Last week, I visited the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, with a specific goal in mind: Rogier van der Weyden’s masterpiece, “The Seven Sacraments”. My visit was not solely to admire this exquisite triptych but also to delve deeper into the meaning of the seven sacraments. This exploration hereunder will be guided by seven works of art as visual narratives, with Van der Weyden’s triptych serving as our starting point.
The Seven Sacraments in seven paintings
Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration and initiation into the Church that was begun by Jesus, who accepted baptism from St. John the Baptist. Baptism is understood, therefore, as the annulment of one’s sins and the emergence of a completely innocent person.
A sacrament that is conferred through the anointing with oil and the imposition of hands, Confirmation is believed to strengthen or confirm the grace bestowed by the Holy Spirit at baptism. The Confirmation rite is a relatively simple ceremony that is traditionally performed during the Mass by the bishop, who raises his hands over those receiving Confirmation and prays for the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. He then anoints the forehead of each confirmand with holy oil and says, “Accipe Signaculum Doni Spiritus Sancti” (“Be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit”).
This sacrament of reconciliation or penance, reflects the practice of restoring sinners to the community of the faithful by confessing one’s sins to a priest. The Roman Catholic Church claims that the absolution of the priest is an act of forgiveness. To receive it, the penitent must confess all serious sins, manifest genuine sorrow for sins, and have a reasonably firm purpose to make amends. The sacrament of confession was rejected by most of the Reformers on the grounds that God alone can forgive sins, and not through a priest.
The Eucharist (from the Greek word “εὐχαριστία” which means “thanksgiving”) is the central act of Christian worship, also known as Holy Communion and the Lord’s Supper. The rite was instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper when he blessed the bread, which he said was his body, and shared it with his disciples. He then shared a cup of wine as his blood. Jesus called on his followers to repeat the ceremony in his memory. It is a commemoration of his sacrifice on the cross.
Ordination is a sacrament essential to the church, as it bestows an unrepeatable, indelible character upon the priest being ordained. The essential ceremony consists of the laying of hands of the bishop upon the head of the one being ordained, with prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit and of grace required for the carrying out of the ministry.
Marriage as a sacrament, also known as holy matrimony, is the covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership for the whole of life, administered in the presence of a priest. However, the inclusion of marriage among the sacraments gives the Roman Catholic Church jurisdiction over an institution that is of as much concern to the state as it is to the church.
Anointing of the sick
This sacrament is conferred by anointing the forehead and hands with blessed oil and pronouncing a prayer. It may be conferred only on those who are seriously ill or on elderly people who are experiencing the frailties of old age. In popular belief, anointing is most valuable as a complement to confession or, in the case of unconsciousness, as a substitute for it. Anointing is not the sacrament of the dying; it is the sacrament of the sick.
I had the privilege of spending several weeks in the Dutch countryside this August, surrounded by vast wheat fields, with tractors and combines blending their mechanical prowess reaping the harvest. Amidst the rustic charm and the modern pulse of agricultural machinery, I was reminded of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1565 masterpiece “The Harvesters”.
“The Harvesters” is part of a series of six works that Bruegel created for the Antwerp merchant Niclaes Jongelinck, each depicting a different season of the year. “The Harvesters” specifically portrays the season of summer. It’s a landscape painting that offers a vivid and detailed depiction of a rural scene, showing peasants engaged in various activities during the harvest season. The foreground of the painting is dominated by peasants working in the fields. They are shown harvesting wheat, with some using sickles to cut the wheat and others gathering the cut stalks into bundles. Amidst the work, there is a group of peasants taking a break under a large pear tree, relaxing and enjoying their midday meal of porridge, bread and pears. In the background on the right, a man climbed an apple tree to shake its branches, while two women gathered the fallen apples into baskets. These scenes add a touch of human connection and leisure to the painting.
The background of the painting showcases a panoramic landscape with a village, a church, and a castle on the distant horizon. This panoramic view provides a sense of depth and perspective to the scene. “The Harvesters” is celebrated for its realism, attention to everyday life, and the way it captures the essence of rural existence during the 16th century. Bruegel’s series is a watershed in the history of Western art. The religious pretext for landscape painting has been suppressed in favor of a new humanism, and the unidealized description of the local scene is based on natural observations.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder created also a series of prints that corresponded to the seasons of the year, similar to his paintings. “Summer” is one of these prints, and it’s often considered a companion piece to his painting “The Harvesters”. This famous engraving gives a glimpse of the varied work of country people on a summer’s day. In the immediate vicinity of a village, the ripe grain is scythed, bundled and transported away; but it’s also time for refreshments and a chat. In the tradition of medieval pictures of the months and seasons, Bruegel celebrates the working peasants as guarantors of the country’s prosperity. Bruegel’s prints were engraved by other artists based on his own designs and drawings, allowing his works to reach a wider audience. Brueghel’s drawing for “Summer” still exists and is now in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg; for a picture, see hereunder.
In the print “Summer” Bruegel once again focuses on the themes of rural life and the activities of peasants during the warmer months. Just like his paintings, Bruegel’s prints are celebrated for their meticulous attention to detail, rich narratives, and the way they capture the essence of the time and place they depict.
This manuscript illustration from circa 1500 is a detailed showcase of the labour-intensive process of wheat harvesting in Flandres in the pre-industrial era. Here’s an overview of the various activities involved in wheat harvesting during that time and shown on the illustrated manuscript pages above, from left to right:
Reaping: The first step in wheat harvesting was reaping (Dutch: maaien), which involved cutting the mature wheat stalks with a sickle or scythe. Workers would move through the fields, carefully cutting the stalks close to the ground to ensure that the maximum amount of grain was harvested.
Binding: Once the wheat stalks were cut, they were gathered into bundles or sheaves (Dutch: schoven) and tied together using straw or twine. These bundles made it easier to transport and handle the harvested wheat.
Threshing: Threshing (Dutch: dorsen) was the process of separating the grain kernels from the rest of the plant. This was often done using a flail (Dutch: dorsvlegel), which consisted of a wooden handle attached to a wooden stick. Or it could be done by a horse trembling on the sheaves, as shown on this miniature, repeatedly beating the bundles of wheat to break open the husks and release the grain.
