By Joanna Woodall
An animated skeleton thrusts the point of death across a taut cord that suspends the oversized body of an hour-glass from the face of a small, winged clock. The title proclaims POST FUNERA VITA, and the inscription that
Pale Death attacks all. We have to obey it. No colour or honour is of any help here. For those who have lived well, there is LIFE AFTER BURIAL. [As for] those who have depicted well, consider that they live in Death. A new life is set out in lifelike pictures: let each set out to be able to live after death.
Post Funera Vita is the final image in Pictorum aliquot celebrium, præcipué Germaniæ Inferioris, effigies, the large set of etched and engraved portraits of artists published in The Hague by Hendrik Hondius the Elder in 1610.1 The title, literally translated, is Effigies of some celebrated painters, chiefly of Lower Germany. In up to sixty-eight sheets, unframed, waist- to hip-length figures surmount a title identifying the artist. Beneath each image there is a short Latin verse eulogy in italic script.
Hondius’s publication greatly expanded, and incorporated in an altered form, another, better-known series of artist’s portraits, published in Antwerp in 1572 and titled in an almost identical way: ‘Effigies of some celebrated painters of Lower Germany’, rather than ‘Effigies of some celebrated painters chiefly of lower Germany’.2 This smaller, numbered sequence of twenty-three engravings was apparently conceived by the renowned publisher Hieronymus Cock (1510-1570), but put through the press posthumously by his widow, Volcxken Dierix. It established the basic formula of portraits of artists accompanied by texts which was reiterated in Hondius’s 1610 publication. However, in the 1572 series all the depicted artists were already dead, whereas in the later publication, these past masters typically constituted the first part of the series, which was divided into three sections. The second and especially the third part included living artists in roughly chronological order, implicitly constituting a progress from the past to the present, and finally a future ‘life after burial.’
This essay is concerned with the relationship between the 1572 and 1610 sets of prints, the first of which was, as it were, absorbed and transformed in the other. I am interested in how the two generations who bought and contemplated these prints invested the figures presented in them with life and significance. I argue that the 1572 publication celebrates artful simulation as a means of imbuing the printed portraits with value, whilst mourning the death of the original model. These earlier impressions turn from assumed ultimate contact with a living subject to engage an intimate group of knowledgeable and involved beholders in resisting the imposition of a firm boundary between life and death. At the same time, the series began to imagine life and authority in the figure of the artist in print in different ways, which were taken up and expanded in the 1610 Effigies, and elsewhere. Epitomised by the lively skeleton in Post Funera Vita, the later series combined a recognition of the limits of visual mimesis in the print medium with a renewed ‘life-likeness’ produced by invoking various kinds of movement in response to a more generic, free-standing beholder or market. Stripped down to the bare bones, these various and incessant movements transmitted a sense of animation that was detachable from the individual body and personal, lived encounter, creating instead a process that could be shaped as a communal narrative, a recognisably modern society in which names were enlivened and made into agents by progress itself.
This argument can be related to radical changes in the historical circumstances in which the two series were produced. Cock’s earlier Effigies were published in the wake of the Protestant iconoclasm that overwhelmed Antwerp in 1566, physically destroying devotional works in an attempt to break the ‘idolatrous’ identification between images and the divine presences that they were perceived to embody. The attack on images marked the beginning of a revolt and prolonged war in the Netherlands against the Catholic regime of the Habsburg king Philip II of Spain. Lampsonius’s prints were produced and published in Antwerp during the regime of the Spanish Duke of Alva, who attempted, sometimes brutally, to impose Catholic orthodoxy and loyalty to an explicitly absolutist Habsburg regime. The traumatic decade following 1566 dramatically challenged belief in a universal community encompassing heaven and earth in which difference could be accommodated and ultimately resolved through the imitative practices of Christian love.3 A sympathetic God, the source and model for this belief, seemed to be in retreat from the human world.
Hondius’ 1610 publication appeared in the northern Netherlands in the year following the declaration of the Twelve Years Truce, the ceasefire in the Eighty Years War between the Netherlands and the Catholic regime of the Habsburg king Philip II of Spain. The Truce marked the de-facto political separation between the ten southern provinces and the seven northern provinces of the Netherlands, which were already reaping the economic and intellectual benefits of independence from the restrictions of a conservative, foreign regime. While the Southern Netherlands, including Antwerp, ultimately remained subject to Catholic Habsburg authority, the United Provinces emerged as a new political entity in which power was distributed between mercantile cities and the Orange court, and the relationship between the church and the state was actively contested. Although there was a Calvinist establishment, different factions, sects and even faiths were tolerated and the political role of the Reformed church was hotly disputed.4 A new reality was being built in which consumption, diversity and change were beginning to be acknowledged as productive and profitable, in tension with the need for an ultimate, stable authority to underpin law and knowledge. This dynamic and relatively liberal regime was the place in which René Descartes chose to settle in 1628, to write, publish and debate the major works which set a mechanical conception of embodied nature into dialogue with an incorporeal, self-aware and thinking consciousness whereby humanity could still be linked with the divine.5
Cock’s 1572 Effigies are now valued more highly than the larger Hondius series in which they were later subsumed, and they have been the subject of more scholarly attention.6 The quality of the twenty-three prints is consistently excellent. Details, textures, highlights and shadows of the depicted bodies are rendered with a metallic sharpness and brilliance that both acknowledges the metal plate cut with a burin and produces the rhetorical effect of enargia, the vivid description that produces a heightened appearance of ‘before your very eyes’.7 Significantly, although the prints constitute a visually harmonious series, an engraver’s mark or name is frequently included, so that an ‘impression’ of the renowned engravers Jan Wierix, Adriaen Collaert and Cornelis Cort emerges through the cohesive ranks of celebrated pictores.8 The signs, if not the portraits, of these living master-engravers thus enter the procession of exemplary Netherlandish artists. The texts too invoke authorship. The dedicatory poem that prefaces the series credits the late Hieronymus Cock with the design of the plates and this poem and the verses beneath the images were composed and sometimes signed by his friend Dominic Lampson (1532-1599), a trained painter, internationally respected humanist and highly skilled linguist. ‘Lampsonius’ was a correspondent of Vasari and the founder of a distinctively Netherlandish discourse on art.9
In Hondius’s series, Cock’s Effigies were re-engraved, usually in reverse.10 Unlike the 1572 portraits, in which the spaces surrounding the figures are generally left plain, the later recreations of the earlier images, and the new portrait prints added by Hondius, were often elaborated with settings or ‘pictures within pictures’ that variously depict a characteristic work of the depicted artist, establish a studio setting or refer to an aspect of the artist’s life. These additional portrait prints could be described as a more motley collection, varying in quality, scale, conception and style within the broad constraints of the format. Although the differences and inconsistencies between these prints have led scholars to identify a number of different contributors to the series,11 individual authorship was not explicitly signified; the prints rather bear Hondius’s initials as the printer and publisher of the series as a whole.12 Similar observations can be made about the texts. The prefatory poem in the expanded series is signed by Hondius and mentions Lampsonius, but the texts beneath the images themselves have become anonymous and the verses on the additional portraits are written in less elegant, less grammatical Latin than those of the 1572 Effigies.
