which a thin and ragged alchemist with maniacal passion surrenders to his experiences. His assistants are a scientist and a jester, according to Brueghel, an alchemist is akin to both of them. He is trying to make gold, and there is not a penny left in the house: his wife with an expressive gesture shakes an empty purse over his palm. A group of unattended kids not only brings relaxation to this painful scene: Bruegel and his contemporaries perceive it as an evaluation of the hero’s activity, as meaningless and useless as a child’s play. In the wall of the room
There is an opening resembling a wide window. Behind him you can see the road to the orphanage, where the alchemist’s impoverished family is wandering. A quiet street serves as a contrast to the noise and chaos of the main stage. This is the end to which frivolity and madness lead.
Engraving “Alchemist” is distinguished by virtuosic technical execution. It is assumed that this sheet was awarded by Philip Halle. Silvery reflections of the landscape outside the window, a variety of shapes and textures in the still life – these seemingly picturesque effects are achieved with the help of cutting tools, which retains the inherent precision and constructiveness of the form.
To the “Alchemist”, as well as to a number of other sheets, drawings of Brueghel are preserved. Distinct and detailed, they testify to the excellent knowledge of the technique of incisive engraving; here everything is taken into account, up to the direction of hatching. From the engraver it was required to repeat the work of the draftsman as accurately as possible. As a rule, the masters who collaborated with Brueghel fulfilled this demand, the retreats were reduced to the rejection of some of the finer details or to several superfluous figures reviving the landscape.
The connotation of caricature exaggeration inherent in some characters will become the dominant feature of the famous sheets “Kitchen of the Fat” and “Kitchen of the Lean” (1563), awarded by Peter van der Heyden and published by Hieronymus Kok. Here, first of all, the rejection of normal proportions in human figures, the incredible leanness of some and the equally amazing corpulence of others are striking. However, the unusual appearance of people is combined with a remarkably correctly noticed behavior: Bruegel shows how in different ways “fat” and “skinny” move, sit down, eat. The impression of both sheets depends to a large extent on the image of the space: despite its desperate activity, the “lean” do not fill the empty spaces of the kitchen, on the contrary, “fat”, firmly seated and surrounded themselves with sausages, hams and food boilers, occupy the whole space with their bodies , so that the composition is built on the principle of “fear of emptiness.”
Satirical graphics existed even before Brueghel, but she only illustrated certain ideas without resorting to grotesque interpretation of the form. In the paintings in some moralizing subjects, images appeared occasionally, approaching a caricature. Bruegel consistently decides the whole scene with grotesque techniques. Its content is not only moralizing, but also social. The artist acts as the largest predecessor of the art of caricature.
In the 1560s, Bruegel is involved in painting, but continues to make drawings for engravings. In 1564 – 1565, the series “Naval ships” was published, which, according to his drawings, was awarded by Frans Hayes. As an authentic Dutchman, Bruegel sees the beauty of the sea surface and the ship gliding along it, admires the plastically flawless form of the inflated sail. His attention is especially attracted to the heavens, now clean, now covered with swirling clouds; the artist watches the glow of the light playing in them and boldly shows its source – the sun itself.
In 1565 Bruegel makes a drawing for the engraving “Spring”, and a little later, in 1568 – for the engraving “Summer”. This is almost the most life-affirming his work, glorifying the fertility of nature, health and strength of man. Covered with ears of corn, trees, straw thatched roofs of huts – everything seems warm, fluffy and soft. The powerful figures of the braids in the foreground resemble the heroes of Francois Rabelais. Characteristic for Bruegel note of ironic fiction brings a figure whose head is replaced by a huge dish of vegetables. The engraving is executed professionally, however it is much lost in comparison with the author’s drawing, which is stored in Hamburg in the Kunsthalle museum. Brueghel – a draftsman and painter, who had dealt with engravers for many years, once tried to work on a copper board himself, and chose the technique of etching instead of a cutter. His etching “Hunting for rabbits” (1566) is the work of a painter, and not a professional engraver. Etching transmits the “picturesque” game of light in the crowns of trees and the clear clarity of the distance, the sensation of the life of the sun-warmed earth, the trembling foliage. The artist works in the same small, fluent stroke as in his drawings with a pen, not striving to use the specific features of the technique of etching in any consistent way. However, his attempt was unusually fruitful. At the end of the 16th century, a series of landscape etchings, painted by painters, appeared in the Netherlands. The best of them are the works of Hans Bol, in which the artist achieves great subtlety and skill. Later, in the 17th century, graphics of this type will get the most widespread, especially in Holland.