Winnowing: After threshing, the mixture of grain, husks, and chaff (the dry, protective casings around the grains) needed to be separated. This was achieved through winnowing (Dutch: schiften), a process in which the mixture was tossed into the air. The wind would carry away the lighter chaff, while the heavier grain would fall back to the ground. See the top right corner of this manuscript illustration.
Pieter Brueghel the Elder (Flemish, c.1525 – 1569)
A morose painter (a self portrait?) with a coarse brush is contrasted with a stupid-looking buyer, whose mouth is open with wonder. The inner distance between the two figures becomes evident in the polarity of their expressions. While the artist dedicates himself entirely to the work lying outside of the picture’s range, the customer is already reaching for his money-bag, apparently interested solely in material values. A symbol of ignorance, the spectacles point to this failure to appreciate art. Rather than being a self-portrait the drawing addresses the role of the artist: Pieter Brueghel is here ironically commenting on the conditions of art production in his day. (Text with thanks to the Albertina, Vienna.)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569) was a renowned Flemish Renaissance painter and printmaker. He is often referred to as Bruegel the Elder to distinguish him from his sons, who were also artists and carried on his artistic legacy. Key points about Pieter Bruegel the Elder:
Artistic Style and Themes: Bruegel was known for his distinctive artistic style that combined meticulous detail, naturalism, and a deep understanding of human behavior. He is celebrated for his ability to capture everyday life and landscapes with a keen observation of the world around him. He often depicted scenes of peasants engaged in various activities, rural landscapes, and the changing seasons.
Subject Matter: Bruegel’s works often contained social and moral commentary. He frequently explored themes related to human folly, the cycles of life, the interaction between humans and nature, and the contrasts between different social classes. His paintings and prints often had multiple layers of meaning, inviting viewers to reflect on deeper concepts.
Seasonal Series: One of Bruegel’s notable accomplishments was his creation of a series of paintings that represented the different seasons of the year. These works include “The Gloomy Day” (early spring, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), “Haymaking” (early summer, Lobkowicz Palace, Prague Castle), “The Harvesters” (late summer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), “The Return of the Herd” (autumn, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and “The Hunters in the Snow” (winter). The “Spring” painting disappeared.
Influence: Bruegel’s work had a significant impact on subsequent generations of artists. His detailed depictions of nature and human life influenced the development of landscape painting and genre painting. Artists like Peter Paul Rubens and even later masters like the Dutch Golden Age painters drew inspiration from Bruegel’s work.
Humanism and Cultural Context: Bruegel’s art was created during a time when humanism was flourishing. Humanism emphasized the importance of individualism, human experience, and the natural world. Bruegel’s art reflected these ideals by portraying the common people, their joys, struggles, and the world they inhabited. While Brueghel did create some religious paintings, his most famous and distinctive works depict scenes of everyday life, landscapes, and the activities of peasants.
Printmaking: In addition to his paintings, Bruegel also created a number of prints. His detailed designs were engraved by skilled printmakers, allowing his works to reach a broader audience and leaving a lasting influence on art history.
This drawing from the Kunsthalle in Hamburg served as a relatively accurate preparatory sketch for the depiction of summer in a graphic sequence of the seasons planned by Bruegel towards the end of his life and which were put into engravings by Pieter van der Hayden (for a picture of the engraving “Summer” see above). Brueghel’s “Summer” offers a wealth of delicious pictorial inventions, such as the drinker’s foot, which pierces the front edge of the picture. Bruegel’s fine sense of humor is illustrated by the boy with a bundle of wheat growing out of his back, or the woman whose head is completely covered (or even replaced) by a basket of vegetables.
Bruegel was born in the town of Breda in the Duchy of Brabant, which is now part of the Netherlands. However, he spent a significant portion of his artistic career in Antwerp, a prominent city in Flanders. His work is associated with both the Netherlandish artistic tradition and the broader Flemish artistic movement. In essence, while Bruegel’s birthplace lies in what is now the Netherlands, his artistic contributions and much of his career are deeply connected to the artistic heritage and culture of Flanders. Therefore, he is often referred to as a Flemish artist within the context of art history.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s legacy has endured through the centuries. His works are celebrated for their ability to transport viewers into a detailed world of everyday life in the 16th century. His influence can be seen in the works of later artists, and he remains a highly respected figure in the history of Western art.
The story of Zeus and Callisto is part of Greek mythology and involves Zeus, the king of the gods, and Callisto, a beautiful nymph and one of the companions of the Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the equivalent of Diana in Roman mythology. Zeus is the same king of the gods as the Roman god Jupiter. The story of Zeus and Callisto serves as a tale about the capricious nature of the gods in Greek mythology. One of the most well-known versions can be found in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”.
According to the myth, Callisto was a devoted follower of Artemis (Diana) and like the other companion nymphs in the group of Artemis, Callisto also swore to remain a virgin for her entire life. They are hunting together, bathing together and were a great subject for painters throughout the centuries to depict a group of female nudes. With the exception of Vermeer, who portrayed Artemis and her nymphs in a very discreet and decent manner.
However, Zeus, known for his numerous affairs and infidelities, set his eyes on Callisto and decided to seduce her. Disguising himself as Artemis, Zeus approached Callisto and took advantage of her, resulting in Callisto becoming pregnant.
When the truth came to light, Callisto faced the wrath of Artemis, who was furious at her for breaking her vow of chastity. The goddess could not bear to look at Callisto anymore, and she banished her from her company. Callisto was devastated and left to live a life of solitude.
As her pregnancy progressed, Callisto’s appearance began to change and she now has a baby belly. Hera, Zeus’s wife and the queen of the gods, noticed these changes and grew suspicious of her husband’s involvement. Feeling betrayed and enraged, Hera sought revenge on Callisto. After the nymph gave birth to a son named Arcas, Hera transformed Callisto into a bear.
Arcas, son of Zeus and Callisto
In the meantime Arcas, the child of Zeus and Callisto, grew up and became a skilled hunter. He lived in a beautiful land and was chosen to be the king of that peaceful and pastoral area, called “Arcadia”, named after Arcas. Throughout history the name “Arcadia” has continued to be a symbol of an unspoiled and idyllic natural world.