Differences in rhetoric and style can also be discerned between Lampson’s twenty-three poems and the additional verses in the Hondius series of 1610. Lampson’s verses engage with most of the artists in varied, highly personal ways, and often in the vocative, as if they were actually being addressed. They are also often characterised in terms of imitation or emulation. The poem accompanying the portrait of Pieter Breugel, for example, reads in translation:
Who is this new Hieronymus Bosch for the world, versed in imitating the master’s ingenious dreams with such great skill of paintbrush and pen – so that sometimes he surpasses even him. Pieter, [you are] blessed in your spirit, as you are blessed in your skill, for in your and your old master’s comic type of painting, full of wit, you deserve glorious rewards of praise, everywhere and from everyone, no less than those of any artist.
Moreover, Lampson makes three artists, Jan van Eyck, Quentin Metsys and Jan van Scorel, directly address the reader, as if these powerful figures can rhetorically overcome the barrier of death and speak for themselves.13 By comparison, the anonymous poems on the additional portraits in Hondius’s series, which were much more numerous, are more often written in the third person.14 Less diverse and personal than Lampson’s verses, they frequently identify the artist by listing the subjects and motifs characteristic of his works, sometimes punning on the connection between the name and the character of the product in a way reminiscent of branding. The portrait of Abraham Bloemaert (1566-1651) for example, bears the lines:
He was a painter by nature: having hardly used a master, he was yet not inferior to those outstanding in skill. He painted birds, ships, men, and grass and wild beasts, and, being Florid, countless joyful flowers [bloemen].
The fate of the original model
Both Hondius’s 1610 publication and Cock’s 1572 Effigies have previously been interpreted by art historians with reference to original models, authoritative ‘realities’ prior to the image. Jean Puraye, in his groundbreaking study of the 1572 sequence, pointed out the resemblances between some of the prints and painted and drawn portraits of the same artists and Ariane Mensger has recently attributed the rise of these ‘copies’ of images of artists to the increasing significance being attributed to authorship.15 In a different vein, Hondius’s 1610 series, which only re-used designs from Cock’s earlier prints, has been largely written off as a repetition that adds in quantity to the 1572 Effigies, whilst diluting its quality.
Fig. 2 Lucas Vorsterman after Antony Van Dyck, Lucas van Uden, published after 1645, engraving 23.7 x 16 cm, London, British Museum.
Fig. 3 Melchior Lorck, Hubert Goltzius, ca. 1574, letterpress and engraving 29.3 x 19.9 cm, London, British Museum.
The assumption that the two series are reproductive in character is compounded because they consist of portraits, and because the technology is print. In engaging with a successful portrait, our desire to make the absent or dead subject present overrides the theoretical separation between sign and referent familiar from the semiotic definition of representation. Representation in portraiture has traditionally involved resemblance and thus been elided with mimesis. Michael Taussig described the mimetic faculty as ‘the nature that culture uses to create second nature, the faculty to copy, imitate, make models, explore difference, yield into and become Other. The wonder of mimesis lies in the copy drawing on the character and power of the original, to the point whereby the representation may even assume that character and that power.’16 In the discourse that validates portraiture, the copy’s capacity to draw on the character and power of the original relies upon an originating encounter between a living artist and a living sitter. Founding myths of this lived encounter are the Emperor Alexander’s visit to his portraitist Apelles, recounted by Pliny, the Christian legend of St Luke painting the Virgin Mary and Giotto’s portrait of ‘his contemporary and intimate friend’ the poet Dante, as described by Vasari.17 Through this personal contact, a likeness can be taken in which ‘life’ is magically transferred from the model to the representation. Portraits ‘to the life’ are generated and legitimated by being taken ‘from life’.
Reproduction of an original model also haunts discussion of early modern prints, particularly in relation to engraving, which became the preferred technique for the representation of works of art and natural phenomena during the period in which Cock’s and Hondius’s series were created.18 In the discourse surrounding print, this ultimately came to be seen as an empty, mechanical process, a representation that broke the chain of substitution but still left the aura of authenticity attached to the unique, original model.19 Yet it is notable that none of the inscriptions or verses in either Cock’s or Hondius’s series acknowledge a prior model, whether in ‘life’ or in a previous portrait of the subject.20 In this respect they differ significantly from the slightly later, much better known ‘Iconography’, a series of etched and engraved portraits of artists in which the inscription Ant.van Dyck pinxit authorises the images by reference to original paintings by the renowned Flemish artist (compare fig.2). Moreover, the title page on the 1645 edition of the Iconography states that Van Dyck ‘expressed’ the likenesses ‘from the life’, placing them in the same category as numerous other portrait prints that are inscribed ‘ad vivum’ (compare fig. 3).21
Knowledgeable liefhebbers no doubt recognised painted or drawn models for some of the images of renowned masters in both Cock’s and Hondius’s series. In looking at Hondius’s prints of contemporary artists, it would also have been possible for some to compare the print’s resemblance to a living person. Yet there is no indication that the portraits in either series were presented primarily as reproductions whose value - or lack of value – lay in their likeness to previous portraits and their connection with a named artist’s authorising encounter with ‘life’.22 Indeed, I shall suggest that in the earlier series there was an explicit recognition, born out of the trauma of iconoclasm, that the depicted artists were simulacra that produced the impression of a living individual, whilst simultaneously avoiding or disavowing the personal contact between artist and living model which had previously validated portrayal. At the same time, hints can be discerned within this 1572 series of the emergence of a new kind of subject, in a reconstructed figure of the artist, which was taken up and developed in Hondius’s later, enlarged and more commercial publication. Here life-likeness was produced, not by means of mimesis, or even an artful rhetorical performance, but by enabling the user23 of the prints to animate the names in a variety of novel and different ways. In defining the authority attributed to these new likenesses to life, I shall draw attention to the material origin of the image in the printing plate.24 What was the significance of replacing the imagined transfer of life resulting from personal contact between the portraitist and his sitter with material knowledge of repeated contact between the inscribed and inked metal plate and sheets of paper?25
To the shade of Hieronymus Cock of Antwerp
In the 1572 Effigies, it was logically impossible to claim immediate encounters between the engravers and living models because the death of the subjects of the portraits was a criterion for their inclusion into the sequence. Indeed, in his dedicatory poem Lampson characterised the work as a whole as an act of mourning in which users of the book are asked to ‘be the companions’ of the late Hieronymous Cock and his predecessors in a funeral procession. Although it stretched back through time, this parade was not claimed to originate in contact with an original, living model. For instance, in Lampson’s poem to Pieter Breugel, quoted above, the ‘predecessor’ that is the subject of praiseworthy imitation is not the historical figure of Breugel but the dream-world of Hieronymous Bosch. Lampson’s poem beneath the portrait of the landscapist Joachim Patenir (c.1480-1524)], which says that the face is the liveliest of all in the series, highlights the absence or at least invisibility of an authorising encounter between artist and sitter, while at the same time making explicit reference to imitation and invoking the authoritative names of Albrecht Dürer and Cornelis Cort. The verse states,
That, amongst all of these, there is to be seen no image expressed with more liveliness than your face, Joachim, has happened not only because Cort’s hand cut it into the bronze ([the hand] which does not now fear another rival), but [also] because Dürer, admiring your hand, when you painted fields and huts, once drew your face on a palimpsest with his bronze point. Imitating those lines, Cort surpassed himself, not to mention all the others.
