Johannes WIERIX : Ars Moriendi - 1602



Engraving, 115 x 164 mm. New Hollstein 1848, 1st state (of 4), Mauquoy-Hendrickx 1493, Alvin 1190.

Impression of the 1st state (of 4) before the last letter of privilege was completed into BVSCHER.

Superb impression printed on watermarked laid paper (watermark: interlaced Cs with Cross of Lorraine). Thread margins. Excellent condition. A very tiny (1 mm) scratch above one of the musicians. Rare.

The man sitting at the table in the foreground with a glass in his hand is Johannes Wierix, who was 53 years old at the time. The portrait he holds in his hand is that of his wife, who is also represented in the background, falling as she is killed with a spear by a skeleton figuring Death.

Wierix had married Elisabeth Bloemsteen, the daughter of the stained-glass artist Nicolas Bloemsteen, in Antwerp in 1576. Louis Alvin, who named this engraving La Mort Subite [Sudden Death], writes: “It is reasonable to think that the main characters in this scene are members of the Wierix family, especially those who are sitting at the table. Their pose has little to do with the subject of the print; it is obvious that the character holding a glass and a print is posing simply as a portrait; the same goes for the woman sat opposite him. It is a portrait of the artist and his wife.” It is indeed possible to recognise Johannes Wierix, who also included his self-portrait in The Holy Vernicle with Supplicants (NH 556), which Mauquoy-Hendrickx titled The Holy Veil venerated by the Wierix Family (Le Saint Suaire vénéré par la famille Wierix).

As for the title Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying Well), it was given to this engraving by Van Ruyven-Zeman and Leesberg (New Hollstein, The Wierix Family, part VIII, p. 208). It corresponds to the caption engraved in Latin under the main subject: MEDIO LVSV RISVG RAPIMVR AETERNUM CRVCIANDI, “We are torn suddenly from life, in the middle of play and laughter, to suffer eternal torments.”

The theme of banquet festivities interrupted by Death, and the loss of the Beloved, are rather common subjects at the time. Eddy de Jongh and Ger Luijten analysed them in Mirror of Everyday Life, Genreprints in the Netherlands 1550-1700: “Company in the open air”, “Couple surprised by Death”, “Merry Company”. On the other hand, Death Striking a Rich Lady at a Banquet, engraved by Raphael Sadeler I around 1595, puts the emphasis more on the vanity of riches when confronted with Death.

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