As a bear, Callisto was forced to roam the wilderness, unable to communicate or return to her human form. Years passed, and one day, Arcas, now a young hunter, came across his mother-bear in the forest. Unaware that the bear was his own mother, he prepared to shoot it with his arrow. However, Zeus, who had been watching the events unfold, intervened to prevent a tragic outcome. To protect Callisto and her son, Zeus turned Arcas into a bear as well and placed them both among the stars, forming the constellations Ursa Major (the Great Bear) and Ursa Minor (the Smaller Bear). In this way, they were immortalized in the night sky, and their bond was forever preserved.
Hera did not like this at all; too much honour for Callisto and Arcas to be in the sky as stars. So, Hera descended from heaven and arrives with her carriage drawn by peacocks on sea-level, to complain to her friends the god Oceanus and his wife Tethis, a sea-goddess. Hera tells them that, in punishment for having such honorable place at the sky, they should never let the Callisto and Arcas, as Great and Smaller Bear, touch their waters and be able to wash themselves. Hera therefore instructs the gods of the sea that they shall not let either constellation sink below the horizon, and passing into the waters of the ocean. Indeed neither Ursa Major nor Ursa Minor ever set below the horizon, viewed from most regions in the Northern hemisphere.
Ursa Major (Great Bear) and Ursa Minor (Smaller Bear)
The Big Bear constellation is also known as Ursa Major, which means “Great Bear” in Latin. The more popular term “Big Dipper” is actually a colloquial name for a prominent asterism within the Ursa Major constellation. The Big Dipper is a group of seven bright stars that form a distinctive shape resembling a ladle or a dipper. This shape is a well-known feature of the northern night sky. The Great Bear has served as a navigational tool for travellers to determine directions.
Polaris (North or Pole Star)
Polaris, commonly known as the North Star or Pole Star, is the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Smaller Bear). It holds a special place in the night sky because it appears very close to the celestial north pole, the point in the sky around which all other stars appear to rotate as Earth spins on its axis. This makes Polaris a valuable navigational reference point, especially for travellers in the Northern Hemisphere. Polaris appears relatively stationary in the sky while other stars appear to move in circles around it as the night progresses. This unique characteristic made Polaris an important celestial marker for ancient sailors, explorers, and navigators who used it to determine their northward direction. Polaris can be found by extending the two outer stars of the Big Dipper’s bowl (from the constellation Ursa Major) in a straight line. This extension leads you to Polaris, making it a helpful guide for finding true north in the night sky.
Greek and Roman Gods
The three gods involved in the story of Zeus and Callisto are:
Zeus (Ζεύς) is the god of the sky and thunder, and king of the gods, married to Hera. His symbol is the eagle. The Roman equivalent is Jupiter, also knows as Jove. Read more about Zeus in The Twelve Olympians.
Hera (Ήρα) is the goddess of marriage, women and family and the queen of gods, wife of Zeus. Her symbol is the peacock. The Roman equivalent is Juno. See Hera in The Twelve Olympians.
Artemis (Ἄρτεμις) is the goddess of the hunt, and to be recognised by the moon crescent as tiara on her head. Her Roman equivalent is Diana. More about Artemis in The Twelve Olympians.
The story of Zeus and Io is one of the many fascinating tales from Greek mythology. It involves love, deception, and a remarkable transformation. The story is written in various ancient Greek texts, but one of the most well-known versions can be found in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. Ovid was a Roman poet who lived during the 1st century AD and wrote a collection of mythical tales, including the story of Zeus and Io.
Here’s the story: Io was a beautiful mortal princess and her radiant beauty caught the attention of Zeus, king of the gods. He became infatuated with her and desired her affection. Zeus, being notorious for his amorous escapades, sought to pursue Io without the knowledge of his jealous wife Hera. To avoid detection, Zeus approached Io in the form of a cloud. It’s Zeus naughty and cunning habit to seduce his amorous victims in disguise, in the form of a cloud this time.
Zeus’ wife Hera became enormously suspicious when she saw that cloud hanging above the fields and went to see if her husband Zeus was behind it and maybe after another beautiful girl.
Zeus then used his divine powers and transformed Io into a white heifer (a young and fertile cow) to hide their affair from his jealous wife. This transformation allowed Io to live among the other cattle without arousing suspicion.
However, Hera was no fool and soon became suspicious of her husband’s intentions. She suspected that Zeus was up to something and devised a plan to discover the truth.
Hera approached Zeus and cunningly expressed her admiration for the cow, suggesting that she would love to have the creature as a gift. Zeus, aware of his wife’s jealousy, could not refuse the request and reluctantly agreed to give the cow to her.
Now, Hera had possession of the transformed Io, but she wasn’t entirely convinced of her husband’s innocence. To keep an eye on the situation, she assigned the many-eyed giant guy Argus Panoptes (the all-seeing Argus) to guard the cow. Argus was an extraordinary creature with hundreds of eyes, and he was capable of keeping watch over Io at all times, even while some of his eyes rested.
Zeus was deeply concerned for Io’s safety and well-being. In a desperate attempt to free her, he sought the help of his son Hermes, the messenger of the gods and a skilled trickster.
Hermes devised a clever plan to rescue Io. He played a melodious tune on his flute and began to tell entertaining stories to Argus. As the music and tales enchanted the many-eyed giant, his eyes gradually closed, one by one, until all were shut in a peaceful slumber.
Taking advantage of the situation, Hermes swiftly slew Argus with a single stroke of his sword.
After Argus’s death, Hera was informed of his demise, and she mourned the loss of her loyal servant. As a tribute to the fallen guardian, Hera transferred Argus’s eyes to the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock, which became a symbol of her power and authority.
Io was finally free from her captor, but Hera’s rage did not subside. In her fury, she sent a tormenting gadfly to relentlessly sting and chase Io across the world, making her wander in agony.
Io’s wanderings led her to Egypt, where she eventually returned to her original human form. In Egypt, she gave birth to a son named Epaphus, who would later become a renowned king and ancestor of various legendary figures.
The story of Io and Zeus is one of the many tales that highlight the complicated relationships among the gods and mortals in Greek mythology. It showcases the consequences of divine infidelity and the lengths to which the gods would go to protect their interests and secrets.