Lampson’s poem thus attributes the exceptional liveliness of this face not to depiction from the life but rather to the surpassing skill of the master engraver Cornelis Cort (1533-1578) in ‘imitating those lines’. Dürer was in fact a contemporary and friend of Patenir and recorded in his journal having drawn his face in pencil,26 but Lampson’s verse makes no explicit mention of portrayal from the life as the source of the liveliness of the image. According to the poem, the model made by Dürer and followed by Cort was an engraving of Patenir’s face that was inspired by the latter’s hand as revealed in his landscapes, not by an encounter with Patenir himself. Moreover, Dürer’s engraving was made on a palimpsest, a metal plate that had borne previous images, rubbed out and effaced in preparation for another one.27 Thus the outstanding liveliness of Cort’s posthumous portrait of Patenir is not attributed to a face to face meeting between artistic virtue and a living person. The emphasis is placed rather on consummate artists’ imitations, instigated by the artful works of admired predecessors and a copper plate that bears traces of a genealogy of previous images.
What might be described as the artful performance of likeness ‘to the life’ can be extended to other prints in the 1572 series. The skill of master engravers, in conjunction with Lampson’s poems, conjures effects of life for the mourning reader/beholder, in spite of their knowledge of the physical death of the subjects of the portraits. Effects of likeness result from the sharp and subtle differentiation between the figures, which is produced by inventive compositions and poses and the individualisation of physiognomy and costume. Some of the figures are posed in active gesture, as if talking or wielding a pencil or brush, and some meet the eye of their beholder. It is this that constitutes the visual enargia, the vivid description that creates an impression of life without necessarily reproducing a living entity. As we have heard, Lampson’s vocative verses and ‘speaking likenesses’ posit a life-giving engagement not between the artist and a living model, but rather between the depicted figure and a knowledgeable and emotionally involved user, who contemplates the images of his ‘companions’ and gives voice to words produced by their ‘intimate friend and contemporary’ Dominic Lampson.28
At the same time as emphasising the effects of an imitation grounded in naturalistic art, rather than nature itself, Lampson’s poem to Joachim Patenir tells the reader that the material origin of these ‘living’ entities is not the physical presence of the sitter but a metal plate that bears the traces of previous artists’ work. It is cut by a master engraver (Cort) who has himself been produced by imitation and admiration of the hands of his predecessors (Dürer and Patenir). The ‘life’ in these posthumous images is thus an effect of a combination of visual and verbal rhetoric in works that are, after all, literal instances of ut pictura poesis. However, this was not ‘mere’ rhetoric in the sense of a superficial manner of delivery. Lampson’s understanding of the metal plate as a palimpsest incises the material ground of the image with lines that have formed previous impressions – potentially in words as well as images. The plate as the origin of the print is here not conceived as an empty, dead mechanism but as an entity or body already imbued with a meaning or value that, although humanly produced through art and admiration, stretches back like a series of mirrors into infinity. The ultimate origin of this regression might be maintained, theoretically, as a face to face meeting with the living reality of God29 but, like the vanishing point of a perspective construction, this site was produced by the artist and not physically accessible to the beholder.
And there was a dark side to the 1572 Effigies. In the poetic dedication to the series, Lampson describes his eulogies on the portraits as the fulfillment of a promise to Hieronymus Cock, ‘a funeral offering, a sad gift to your shade.’
But, alas, all elegance [lepos] has died with your death. For who was more agreeable, [and] more festive than you alone, wittier, or at the same time more candid? Nor indeed was there a judge who could so well tell the value of statues or painted pictures.
In this dedication to a friend and fellow liefhebber, Lampson grieves together with Cock’s widow, with those who had close commerce with Cock or to whom he was known for his famous name, and even with Pictura herself, who ‘with loosened hair, mourns wretchedly that you, her glory, have been snatched from her.’ And whereas Hondius’s 1610 series of prints ends with a page entitled ‘Life after the Funeral’, the final print in the 1572 sequence is a portrait of Hieronymus himself, to which Lampson’s poem responds,
Am I deceived ? Or did the painter first take this image of your face after your death, Hieronymus? Certainly something torpid and languid in it indicates this to not entirely untutored eyes. But, alas, the skull, to which your left hand points with its index finger, speaks more clearly than anything [else]. […].
This is an unfamiliar account of portrayal in that there is an open-eyed recognition, accompanied by acute grief, of the limits of physical existence. The image is here construed not as somehow performing the miracle of life through surpassing skill in producing lifelike effects, but as resulting from a direct encounter with the body after death, underlined by the inclusion of a skull. Unless they are deceived, ‘Not entirely untutored eyes’ perceive ‘something torpid and languid in it’. Looking back at the other portraits in the series with eyes finally educated by Lampson, no difference can be discerned between the way the image of Cock is rendered and the other portraits.30 It thus becomes possible to see corpse-like qualities in the fixed gazes, meticulously rendered surfaces and arrested movements of the preceding figures. The life so carefully invested in these images becomes concurrent with and inseparable from the death of the original model. The only difference in Hieronymus Cock’s portrait is the skull which, according to Lampson, ‘speaks more clearly than anything else’ to the stricken mourner (even though it has no jaw).31 It fixes the beholder with a single eye and speaks inescapably of the abject; the material remains to which the face is reduced after death.32 This dead yet eloquent materiality is here characterized as the immediate origin of the speech that brings the figure to life, constituting an alternative understanding of the metal printing plate to the still vital palimpsest.
In thinking about the complex nature of the subjects produced by the 1572 Effigies, in which the impression of life is combined with an explicit acknowledgement of death, illuminating comparisons can be drawn with the description of Roman funerary rites in Book six of Polybius’s military histories. This was a fragmentary Greek text that had survived in manuscript and became more widely-known in the sixteenth century, when at least seven editions were published.33 Lampson, an outstanding linguist with extensive contacts in Italy, could well have known one of these,34 and Cock as an international publisher would have had access to such books too. However, my purpose is not to suggest that Polybius’s text was the ‘original model’ for the 1572 series, but rather that it provided educated contemporaries with a rich account of how the presence of subjects could be maintained in the face of their physical death. Within a description of the institutions established by the Romans to foster military virtue in their young men, Polybius states that when a prominent Roman died his body was taken at his funeral to the Rostra in the Forum, where it was ‘sometimes conspicuous in an upright posture, and more rarely reclined.’35 There a son or other male relative recounted his virtues and achievements to the multitude, so that, ‘when the facts are recalled to their minds and brought before their eyes, [they] are moved to such sympathy that the loss seems to be not confined to the mourners, but a public one affecting the whole people.’