Despite the reproductive nature, engravings, executed according to drawings by Brueghel, played an important role not only in the development of graphics, but also of all European art. They are closely associated with the work of the great master and either precede or accompany his close in nature to paintings, but the analogy is never complete. The content of paintings is much more complicated and richer, but in the schedule the artist sometimes bravely introduces new themes, motives, solutions. Here for the first time new types of landscapes appear, narrative techniques develop, the language of the grotesque arises. It was the graphics, due to wide distribution, became the main conductor of Bruegel’s influence on the Dutch art.
For the Netherlands of the 16th century, not only the cooperation of many painters with engravers is characteristic, but also the appearance of a brilliant galaxy of professional engravers-virtuosos. Often they also deal with the publication and sale of prints. There are dynasties of engravers-publishers – the family of Halle, Collart, Sadeler and others. Their activities are of an international nature: the sheets engraved by them are distributed throughout Europe, and examples are works of artists of different nationalities, most often Italians. These masters are representatives of international artistic trends, in which late Mannerism is intertwined with academicism. This was the dominant taste of the era, and engravers proved to be its bearers almost to a greater extent than the painters.
In the Netherlands, the largest representative of this extremely influential direction of engraving is Hendrik Golydaus. Widely educated and versatilely gifted, he was a virtuoso cutter and was keen on woodcutting technique kyaroskuro. The illustrious draftsman, at the end of his life he turned to painting. Wanting to learn the techniques of great masters, Golydaus did engravings in the manner of Albrecht Durer and Luka Leidensky, even deceiving connoisseurs. He quickly achieved perfection of technique. In his engraving engraving parallel lines of shading curve, following the form, thicken in the shadows, come to naught, cross over, transferring the sculptural plastic figures. A brilliant example is the early leaf “Fall of Phaeton” (1588) from the series “Untrusted” by the drawing of Cornelis van Haarlem and published after the death of the master engraving “Hercules of Farnese” (1617) from the series “Famous ancient statues in Rome”. For the latter Golydaus used his own sketches not only of the statue itself, but also of the young artists considering it. Their heads are at the level of the feet of Hercules. This comparison makes it possible to feel its exorbitant power more acutely. Instead of an abstract image of the hero of antiquity, a concrete scene arises from the life of artists, familiar to Golydaus on his journey to Italy. According to the artistic worldview, this leaf belongs to the 17th century.
Golydaus was a flexible master, sensitive to every innovation. His works of 1580 – 1590-ies, when his art of engraver reached the summit, are distinguished by a rare variety. His well-known sheet “The Holy Family” by the drawing of Bar Tolomeus Spranger by its strict plasticity resembles a sculpture. Otherwise, spectacular images of standard-bearers in patterned fashionable costumes are made. Rising above the low horizon, they appear as if shrouded in shiny folds of a silk banner. At the same time, Goltzius engraves a number of remarkable portraits, which, perhaps, are the most valuable part of his heritage. One of the best among them is “Portrait of Dirk Cornhert” (1590), engraver, humanist and poet, teacher of the artist. Cornhert was the author of the song “Wilhelm Nassauski” – the insurgent warrior anthem in the era of the late 16th century revolution, which later became the national anthem of the Netherlands; his pen belongs to plays for the theater, treatises protecting the equality of religions. It was not safe to write them in those cruel times of religious wars. Engraving Golydausa pays tribute to the outstanding personality of Cornhert, his intelligence and willpower, the courage and temperament of the fighter.
A special place in the work of Golydaus is occupied by his experiments in the field of chiaroscuro technique. Masters occupy the decorative possibilities of a color spot. Usually he uses three boards: one sketch and two tones. The engraver differently combines them, changes the color of the tonal impression, achieving very soft, subtle color solutions. An example is the engraving “Night” from the series “Cave of Eternity”, performed in the 1590s.
Dutch engraving is a special, very significant area of the artistic culture of its time. The predominance of painting imposes a significant imprint on the development of engraving. In it often extremely thin, nuanced, “picturesque” visual perception is shown. The Dutch know how to see the beauty of nature and the simple things that surround a person, in their work the landscape plays a big role. Compared with other European countries, a realistic, democratic stream is especially strong and fruitful here, the top of which is the graphics of the Brueghel circle. The Dutch engraving of the 15th and 16th centuries played an important role in the history of Western European art, and numerous impulses emanated from it, giving impetus to the development of art in the 17th century.