Ionian Sea and Bosporus
After her transformation into a cow and subsequent escape from Argus, Io roamed through various regions, enduring Hera’s torment in the form of a gadfly that continually stung her. Her wandering took her through different lands and over various seas. The Ionian Sea is named after Io and she crossed the Bosporus on her way to Egypt.
The word “Bosporus” does indeed have a connection to the idea of “cow crossing” in its etymology. The Bosporus, the strait that separates the European and Asian parts of Turkey, derives its name from ancient Greek. The Greek word “Βόσπορος” (Bosporos) is a combination of two words: “βοῦς” (bous), which means “cow,” and “πόρος” (poros), which means “crossing” or “passage.” So, the term “Bosporus” can be interpreted as the “Cow Crossing” or the “Cow Passage.” In a similar vein, “Oxford” in England has its name derived from “oxen ford,” which means a place where oxen (and likely other cattle) could cross a river. Same for “Coevorden” in The Netherlands. Place names often carry historical or mythological significance, and they can provide fascinating insights into the cultural heritage and stories of the regions they represent.
Greek and Roman Gods
The three gods involved in the story of Zeus and Io are:
Zeus (Ζεύς) is the god of the sky and thunder, and king of the gods, married to Hera. His symbol is the eagle. The Roman equivalent is Jupiter, also knows as Jove. Read more about Zeus in The Twelve Olympians.
Hera (Ήρα) is the goddess of marriage, women and family and the queen of gods, wife of Zeus. Her symbol is the peacock. The Roman equivalent is Juno. See Hera in The Twelve Olympians.
Hermes (Ἑρμῆς) is the messenger of the gods and the divine trickster. His Roman equivalent is Mercury. More about Hermes in The Twelve Olympians.
The National Gallery purchased the life-size painting of Saint Bartholomew by Bernardo Cavallino at Sotheby’s New York back in January 2023 from the Fisch Davidson collection – one of the most important collections of Baroque art ever to appear on the market. The cost was $3.9 million (hammer $3.2m). This depiction of Saint Bartholomew, a most splendid work by Cavallino, dates to the 1640s, when the Neapolitan artist was at the height of his artistic powers.
Saint Bartholomew sits alone in the wilderness. His expression is one of grim determination, at once horrified and resolved. Enveloped in the folds of his mantle, he turns towards us, unable to look at the knife clasped in his left hand. This will be the tool of his martyrdom, for Bartholomew was flayed alive. One of the Twelve Apostles, Bartholomew was said to have preached the gospel in India and in Armenia. When he refused to make a sacrifice to the local gods, he was horribly killed, first stripped of his skin and then beheaded. Gruesome depictions of Bartholomew’s martyrdom were popular in seventeenth-century Naples and often showed the act of flaying in progress. This painting’s power comes from how extremely it has been pared back. Bartholomew is the sole protagonist in this almost monochromatic, intensely psychological picture. Stark light illuminates the mantle and the flesh, which provides the only colour in a work otherwise composed of silvery grey tones. We are not confronted here with violence: rather, it is the threat and imminence of violence that is so menacing. Instead of witnessing Bartholomew’s flayed flesh, the picture is dominated by the creamy mantle, whose folds are so elaborate that they cannot help but make us think of skin. Whether in the crisply delineated edges of the fabric or the strong sense of outline created by pulling the white paint right up to the flesh, everything seems to allude to layers and unpeeling, the act of incision unseen but ever-present.
Bernardo Cavallino (1616 – 1656?) was one of the leading Neapolitan artists of the first half of the 17th Century. While many details of his life and career remain shrouded in mystery, he was renowned in his lifetime for his small, sensitive paintings of mythological and biblical subjects which he painted for a private clientele. Cavallino probably received his training in Naples, the city of his birth. He was strongly influenced by Jusepe de Ribera (1591–1652), and seems to have mostly worked for private patrons, producing small, sensitive paintings of mythological and Biblical subjects. This life-size depiction of Saint Bartholomew, with its drama and intensity, is one of Cavallino’s masterpieces. Although we do not know for whom he painted it, its size and grandeur suggest it was an important commission. It probably dates from the latter years of the artist’s life, in which he became increasingly focussed on the emotional power of his works. Just eight of Cavallino’s known works are signed or initialled, and only one is dated. Cavallino probably died during the plague that devastated Naples in 1656. He was well regarded in the decades following his death, but knowledge of his paintings – which were often mistaken for the work of other painters – remained rudimentary until the second half of the 20th century when scholars developed a fuller sense of his poetic contribution to 17th Century art.
The influence of the Jusepe de Ribera is immediately apparent in Cavallino’s Saint Bartholomew, which recalls Ribera’s life-size portrayals of saints from the late 1630s and 1640s and resonates profoundly with Ribera’s near-contemporaneous depiction of the same saint, today in the Prado, Madrid.
The whereabouts of Cavallino’s Saint Bartholomew were untraced until it was sold in 1903 (as by Ribera) at Christie’s, London. It next resurfaced in 1988, after which the painting’s correct attribution to Cavallino was reinstated. The painting was last exhibited in public in 1993, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in in New York, so the public will now be able to enjoy it for the first time in 30 years. Saint Bartholomew is on display alongside other Italian 17th Century Baroque masterpieces in Room 32 of the National Gallery, London, where Saint Bartholomew will make its natural home among pictures by artists such as Caravaggio, Artemisia and Orazio Gentileschi, Guercino, Reni and Ribera.
More about Saint Bartholomew and the Twelve Apostles, click here.
More about the National Gallery, London, click here.
The prophet Jonah (Yunus يُونُس in Arabic) is a prominent figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He is best known for the biblical story of “Jonah and the Whale” or “Jonah and the Great Fish.” According to the Bible, Jonah was a prophet sent by God to deliver a warning to the people of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire and the biggest and most beautiful city of the ancient world; Nineveh is now Mosul in Iraq. The warning was that destruction of their city will happen because of the wicked and sinful behaviour of the Nineveh inhabitants. However, instead of obeying God’s command, Jonah attempted to flee in the opposite direction by boarding a ship heading to faraway. During the voyage, a great storm arose, and the crew believed that someone on board had angered the gods. Jonah eventually confessed that he was fleeing from God’s call, and he asked the crew to throw him overboard to calm the sea, which the crew then did. As the story goes, God calmed the sea, but also sent a large fish (commonly referred to as a whale) to swallow Jonah, saving him from drowning.