Furthermore, wax masks were made, with the utmost attention being paid to preserving a likeness in both its shape and its colour.36 These posthumous portraits were kept in a small shrine in a prominent part of the house. They were also displayed at public sacrifices and were actually worn as masks in funeral processions, ‘putting them on men who seem […] to bear the closest resemblance to the original in stature and carriage.’37 Those who impersonated their predecessors were also dressed in their garments and bore their insignia. Bringing the dead to life in this way was conceived as a portrait that functioned effectively within the social and psychological practices of emulation:
When they arrive at the rostra they all set themselves in a row on ivory chairs. There could not easily be a more ennobling spectacle for a young man who aspires to fame and virtue. For who would not be inspired by the sight of the images38 of men renowned for their excellence, all together and as if alive and breathing? What spectacle could be more glorious than this?39
Polybius’s account thus distinguishes between three different kinds of funerary ‘portrait’. Firstly there is the wax mask, the facial likeness that reproduced the features and colouring as closely as possible. Georges Didi-Huberman has claimed that this ‘extreme likeness’ ‘supposes a duplication by means of contact with the face, a process of imprinting (taking a plaster mould of the face itself) then physically expressing the shape obtained (realising a positive wax print by way of the mould).’40 It is not clear that the Romans actually made their masks from dead bodies, although they were certainly concerned with physical likeness.41 We do know, however, that death masks were used to create the effigies used in elite and royal funerals in the early modern period.42 Didi-Huberman has explored the significance of such extreme likenesses in chapter thirty-five of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, the one devoted to the origin and history of art. At the beginning of the chapter, before beginning his list of famous artists, Pliny laments that such masks are no longer set out, each in their own niche, in family houses, or carried in procession in family funerals. Didi-Huberman shows that they functioned within the domain of law, justice and right, ‘to legitimize the position of the individual in the genealogical institution of the Roman gens,’ For Pliny, this imbued works of art with a dignity and truth opposed to the luxuria of artifice.43
In Polybius’s description, another kind of portrait is created when descendants speak of the virtues and achievements of their ancestor in the presence of the dead body. These speeches are addressed to the multitude and by speaking on behalf of the deceased seem designed to enable the physical loss to be absorbed into the community and transformed into symbolic value. The dead body is insistently present while the subject identified with that body is accorded ongoing honour and fame through the rhetorical skill of his living successors. The third kind of Roman portrait, to which Polybius pays much more attention than Pliny - and hence Didi-Huberman - is the image created when those who most resemble their ancestors in size and build put on the wax masks, don their clothing, take up their insignia and participate in the procession to the rostra, where they line up, ‘as if alive and breathing’. The subject, legitimated within the family genealogy by an extreme likeness, is here given life after death performatively, by having someone that resembles him enact him. By performative I mean both a physical performance and an ‘utterance’ that brings a state of affairs into being by the fact of its being uttered and is thus neither true nor false.44
These three concepts of portrayal can produce readings in which the value of the 1572 series of engravings does not ultimately depend upon the transfer of ‘life’ resulting from face-to-face contact between a named artist and a living sitter. The Roman speeches are to some extent comparable with Lampson’s eloquent verses, which are also concerned with the virtues and achievements of the depicted subjects. This comparison constructs the knowledgeable art lover, through the name of Lampsonius, as the ‘close relative’ entitled to speak on behalf of the preceding artists to a broader community. We have seen that physical death was an explicit criterion of these artists’ inclusion in the 1572 series, and the dead body, propped upright, is acknowledged not only in the abstracted gazes, immobile poses and burnished surfaces of the bust-length engraved portraits, but also in the use of the past tense, despite the first person or vocative address of many verses.
Drawing a parallel between the Roman wax mask and the posthumous ‘effigy’ of Hieronymus Cock renders him not just the immediate subject of the funerary procession, but a master publisher legitimated by use of a ‘print’ of his face. And yet unlike Polybius’s or Pliny’s descriptions of the Roman wax mask, which stress its life-likeness, Lampson characterizes Cock’s effigy as having ‘something torpid and languid in it’ that indicates that the face from which it was drawn was dead. There is a new recognition here that the material origin of the likeness is mere matter and that ‘extreme likeness’ on its own does not produce an image that is perceived as if it is alive and breathing. In fact, the appearance of the skull in Cock’s portrait constitutes the contoured face, the printing plate, as something standardized, empty and dead that nevertheless speaks more clearly than anything else, superseding any fleshed-out source of individual likeness in legitimizing the image. As a master printer, Cock points to the averted skull not only to symbolise the terrifying anonymity to which the individuality of both artist and sitter can ultimately be reduced by death, but also as a material origin or foundation whose very deadness, immutability and uniformity legitimizes the printed image, enabling it to speak with ‘objective’ authority of a particular subject.45
The legitimacy, if not the life-likeness, of the portraits is thus guaranteed by print’s claim to be, in Peter Parshall’s words, ‘a true and reliable record’46 of its subject. This claim was founded in the technology and medium of print per se, which constituted the depictions as information reliably transmitted or moved by repeated physical contacts or impressions from an immutable, material foundation, rather than by collapsing an image back across a putative empty space of representation to an individual, personal encounter with living, changeable nature.47 As a medium, printing in black ink on white paper obviously enabled images to be perceived in relation to texts, and thereby to an authority not attributed to an embodied encounter at all, but rather to the Word as Logos, a pure abstraction not encumbered by unstable, mutable flesh. In both Cock’s and Hondius’s series, a connection between image and word is encouraged by the direct juxtaposition of the engraved portrait and the engraved script, without any intervening frame. This encourages a movement or exchange between the two that has drawn comparison between such portrait prints and emblems.48
As it appears in the final print in the 1572 sequence, Cock’s eloquent skull is buried behind or beneath the other prints. Over and above this fact of death, the succession of lively gestures, distinctive physiognomies and dress, and the mirror-like visual effects produced by the engravers bear comparison with the third kind of Roman portrait: the performances of living actors, who assume the masks and habits originally belonging to their ancestors to make them present again, moving along in procession and lining up on the rostra. As we have seen, in the 1572 Effigies this performance of living presence by the engravers even accords the most powerful of the ancestors the ultimate faculty of direct speech. Yet responsibility for bringing the sitters to life was also given to the user of the prints. Lampson’s vocative texts, responding to the images as if their sitters were actually present, bears comparison with the reaction of Polybius’s ‘young men aspiring to fame and virtue’, inspired by the spectacle of images of ‘men renowned for their excellence, all together and as if alive and breathing’. Here the skilled but touchy work of making an accurate mould of a dead face is suppressed and the death mask, like the palimpsest, becomes part of a mimetic performance in which master engraver and yearning beholder are complicit, a performance that perpetuates a predecessors’ virtue as a valiant life-force that transcends their own body and hence their death.
If we view the images in the 1572 print series as performances designed to convince us of a living presence (even if it is founded on death), we might ask about the performers. Who are the living men who resemble their predecessors, those great departed artists of Lower Germany, bringing alive their faces, stirring their garments into movement and taking up their insignia? This is a sensitive question, because the explicit point of the 1572 Effigies, was to honour the dead, rather than living men of similar stature and comportment. However, since life must go on and the stated purpose of the Roman funerary rite was to perpetuate the ancestors’ virtue in the present generation of aspiring young men,49 the identity of those who enacted the images is also pertinent.
In Cock’s series, unlike that published by Hondius later, there is no indication that the parade of Netherlandish artists will be directly continued by living painters. The numbered sequence of prints is closed by Cock’s posthumous portrait. Perhaps, at this historical moment, when iconoclasm had attempted to sever the mimetic image from its original model and established authority was being challenged on multiple fronts, the independent future of Netherlandish painters seemed uncertain. Print provided an alternative and, while the 1572 series commemorates the great tradition of Netherlandish painters, it is engravers and writers who take up the challenge of creating life in and with the face of death. Lampson’s dedication to Cock suggests that ‘Pictura’ owes more to the print publisher than anyone because his plates would present ‘the new breed of artists in the whole faraway world’. The presence of engravers’ names and marks on some of the sheets intimates that the convincing performance of living presence was beginning to be attributed not only to the effigies themselves, but to the masters who ‘inhabited’ them through their artful imitation in the medium of print.
We have seen that the bare bone of the skull lies at the centre of the final portrait of Cock,50 and from here ‘speaks more clearly than anything else’. However, Lampson’s initial dedication ‘To the shade of Hieronymus Cock of Antwerp, the most famous painter and engraver of illustrated plates’, still addresses his friend directly, as if he is actually facing him:51 And the poet’s voice engages not with the skull, or with a putative living person, but, as it reiterates, the shade of Hieronymus, – the spectre resulting from death that is also an apt metaphor for the infinitely skilful and subtle evocation of light and shadow that can bring a print to life. According to Lampson in the dedication, this shade is the dimension of Cock that, while now divorced from his own living body, remains ‘married’ to his wife and posthumous publisher Volcxken.52 She dares to take on her husband’s work and is accompanied by Pictura as well as the commercial goodwill and reputation accruing to Cock’s famous publishing house. The reunion between Cock’s shade and this embodied, material partner produces a poetic image that subsumes and yet transcends death: ‘Fame, that knows not how to die, will sing you [Volcxken] and Cock, joined in my poem.’
A sad gift to your shade
Thus from the anguish of separation, of the painful recognition of death as constituting a condition of material existence and a boundary or gap between this existence and anything eternal, we see the beginning of the emergence of a new kind of subject. A disembodied, masculine ‘shade’ is radically differentiated from, but remains formally connected to a feminine materiality (in the person of Volcxken) that is associated with labour, with art and with money. This development is evident in the unusual print of Rogier van der Weyden in the 1572 Effigies, in which a shadow features prominently. It also contains a ‘picture within the picture’ that anticipates Hondius’s later work. In the background, a framed Pietà pairs the dead body of Christ with the living, mourning figure of the Virgin Mary (Christian Pictura), invoking the loving connection and agonising separation necessary to engender redemption.53 In the foreground, the embodied, individualised figure of Van der Weyden is paired with a dark shadow on a white wall. The representation of the play of light through the penumbra, and subtle variations in tonality in the shadow-head, produce an alter-image that, whilst connotative of death, looks alive and capable of movement.54 Meanwhile, the ‘actual’ face of Van der Weyden is seemingly dead to the world, apparently lost in prayer, thought, memory or imagination. Life in the embodied figure of the artist is concentrated in the gesturing hand.
Perhaps understandably at this moment of death and regeneration, Lampson’s poem beneath this portrait is complex, even convoluted. The subject shifts between the depicted artist, his will and his works:
May your praise not be that you painted many beautiful things, as your age could bear them (although they are worthy that anyone who is a painter in our time wish greatly to look at them, if he be wise – the paintings which forbid the tribunal of Brussels to leave the straight path of Justice are witness [to this]): but rather that your last will is a perpetual remedy for the hunger of the poor from the proceeds of your painting. The former, [itself] already near to death, you left on earth; the latter shines in the sky, as a monument that will not die.
The verse begins by relating the beauty of Van der Weyden’s paintings to the values of a different, past time, but then immediately characterises his works as powerful exemplars for the present, keeping both artists and judges to the ‘straight path of Justice’ in a way that recalls Didi-Huberman’s characterisation of Roman masks as legitimating the Roman gens or clan. Van der Weyden is, however, ultimately offered praise because the pictures that promulgate just law are elided with the artist’s last will, which ‘already near to death’, is ‘left on earth’ in order to ‘provide a perpetual remedy for the hunger of the poor’. At the same time, the ‘proceeds of these paintings’ have become an effect that ‘shines in the sky, as a monument that will not die.’
The poem’s two interrelated figures of painting, as a material entity and as an eternal effect, ground and illuminate the depicted figures of the painter and his shadow immediately above the text. In this embodied light, the face of Van der Weyden seems to be quite literally close to death. In addition to the abstracted gaze, aging is indicated by the scraggy neck, hollow cheeks, extended ear-lobe and lined forehead and skin around the eyes - features which are all modified in Hondius’s reprint. The shadow which ‘proceeds’ from Van der Weyden cannot, of course, actually survive the death or absence of its physical origin. However, as a poetic or pictorial image that is itself materially articulated and is considered to be an effect of a creator or maker, rather than to be transparent to a natural model, the ‘shadow’ can become a ‘monument that will not die’ as well as a source of symbolic and material sustenance for those in need.
Fig 4 Anthonis Mor, Self Portrait, 1558, oil on panel 113 x 84 cm, Florence, Uffizi.
In the 1572 print, the relationship between the embodied painter and the shadow on the angled wall brings to mind the compositional tropes of self-portraiture. Van der Weyden’s shadow seems to turn to look over its shoulder, evoking the iconography of the artist first analysed by Hans Joachim Raupp.55 The way in which the portrayed figure is juxtaposed to an angled plane is comparable to self-portraits at an easel, such as the one by Anthonis Mor of 1559 (fig. 4), a painting that makes a particularly interesting comparison with the print because the figure’s shadow seems to creep up over the pictorial space between the painter’s hand and the verse by Dominic Lampson that has been traced in black on a sheet of white paper pinned to the panel, occupying the place of the head.56 In the Van der Weyden print the arm that is directly juxtaposed to the shadow-image is truncated by the corner of the frame that circumscribes the wall on which the shadow is projected. It is implied that the artist’s unseen hand is connected with the shadow in a way reminiscent of the relationship between the concealed hand and the painting of Dürer’s self-portrait of 1500, as elucidated by Joseph Koerner.57 In the print, however, this connection takes place beyond the frame, in a ‘future’ space, and the image that is produced is not a likeness to the life as in Dürer’s painting. It is a materialised abstraction that emanates from the artist and is not dependent upon his encounter with an externalised ‘original model’ (even one seen in an infinitely reflecting mirror). It is also not a painting but a graphic work, text and image produced entirely in ink line. The concept of the image as the shade of the artist, separated from and connected to him by his drafting hand, provides an alternative to both the palimpsest, imbued with mimetic value that could ultimately be identified as divine, and the skull that miraculously speaks, but only as dead matter.