Jonah spent three days and three nights inside the fish’s belly, during which time he prayed and repented; he felt so very sorry that he had not followed God’s wish and order to go to Nineveh. He repents for his actions and promises to fulfill his mission if given another chance. In response to Jonah’s repentance and prayer, God commands the fish to release him. The fish spits Jonah out onto dry land, giving him a second chance. With a renewed sense of obedience, Jonah finally traveled to Nineveh to deliver God’s message of warning to the city. He warned the people of their wickedness and the impending destruction that would come if they did not repent. Surprisingly, the Ninevites listened to Jonah’s message, repented, and turned away from their evil ways. In response to their repentance, God showed mercy and spared the city from destruction. The story of Jonah is often interpreted as a lesson on the importance of obedience to God and the concept of divine mercy and forgiveness. It serves as a reminder that God’s compassion extends even to those who have strayed from the right path. It’s a message to everyone that even after having done bad things and being a not so good person, there is hope if you repent, change your life and say farewell to your sins.
The link between Jonah and Christ is a significant theological parallel found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The primary scriptural reference to this connection is found in the Gospel of Matthew, specifically in Matthew 12:38-41: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so Jesus will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” On this basis Christians saw Jonah as a type of Christ and his story as a promise of resurrection, first for Christ but then also for everyone and all of us, there will be resurrection after death. But of course under the condition of being a good person and having said goodbye to your bad habits and sins.
The story of Jonah underscores the idea that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are part of a divine plan, prefigured in the Old Testament narratives. The story of Jonah in the Whale in the Old Testament is seen as a prefiguration of Jesus’ resurrection. And subsequently as everyone’s resurrection from death at the day of the last judgement. With other words: the story of Jonah gives hope that there will be life after death, but only if one repents and is obedient and does not lead a sinful life.
Big Fish or Whale?
Although the creature that swallowed Jonah is often depicted in art and culture as a whale, the original Hebrew text uses the phrase “big fish”. In the art of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the species of the fish that swallowed Jonah became closer to a whale. Most likely that’s also because in those centuries people got familiar with the concept of whales as truly big fish though prints of stranded whales. Before that hardly anyone will have seen a whale, let alone a huge whale that’s capable of swallowing a human person.
Nineveh was an ancient city located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in present-day Mosul, Iraq. It was one of the most important and influential cities in the ancient world and served as the capital of the Assyrian Empire for several centuries. The city’s history spans over 3,000 years, and it was a center of culture, commerce, and military power. Nineveh as capital of the powerful Assyrian Empire is considered to have been the biggest and most beautiful city in ancient times. Nineveh was surrounded by a series of massive defensive walls that were over 12 kilometers long. These walls were among the most impressive feats of engineering in the ancient world and provided excellent protection for the city. Despite its military might, Nineveh faced its eventual downfall. In 612 BC, a coalition of Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians attacked and razed the city. This marked the end of the Assyrian Empire, and Nineveh was abandoned and largely forgotten for centuries. The ruins of Nineveh were rediscovered in the mid-19th century during excavations by archaeologists such as Austen Henry Layard. These excavations unearthed numerous artifacts and cuneiform tablets, providing valuable insights into the history, culture, and language of the ancient Assyrians.
Today, the ancient site of Nineveh, along with other nearby Assyrian cities like Nimrud and Khorsabad, are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites. However, the region has faced challenges due to political instability and armed conflicts, leading to damage and looting of its precious historical remains, mostly by ISIS around 2014.
Al-Nabi Yunus (The Prophet Jonah) Mosque
The Al-Nabi Yunus Mosque (Arabic: جامع النبي يونس) also known as the the Prophet Jonah’s Mosque, is an important religious site located in Nineveh, now Mosul, Iraq. It holds significance for both Muslims and Christians due to its association with the prophet Jonah (known as Yunus in Islamic tradition) from his stories in the Hebrew Bible and the Quran. The mosque is situated on top of a hill on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Mosul. Its location is believed to be the site where the prophet Jonah was buried.
The Al-Nabi Yunus Mosque is considered a place of veneration for Muslims, who come to pay their respects to the prophet Yunus. However, it also holds importance for Christians, as Jonah is recognized as a prophet in Christianity as well. This interfaith significance has made the site an important symbol of religious coexistence. The mosque’s origins can be traced back to the 14th century. The site itself however, has religious significance dating back to much earlier times.
In 2014, during the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), the mosque suffered destruction along with other historical sites in Mosul. ISIS militants considered the veneration of shrines and tombs to be against their strict interpretation of Islam and targeted such sites. The mosque was used as a prison and later blown up by the militants. After the liberation of Mosul from ISIS in 2017, efforts were made to restore and rebuild the Al-Nabi Yunus Mosque. The reconstruction work has been carried out as part of broader efforts to preserve and revive the cultural and historical heritage of the city. During the reconstruction an even older Assyrian palace was found under the remains of the mosque.
The Rijksmuseum has purchased four outstanding silver salt cellars made by the renowned Amsterdam silversmith Johannes Lutma. These partially gilded objects are among the most important examples of 17th-century Dutch silversmithing. Costly cellars of this kind would stand on the tables for important banquets given by wealthy merchants and art lovers, or at the headquarters of citizen militias or the navy. Two of the salt cellars were previously displayed in the Rijksmuseum from the 1960s onwards; the other pair was held in the Amsterdam Museum. Prior to the Second World War, all four were the property of Hamburg resident Emma Budge, who was Jewish. Following her death in 1937, the cellars were sold at auction. The proceeds of this sale went to the Nazis rather than to Budge’s heirs. The Dutch Restitutions Committee recently decided that the salt cellars be returned to the descendants.
Johannes Lutma (1584 – 1669) was Amsterdam’s foremost silversmith in the 17th century. He was a contemporary and friend of Rembrandt, who etched a portrait of him, and Joost van den Vondel and other Dutch poets also praised him in their work. The four salt cellars are undisputed masterpieces in his oeuvre, very little of which has survived to the present day. These objects were the first in which Lutma combined the ornamental auricular (in Dutch: “kwab”) style with a classical formal idiom.