Hondius’s 1610 Effigies: ‘what is new and varied pleases’
In the introductory poem to the new and expanded series of Effigies that appeared in 1610, Hendrick Hondius declared ‘to lovers and admirers of pictures’ that,
Since we greatly admire pictures painted with varied images, which [pictures] the well-taught hand presents, and which, wonderfully drawn with every sort of joyful colour, greatly nourish the mind, the spirit and the eyes, it is also a pleasure to look at the PAINTERS themselves, who make and paint, not without discernment. Here are various painters [pictores]: not all have the same task, because what is new and varied pleases. All do not have the same genius. One gives pleasure with colour [and] shades; another with pleasant flowers [and] trees. [Yet] another skilfully paints fields, the swelling sea [and] rocks, [while] another is famous for cities [and] images. […] Among these, Lampsonius, the greatest judge of painters, once celebrated some in verse. […] O happy age, in which Apelles lives again, in which Zeuxis, Phidias and Myron himself live.
In contrast to Lampson’s melancholy dedication to the 1572 Effigies, the tone here is upbeat and forward-looking. Novelty and variety are allied to progress and the diverse pleasures of an expanding market. Pictures [tabulae] are explicitly identified with the artists who make and paint them, rather than with contact with an original model, whether material or divine. These new artists are characterised in terms of ‘the well-taught hand’ that presents the work, and the individual ‘genius’ that is invested or apparent in their particular brand of picture. In this advertisement for a blissful new age, not just the Netherlandish predecessors commemorated by Lampson, but the greatest artists of antiquity can live again, resurrected alongside contemporary artists.
Post Funera Vita, the final plate of the Hondius series, reveals an explicit awareness of Lampson’s sorrowful ‘funeral offering’ of 1572 but asserts that there is life beyond its expression of mourning. At a material level, Post Funera Vita simply acknowledges the physical resuscitation of Cock’s Effigies in a new publication. As we have seen, the earlier images were re-engraved, augmented and incorporated into the new series. Yet the posthumous life defined by Post Funera Vita is more far-reaching than this. The inscription beneath its striking image is worth quoting again in the light of what has been said about the 1572 series:
Pale Death attacks all. We have to obey it. No colour or honour is of any help here. For those who have lived well, there is LIFE AFTER BURIAL. [As for] those who have depicted well, consider that they live in Death. A new life is set out in lifelike pictures: let each set out to be able to live after death.
Fig 5 Rembrandt, Self Portrait, 1539, etching 20.5 x 16.4 cm, London, British Museum.
In the penultimate line of the text, lifelike pictures are recognized as a place in which ‘a new life is set out’, rather than resulting from an encounter with a living model. In Cock’s 1572 print of Rogier van der Weyden, we have seen how new life was invested in the ‘shade’: the personal spirit of a renowned artist that is realized in graphic terms and is connected to, and separated from, his living body by his own hand. It is clear that these terms do not effectively mediate the images in Hondius’s series, although they are applicable to virtuoso etchings by peintres-graveurs such as Rembrandt’s self-portrait of 1639 (fig.5) and Van Dyck’s contributions to the Iconography. The variable artistic quality of Hondius’s prints, and the disappearance of the named engraver and writer from the scene, render them ‘dead’ in the sense that they do not consistently rely upon the fleshed-out naturalism of Cock’s series. Neither do they invoke the vital presence of an author, whether inhabiting the garments of naturalistic likeness or showing his own hand and spirit in the production and projection of a personal ‘shade’. The incorporation of the 1572 ‘funeral’ entailed continued visual allegiance to the established discipline of engraving, which reached a summit of prestige around 1600 in the work of Hendrick Goltzius.58 Thus the prints do not fully exploit the potential of etching to produce sketch-like marks identifiable with the creative process of an ‘autograph’ hand. There is no absence of skill and fluency in some of the scenes, but unlike Van Dyck’s or Rembrandt’s subsequent work, the ‘art’ in Hondius’s Effigies enlivens the portrayed subject without reference to the ‘free hand’ of an individual artist. Instead, as Stephanie Porras discusses, almost every sheet bears the legitimating stamp of the publisher.
In Hondius’s changed and changing world, the ‘new life’ in painting is explicitly linked with Death: living in Death and setting out to live after death through lifelike pictures. Death is recognised as the leveler to which everybody is subject, high and low. In the end, the honours and coats of arms (colours)59 that distinguished the old orders as more worthy no longer hold sway. Yet the text still asserts that, for those who have ‘lived well’, there is life after mourning the dead body. In Christian and aristocratic terms, living well meant living virtuously, but the explicit juxtaposition of ‘those who have lived well’ [bene vixerunt] to ‘those who have depicted well’ [bene pinxerunt] subtly shifts the emphasis. Material well-being and profitable activities, perhaps especially of the patrons, employers and clients of ‘those who have depicted well’, are incorporated alongside the claims to fame and immortality of the traditional elites.
Fig 6 Hans Holbein the younger, cut by Hans Lützelburger, Death and the Abbess, c. 1526, woodcut (proof without text), 7.3 x 5.7 cm (sheet), London, British Museum.
Fig 7 Jan van der Straet and Cornelis Cort, The Practice of the Visual Arts, published 1578, engraving 43.0 x 29.8, London, British Museum Ii,5.110.
Why and how do artists (those who have depicted well) live ‘in Death’ in Hondius’s series? Most obviously, dead artists live on in the memory through the recreation of Cock’s Effigies with additional images of artists whose death occurred between 1572 and 1610. Hondius’s inclusion of contemporary artists in his series also assimilates present life into an eventual death and incorporation into the ranks of those who survive in representation. Pressing further into the images themselves, the sacrifice of the subject-in-process involved in capturing a portrait likeness is understandable as a kind of life in death.60 In Cock’s series we have seen how the lifelike depiction of the subjects simultaneously stills and petrifies them despite many lively gestures, how they resemble both living and breathing figures and a row of sculpted monuments. Hondius’s series, however, increasingly emphasizes movement in time and space over this monumentality. Picking up on the depiction of the artist at work in a few of Cock’s prints [see Pieter Coecke van Aelst, Frans Floris], many of Hondius’s images imply action: artists presenting their work, with palette and brush in hand, or painting at an easel. Taking their cue from Cock’s images of Van der Weyden, Met de Bles and Vermeyen, Hondius’s prints also place the figures in diverse settings, with depicted light and shadow of varied intensity and seemingly from different directions. The prints that come later in the Hondius series show more and more of the body, so that the figures seem capable of moving increasingly freely. They begin to approach the energetic, full-length skeleton in Post Funera Vita, where life is equated not with the fleshed-out imitation of appearance but with the capacity of bare bones to move and act.
Within the series itself, a similarly lively skeleton appears in the background of the portrait of Hans Holbein. It evokes the artist’s immensely popular series of wood engravings Images of Death, specifically the print of Death and the Abbess in which a figure of the old religion is dragged towards her end (fig. 6).61 Set against Holbein’s monumental head, the pair in the background of the Hondius portrait seems to offer the options of flesh’s petrification by death, in the Abbess’s face (juxtaposed to Holbein’s), or the grotesque distortion of the skull, which at least figures movement and communicates with the beholder.
The skeleton that personifies ‘life in Death’in Hondius’s series can be associated with printmaking. The absence of flesh links it to drawing, both visually and because reassembled skeletons were being used to teach young artists to understand, through drawing, the structure and movement of the human body. For example, in The Practice of the Visual Arts of 1578 (fig. 7), an engraving by Cornelis Cort using a design by Jan van der Straet, the youths shown drawing an upright, posed skeleton are identified as learning the art of depicting [Tyrones picturae].62 In Post Funera Vita, the ‘colour’ that is no help in evading death can thus refer not only to traditional concepts of noble status but also to colouring (which was associated with flesh), as distinct from drawing and the graphic arts.63
Printmaking is included within this concept of drawing. One of the youths in The Practice of the Visual Arts has his feet on a block inscribed with the name of the virtuoso printmaker Cornelis Cort, who was responsible for the image. Whilst looking towards the skeleton marionette, the young ‘Cort’ turns and points with a knife-like implement towards the prominent sheet inscribed Typorum aeneorum INCISORIA (copperplate engraving) and beyond this to the master who is working with a burin on a large plate.64 In Hondius’s Post Funera Vita, the lively skeleton is surrounded by pyramids bearing the monograms of famous printmakers. It seems to have risen from an open crypt in which other printmakers are interred. In this context, the arrow, as a sharp hand-held implement, is liable to bring to mind an engraver’s burin. It simultaneously pushes to the fore and threatens the shaft that links the mechanically generated, segmented and visibly progressive time of the modern clock face with the bodily weight, flow and repeated inversion of the huge hourglass suspended beneath. 65
In the 1572 series, the image of the publisher Hieronymus Cock was marked by an eloquent skull that I suggested legitimated the series because, like the printing plate, it was both standardized and individually communicative, dead and alive. Although Hondius omits this final, posthumous print of Hieronymus Cock, it is striking that skulls appear in the midst of the later series, in three of the portraits. The first of these is the image of Lucas van Leyden (c.1494 -1533) pointing to a skull, which, uniquely, takes the place of a different portrait of this artist in the 1572 Effigies.66 In the Hondius print a skull is seen just emerging from the depicted artist’s coat, a garment that was in Cock’s series both enlivened and monumentalized by the consummate performance of the engraver. A second skull appears in a similar position in the print of the German artist Jacob Binck (c.1500-c.1569).67 It seems to grow out of the torso, in the place of the heart, and is positioned immediately beneath the head, encouraging the beholder to instigate a connection that turns the dead-and-alive face of the skull in the opposite direction to the fleshed out, alive-yet-dead countenance above. In this ‘proper’ face, the expression, averted eyes and juxtaposition to the grand architecture pictured in the inset can be related to the claim, in the verse, that Binck painted and engraved what he imagined in his mind. At the same time, the skull, suspended from the neck by a chain of court office and framed by the fur collar of Binck’s expensive cloak, brings social honour and material profit into the complete picture of the artist. 68
Thus in Jacob Binck, the figure is animated or activated not only by invoking an actual encounter and by representing the figure in movement through space (for example in the hands and fingers), but also by the ways in which users of the print can recognize or establish communication: connection across difference. Besides the repeated contact between the materiality of the plate and the words and images of the print, the user can make links between the textual and visual content, and between distinct motifs within the picture. Hondius’s images, elaborated with skulls and other attributes, with inset pictures and views, encourage this latter activity much more strongly than Cock’s simpler compositions. In the later series it becomes a powerful way of animating and characterising the named subjects without calling upon a mysterious transfer of presence resulting from the encounter between a living model and a consummate master of imitation.
For example, in the image of the Antwerp painter Joachim Beuckelaer (c.1534-.c.1574), a skull is interposed between the artist’s hand and a palette shown bearing colours in the form of paint. According to the accompanying verse, Beuckelaer painted for meagre reward during his lifetime, but his ‘low’ paintings of kitchens were honoured after his death.69 In the background on the left, there is a market scene noticeably unlike Beuckelaer’s own work in that the groups of figures are scattered across a wide open space, the beholder is not identified with the consumer, and root vegetables for sale are scattered directly on the ground like bones. The woman skewering fowl in the kitchen on the right is comparable to a striking and unusual late work by Beuckelaer, now in Vienna.70 By initiating movement between this composite image and the text, the user of the print can again link the skull with issues of money and status, but in a different way from the portrait of the court artist Jacob Binck. In Beuckelaer the skull can be associated with both a difficulty in sustaining the artist’s physical well-being (keeping flesh on the bones) whilst he was alive, and the transformation of this negative ‘life in death’ into a new, ironic configuration in the honour accorded to the artist’s low subjects when he himself was in his grave. Moving between the prone skull and the strange market scene above it, in which a figure leans on a staff like a gravedigger on his spade, produces a secularized and desecrated version of a graveyard such as the Groenkerkhof in Antwerp, in which poor citizens such as Beuckelaer were buried.71
The movements or transmissions initiated by the user between text and image, and between different motifs within a particular print, do not produce the kinds of ‘self-awareness’ that Victor Stoichita discerns in ‘split paintings’ and follows through into ‘the author’s image’.72 Rather than reflecting upon their own artifice and thus producing a ‘modern’ work of art, the prints animate the named subjects of the portraits without recourse to mimesis or to the hand and spirit of an individual author. Beyond this, Hondius’s series as a whole stimulates perceptions of movement that bind the distinctive but ‘mechanical’ subjects of the portraits into a new community, linked together by their common identification with progress. Unlike Cock’s single numbered sequence of 1572, the Hondius series is divided into three parts, within which the particular position of each named figure is not absolutely fixed. Users of the prints selected and ordered them in slightly different ways, shifting the emphasis from Cock’s named genealogy of exemplary and legitimating models towards more replaceable agents in somewhat variable narratives of change.
The tripartite structure of the series generates movement across both time and space. In his poem ‘To the Lovers and Admirers of Pictures’, Hondius states that almost all the ‘pictores’ depicted are those that
Belgium, mother of artists, brought forth: she thought it disgraceful to yield [to other nations] in genius. Among these, Lampsonius, the greatest censor of painters, once celebrated some in verse. You will also be able to see certain men mixed in with the Belgians. Perhaps our hand will produce some more. O happy age, in which Apelles lives again, in which Zeuxis, Phidias and Myron himself live.
In the three volumes which I have examined, the first section consists principally of the elaborated prints from the 1572 series of Effigies, depicting artists who lived in the Netherlands between the beginning of the fifteenth century and the late 1560s. Part two is prefaced by a print honouring Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), ‘the greatest glory of his Teutonic people’. It expands the field from which ‘celebrated artists’ are drawn into Germany proper, and extends the limit of their death until around the end of the sixteenth century. The preface to part three depicts Jan van der Straet, (1523-1605), in whom ‘Flowering Tuscany rejoices’. This section, which encompasses still-living figures, includes portraits of a number of artists who travelled to Italy or other foreign parts. The implicit premise of a number of the poems in this section is the artist’s choice whether to travel abroad or stay in his ‘sweet fatherland’.