Emma and Henry Budge
Before the Second World War, the four salt cellars were owned by Emma Budge (1852-1937) and Henry Budge (1840-1928), a Jewish couple from Hamburg. Emma and her businessman and banker husband accumulated an extensive art collection. They also contributed to charities and the founding of the University of Frankfurt.
Following the death of Emma Budge in 1937, her property was sold off at Paul Graupe’s ‘aryanised’ auction house in Berlin. The proceeds of the sale were confiscated by the German Nazi party, the NSDAP, rather than being passed on to Budge’s heirs. It is believed that the four salt cellars were bought by a German dealer named Greatzer, about whom little else is known. These objects eventually found their way into the famous collection of silver belonging to W.J.R. Dreesmann. In 1960, central government and the City of Amsterdam acquired the four salt cellars at an auction of the Dreesman collection; two went on display in the Rijksmuseum and two in the Amsterdam Museum.
Investigation and Restitution
An investigation carried out by the Amsterdam Museum concluded in 2013 that the two salt cellars in its collection were of suspicious origin. This prompted the Rijksmuseum to initiate an investigation into the two salt cellars in its own collection. In 2014, restitutions committees in various countries designated the 1937 auction of Emma Budge’s estate as involuntary. This led to the return to Budge’s descendants of silver, porcelain, tapestries and busts by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the German food conglomerate Dr. Oetker. The Dutch Restitutions Committee arrived at the same conclusion in 2018, leading to the return of the bronze sculpture of Moses attributed to Alessandro Vittoria from the collection of Museum de Fundatie in Zwolle.
Following the publication in 2018 of the conclusions of the Restitutions Committee, the descendants of Emma Budge submitted a claim for the two salt cellars in the Rijksmuseum collection, the two salt cellars in the Amsterdam Museum collection, and two objects in the collection of Kunstmuseum Den Haag in The Hague. On 16 November 2022, the Restitutions Committee issued its recommendation that these objects be returned to Budge’s descendants. In the case of the salt cellars held by the Amsterdam Museum, the recommendations were binding. On 12 May 2023, the Dutch state and the City of Amsterdam returned the objects to the claimants. That same day, the heirs sold all four salt cellars to the Rijksmuseum. On 6 September 2023 the complete ensemble will go on display at the Rijksmuseum, which will continue to draw attention to both the art-historical importance of the objects and the story surrounding their provenance and restitution.
In 1638, Lutma commissioned Amsterdam artist Jacob Adriaensz Backer to paint portraits of himself and his wife Sara de Bie. The fact that the silversmith chose to be portraied next to an early version of these cellars strongly suggests that he regarded them as breakthrough works. The portraits are also held in the Rijksmuseum collection, and they will be displayed with the four salt cellars, which Lutma made as two pairs in 1639 and 1643. The Rijksmuseum will place the four salt cellars on public view from 6 September 2023 in a special display that also tells the story of Emma Budge.
The Mauritshuis has acquired a unique painting by the Flemish artist Adriaen Brouwer (c.1605 – 1638). It is a rare representation of the Latin concept of “Superbia“, which means pride or vanity. Superbia depicts a man curling his moustache with a pair of scissors. The acquisition originally belonged to a series of seven panels, representing the seven deadly sins. The series got scattered around 1800, and the whereabouts of five paintings are still unknown. The painting known as “Luxuria”, which means lust, is also part of the Mauritshuis collection, since 1897.
The small panel (23x16cm) depicts a man with a red beret curling his moustache using a pair of scissors. The paint application is thin, and the background is left smooth and even. The clothing is minimally detailed, with only a few white paint strokes here and there on the collar and cufflinks. The man is shown looking into a mirror, like a snapshot from everyday life. He seems particularly preoccupied with his image, seeking to demonstrate his importance.
Adriaen Brouwer worked in Haarlem and Amsterdam before permanently settling in Antwerp. He died at the age of 32. Brouwer’s work was highly regarded by his colleagues, including Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens, who collected paintings by his hand. Today, the work of Brouwer, of whom about 65 paintings are known, is relatively rare. He primarily depicted peasant life, often featuring fighting or drinking peasants in or near taverns. Later in his career, Brouwer began to combine various genres. For instance, he sometimes merged lively gatherings with portraiture and landscape painting. The painting The Smokers at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a perfect example of this. The artwork features a self-portrait of Brouwer alongside several artists, including Jan Lievens and Jan Davidsz de Heem. In this famous picture, Brouwer himself (center foreground) plays one of his typical revelers, seemingly surprised by the viewer’s intrusion on the scene.
Coat of arms
On the back of both panels at the Mauritshuis, identical coats of arms were discovered, with consecutive numbers in the same handwriting: 114 and 115. Research conducted by Olivier Mertens, a specialist in heraldry, revealed that these seals with coats of arms are from Spanish regions (such as Castile, León, Aragon, and Sicily) and Austria. This specific coat of arms belonged to Don Juan José van Oostenrijk (1629 – 1679), an illegitimate son of the Spanish King Philip IV. This indicates that the series by Brouwer traveled from Antwerp to foreign countries as early as the 17th century, and then became dispersed around 1800.
Wives of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob).
In the context of the Jewish and Christian Bible, the term “matriarchs” refers to a group of prominent women who are considered the female founders or ancestral mothers of the Israelite people.
Sarah: wife of Abraham and considered the first matriarch. She is known for her faith and trust in God, as well as her role in the birth of Isaac, her son with Abraham.
Rebecca: wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob and Esau. She played a crucial role in facilitating Jacob’s reception of his father’s blessing. Rebecca is remembered for her beauty, kindness, and her participation in God’s plan for the chosen lineage.
Leah: the older daughter of Laban and the first wife of Jacob. Though initially unloved by Jacob, she bore him many children. Leah is recognised for her perseverance and her significant role in the establishment, through her sons, of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Rachel: the younger daughter of Laban and the beloved wife of Jacob. She is known for her beauty and her deep love for Jacob. Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin, two significant figures in the biblical narrative. Her tragic death during Benjamin’s childbirth is also a notable event.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam hold that the patriarchs, along with their primary wives, the matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah and Leah, are entombed at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a site held holy by the three religions. Rachel, Jacob’s other wife, is said to be buried separately at what is known as Rachel’s Tomb, near Bethlehem, at the site where she is believed to have died in childbirth.
Sarah (wife of Abraham)
Sarah is a biblical figure and the wife of Abraham. She is an important figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Sarah and Abraham faced challenges in conceiving a child, but according to the biblical account, God promised them a son. In their old age when Sarah was 101, she miraculously gave birth to Isaac, who became a significant figure in the religious traditions that followed. Sarah is celebrated for her faithfulness, loyalty, and resilience. Her story emphasizes the importance of trust in God’s promises and the strength of the family lineage that descended from her and Abraham. On the Goltzius engraving we see the very old Sarah laughing when she hears the angels on the background tell Abraham that they will get a son. Sarah cannot believe what she is hearing. It’s the background narrative on te print that depicts the encounter between Abraham and three angelic visitors who deliver this important message.
According to the story, Abraham saw three men standing near him. Recognising their divine nature, he hurriedly approached them and offered them hospitality, inviting them to rest and partake in a meal. Abraham and his wife Sarah quickly prepared a generous meal for their guests, consisting of freshly baked bread and cooked meat. As the guests enjoyed the meal, they engaged in conversation with Abraham. During the conversation, the visitors revealed that they were messengers from God and brought a message of great significance. They informed Abraham and Sarah that they would soon have a son, despite their old age and Sarah’s previous inability to conceive. Sarah overheard the conversation from inside the house and laughed incredulously, as she found it hard to believe such news. In response to Sarah’s laughter, one of the visitors questioned Abraham about her disbelief, asking, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” This emphasized the divine power and ability to fulfill their promise. It also served as a reminder that God’s plans can exceed human expectations and limitations.
The story of Abraham and the three angels highlights themes of hospitality, faith, and divine intervention. Abraham’s generous and welcoming nature, serves as an example of righteousness and compassion. The announcement of Sarah’s impending pregnancy, despite her age, showcases the fulfilment of God’s promises and the possibility of miracles. And indeed, Sarah gave birth to Isaac.
Rembrandt’s Abraham Entertaining the Angels of 1646 depicts the foretelling of the birth of Isaac to the elderly Abraham and his wife, Sarah. This episode, from chapter 18 of Genesis, begins with the visit of three travelers, to whom Abraham offers a meal and water with which to wash their tired feet. While eating, the guests ask about Sarah, and one of them announces that she will give birth to a son in a year’s time. Hearing this, the old Sarah, on the painting standing in the doorway on the right, laughs in disbelief, prompting the speaker – now identified in the text as God – to chastise her, asking, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” He thus reveals to the couple the divine and providential nature of his announcement.
Abraham (as Ibrahim) is also one of the most important prophets in Islam and is seen as a father of the Muslim people through his first child, Ishmael.
A Son Is Promised to Sarah, Genesis 18: 1-151One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. 2He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground. 3Abraham said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. 4Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. 5And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”
“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.” 6So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” 7Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. 8When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.
9“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked. “She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied. 10Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”
Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. 11Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. 12So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my my husband is also so old?”
13Then the visitor (who in meantime revealed himself as God) said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ 14Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” 15Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.” But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”
Rebecca (wife of Isaac)
Rebecca is a biblical figure, also mentioned in the Book of Genesis. She is one of the matriarchs and the wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob and Esau. According to the biblical narrative, the patriarch Abraham wanted to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. He sent his servant with a convoy of camels to his homeland to find a wife and there the servant encountered Rebecca near a well. He approached Rebecca and asked for a drink of water. In a remarkable display of hospitality, Rebecca not only gave him water but also volunteered to draw water for his camels until they were satisfied. He was impressed by her kindness and hospitality and believed she was the chosen woman. The servant gave her gifts of jewellery and asked for her hand in marriage on behalf of Isaac, and Rebecca agreed to go with him.
Rebecca married Isaac and became the mother of their two sons, Jacob and Esau. She played a significant role in the story of the deception that led to Jacob receiving Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. The story of Rebecca at the well highlights themes of divine guidance, hospitality, and faith. It is regarded as a pivotal event in the biblical narrative, shaping through Jacob the future of the Israelite people.
A Wife For Isaac, Genesis 24: 1-67
1Abraham was now a very old man, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. 2One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, 4"Go to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac. 9So the servant took swore to follow Abraham’s instructions. 10Then he loaded ten of Abraham’s camels with all kinds of expensive gifts from his master, and he traveled to the distant land. 11He made the camels kneel beside a well just outside the town. It was evening, and the women were coming out to draw water.
12“O Lord, God of my master, Abraham,” he prayed. “Please give me success today, and show unfailing love to my master, Abraham. 13See, I am standing here beside this spring, and the young women of the town are coming out to draw water. 14This is my request. I will ask one of them, ‘Please give me a drink from your jug.’ If she says, ‘Yes, have a drink, and I will water your camels, too!’—let her be the one you have selected as Isaac’s wife.” 15Before he had finished praying, he saw a young woman named Rebecca coming out with her water jug on her shoulder. 16Rebecca was very beautiful and old enough to be married, but she was still a virgin. She went down to the spring, filled her jug, and came up again.17Running over to her, the servant said, “Please give me a little drink of water from your jug.”
18“Yes,” she answered, “have a drink.” And she quickly lowered her jug from her shoulder and gave him a drink. 19When she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels, too, until they have had enough to drink.” 20So she quickly emptied her jug into the watering trough and ran back to the well to draw water for all his camels. 21The servant watched her in silence, wondering whether or not the Lord had given him success in his mission. 22Then at last, when the camels had finished drinking, he took out a gold ring for her nose and two large gold bracelets for her wrists.
50Then later Rebecca's brother said 51"Here is Rebecca; take her and go. Yes, let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has directed.” 52When Abraham’s servant heard their answer, he bowed down to the ground and 53then he brought out silver and gold jewellery and clothing and presented them to Rebecca. He also gave expensive presents to her brother and mother. 54Then they ate their meal, and the servant and the men with him stayed there overnight.But early the next morning, Abraham’s servant said, “Send me back to my master.” 55“But we want Rebecca to stay with us at least ten days,” her brother and mother said. “Then she can go.” 56But he said, “Don’t delay me. The Lord has made my mission successful; now send me back so I can return to my master.”