In some of the verses in this third section, the pictorial conquest of nature is associated with what might provocatively be described as a proto-imperialism [see De Gheyn, Bloemaert, De Momper]. As Gerrit Pietersz of Amsterdam was accustomed to say, ‘he did not value the Hesperian sceptre [ie rule over the Western world] as much as the paintbrush’. Adriaen de Vries, whose ‘statues of Parian marble you would believe to be the work of Myron’,73 implicitly incorporates Greek antiquity into the expanding empire of Netherlandish art. In the title page to the entire book, which also acts as the frontispiece to part one, the flayed hide of a cow or bull frames the expanded community of Netherlandish artists. The coat of arms of the artists’ guild links this creature with the ox of the artists’ patron Saint Luke, but it is also connotative of the Netherlands as a whole.74 Above, as if carried on the animal’s back, there is a globe upon which can be discerned a land mass inscribed ‘Europa’,75 a witty reference to the Ovidian myth of divine abduction. Beyond all this there is the whole world, borne aloft by an abject ‘Atlas’ in which embodiment and presence have been transformed into a compendium of texts and visual motifs, linked together by ligatures and intersecting frames.76 Yet the immediate frontier remains quite close to home, since the last print in all the series that I have studied is ‘Isaac Oliver, the Englishman’, ‘you who paint images of joyful faces to the life.’
A tripartite division is familiar from Vasari’s Vite, in which the metaphor for history is the natural process of birth, growth and mature perfection. Besides generating historical and geographical progress, Hondius’s series draws a parallel between such movement and the passage of a human life. After the title page and Hondius’s poem the series of portraits is introduced by the babyish forms of airborne putti and concluded by the disinterred skeleton of Post Funera Vita. While death in Vasari’s schema threatens the decline and disintegration of a circumscribed entity, Hondius’s series acknowledges death as a limit that must be recognised and absorbed as necessary for new beginnings: agency and progress in the ever larger and more anonymous scheme of things. This kind of movement or animation arises in part from the sheer number of portraits. The repetition and gradual transformation of the basic format, combined with similarities and differences in the physiognomies and poses in individual prints, means that turning the pages produces something of the effect of a ‘flip book’ in which riffling through the sheets animates the figures into a virtual, cinematic experience. Although the flipbook effect was probably not contrived in the 1610 Effigies, a German illustrated book of the heroic epic Sigenot, dated about 1470, indicates that this technology of ‘moving pictures’ was known long before it was patented in 1868.77 More fundamentally, we might think of the skeleton’s manic insistence on movement in terms of a recognition that the model in nature for the portraits in the series is not a living entity whose presence can magically be conveyed across physical boundaries, even the limit of death, through faithful imitation, but a dead body that must be repeatedly buried, resurrected and re-animated to enable value to be produced and life to go on.
As we have seen, the 1610 Effigies does not simply refer back to its predecessor of 1572, or leave it behind, forgotten. In Post Funera Vita, the winged clock-face is linked with the body of the hour glass by a slender shaft that is pointed up by the threatening arrow. The two timepieces share a circular temporality, even though the clock now registers the mechanical forward movement of segmented time. The new publication reincorporates and transforms the previous body of work, developing potentials of its monumental, melancholic presence into something that is animated - even given wings – by movement and connection. Physical death remains fundamental to Hondius’s series, now generating a grinning liveliness and communicativeness that is visibly distinct from the ‘genius’ of the named artist’s hand in the work. Dem dry bones, brought together and released into action, constitute the mechanical, worldly counterpart of Descartes’ thinking subject that remains connected to God.
The image in Hondius’s series dedicated ‘to the lover and against the hater of something written or drawn’ depicts a muscular, assertively masculine putto in a winged ascent, whilst his two smaller, less virile siblings have been knocked sideways and begin their tumbling decline. All of them grasp ribands that decoratively articulate the airy space and swell out into text-bearing banners, only to spiral away and unravel into nothing. The text displayed by the rising putto solicits the philozographum:
If you own no paintings [Tabulae], nor illustrated poems [picta Poësis], let these learned painters [Pictores] be enough for you. For painted pictures [pictae Tabulae] yield to painters. They are the ones who form and paint whatever they please with their genius [ingenio].
This request largely reiterates the statement made in Hondius’s poem to the Lovers and Admirers of Pictures that, ‘since we greatly admire pictures painted with varied images which [pictures] the well-taught hand presents, […] it is also a pleasure to look at the PAINTERS themselves.’ Rather than equating the image with its model in divinely produced nature, the lover is satisfied by identifying pictures with their human makers. However, in the poem to the philozographum, pictures actually yield to painters. Images become a pretext for engaging with a creative being whose inventiveness and freedom bear comparison with [a] God. This elevating route is familiar to art historians. Amongst other things, it privileges the ‘well-taught hands’ that point to peintres-graveurs such as Rembrandt and Van Dyck.
A different trajectory is indicated by the text displayed by the falling putti. This does not voice an iconophobic view; it is rather directed against the misographum, who
attacks without reason the art of painters [artem pictorum], babbling that they paint nothing lifelike [ad vivum]. But the little crow [Corniculum] proves [the opposite] by a living example: when it tried to get the painted grapes, it was deceived by the artist [Artifice].78
The unreasonable attack on the art of painters is not directed against idolatory but against a failure to produce anything ad vivum. Voiced in the opening image of a publication that goes on to claim life after burial, this accusation invites consideration in relation to the subsequent portrait prints. The refutation of the charge invokes Pliny’s familiar account of Zeuxis’s supreme artistry, which was capable of producing images that could deceive consumers into thinking (or at least behaving as if) they were the real thing, the original model.79 In Hondius’s ‘living example’, however, responsibility for showing that there could still be lifelike images rests primarily with a beholder who is not just a hungry bird, but a crow. The connotations of this creature were complex and ambivalent.80 In educated circles, the crow was associated with ignorance and garrulousness, even within their own ranks. In 1561 Julius Caesar Scaliger described Erasmus himself as an ‘ignorant crow’ and according to Van Mander, ‘the crow is the enemy of Minerva, because wise people, who are concerned with their spirit, hate the prattle.’81 As a carrion bird the crow was also widely recognised as a harbinger of death. A chattering black bird that feasts on the flesh of corpses is an appropriate figure for a ‘negative’ approach to Hondius’s book of prints, which ended up with a skeleton. Such a crow could lay claim to the (depicted) subject, reducing it to dry bones, but it too is ultimately duped by the artist. In this essay, I have argued that in Hondius’s Effigies, the artifice that deceived the crow into imbuing the portrait images with life was not virtuoso illusionism, nor the artist’s personal hand in the work, which appealed to the dove-like side of the liefhebber. It was the invocation of movement itself. In ‘To the lover and against the hater of something written or drawn’, this form of beholding is falling out of the picture, whilst the so-called art lover ascends towards heaven.
I would like to thank Nadine Orenstein for her generous support of this project and her helpful comments on the completed texts. An earlier version of this article was presented at the colloquium Imaging Identity and Social Change: The Seventeenth-Century Dutch Portrait, which took place on June 27-30 2010 at Château de la Bretesche, France. The conference, to which I was privileged to be invited, was organised by Ann Jensen Adams and generously funded by the Borchard Foundation.