“Well,” they said, “we’ll call Rebecca and ask her what she thinks.” So they called Rebecca. “Are you willing to go with this man?” they asked her. And she replied, “Yes, I will go.” 59So they said good-bye to Rebecca and sent her away with Abraham’s servant and his men. The woman who had been Rebcca’s childhood nurse went along with her. 61Then Rebecca and her servant girls mounted the camels and followed the man. So Abraham’s servant took Rebcca and went on his way.
62Meanwhile, Isaac, when one evening as he was walking and meditating in the fields, he looked up and saw the camels coming. 64When Rebecca looked up and saw Isaac, she quickly dismounted from her camel. 65“Who is that man walking through the fields to meet us?” she asked the servant. And he replied, “It is my master.” So Rebecca covered her face with her veil. 66Then the servant told Isaac everything he had done.
67And Isaac brought Rebecca into his mother Sarah’s tent, and she became his wife. He loved her deeply, and she was a special comfort to him after the death of his mother.
Leah and Rachel (wives of Jacob)
Leah and Rachel are prominent figures in the biblical narrative, specifically in the Book of Genesis. They are sisters and the daughters of Laban, who is Rebecca’s brother. They become the wives of Jacoband play significant roles in the story of the patriarchs.
Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, traveled to the land of his uncle Laban in search of a wife. Jacob encountered the beautiful Rachel at a well, where she was going to water her sheep. Jacob fell in love with Rachel at first sight and desired to marry her. In exchange for marrying Rachel, Laban asked Jacob to work for him for seven years. However, on the wedding night, Laban deceived Jacob by giving him Leah instead of Rachel. Upon discovering the deception, Jacob confronted Laban, who explained that it was not their custom to give the younger daughter in marriage before the elder daughter. Laban offered Rachel to Jacob as well but required him to work for an additional seven years. As a result, Jacob married both Leah and Rachel, becoming polygamous according to the customs of that time. Leah, who was described as having “weak eyes,” became Jacob’s first wife, while Rachel, whom Jacob loved more, became his second wife.
The story of Leah and Rachel portrays a complex and often troubled relationship between the two sisters. Leah, feeling unloved by Jacob, yearned for his affection. She gave birth to several sons, including Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. Rachel, on the other hand, initially faced infertility and struggled with jealousy over Leah’s ability to bear children. Eventually, Rachel conceived and gave birth to two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Tragically, Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin.
The story of Leah and Rachel encompasses themes of love, rivalry, fertility, and the complexities of family relationships. Their roles as the wives of Jacob and the mothers of the twelve tribes of Israel make them significant figures in the biblical narrative.
At the well, Jacob noticed a large stone covering its mouth. He asked the shepherds about the well and the people of the area. They informed him that they were waiting for all the shepherds to gather before they could remove the stone and water their flocks. While they were conversing, Jacob saw Rachel, Laban’s daughter, approaching the well with her father’s sheep. Overwhelmed by Rachel’s beauty, Jacob was immediately drawn to her. Filled with excitement, he approached the shepherds and asked them to remove the stone so that Rachel’s sheep could drink.
As Jacob helped Rachel water her flock, he was overcome with emotion. Without hesitation, he kissed Rachel and wept aloud. Jacob’s meeting with Rachel at the well is often romanticized as a moment of love at first sight. The story serves as a turning point in Jacob’s life, as it leads to his eventual marriage to Rachel and marks the beginning of his years of service to Laban in order to earn Rachel’s hand in marriage.
Jacob fell in love with Rachel and to earn her hand in marriage agreed to work as a shepherd for her father, Laban, for seven years. But, presumably under cover of the marriage veil, Laban substituted his elder daughter Leah for Rachel. When Jacob discovered the deceit the morning after the marriage, he was bitterly disappointed. He reproached his new father-in-law, but Laban argued that the elder daughter must be married first. He compromised by offering to allow him to marry Rachel as well – in return for another seven years work. The determined Jacob agreed, and was eventually simultaneously married to both sisters, and had 12 children.
Jan Steen in the painting above, portrays the dramatic moment of surprise when Jacob discovers the Laban has deceived him. The younger woman in the bed is Leah whom Jacob married the night before. Her handmaid kneels before her offering a bowl of water. To the left stands Rachel, while Laban is obliged to explain the deceit to a beseeching and agitated Jacob. Celebrants from the wedding night’s festivities give context and a bit of levity to the scene. The rich, theatrical setting and lush appointments of the bedroom set the scene in the historical past, a device that Steen may have adopted from contemporary Dutch theatre.
The story of Jacob and the speckled lambs depicts a scheme devised by Jacob to increase his own wealth while working for his father-in-law, Laban. After Jacob’s marriage to Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, he agreed to work for Laban for a total of 14 years in exchange for marrying Rachel. During his service, Jacob became a skilled shepherd and developed a keen understanding of animal husbandry, although more relying on the hand of God than on Mendel’s Laws of Genetics.
Jacob noticed that Laban’s flock consisted mainly of solid-colored sheep and goats. He proposed a deal to Laban, suggesting that he would continue to work for him but requested a specific arrangement regarding the offspring of the flock. Jacob proposed that he would keep any lambs that were speckled, spotted, or otherwise marked differently from the rest of the flock as his own.
Laban agreed to this arrangement, likely thinking that the chances of such offspring were slim. However, Jacob had a plan. He took rods of poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled off strips of bark to create striped patterns on them. He placed these rods in the watering troughs where the flock would come to drink. When the flock mated, Jacob strategically positioned the rods in the watering troughs so that the sight of the striped patterns would be imprinted in the minds of the animals during conception. As a result, many of the offspring were born with speckled, spotted, or striped markings.
Over time, Jacob’s flock began to grow, and Laban’s flock dwindled in comparison. Jacob’s understanding of animal breeding and the use of selective breeding techniques allowed him to increase his own wealth while Laban’s flock decreased. The story of Jacob and the speckled lambs demonstrates Jacob’s resourcefulness and cunning in outwitting Laban and increasing his own wealth. It also highlights the theme of divine intervention, as Jacob attributes his success to God’s guidance and favor.
Jacob arrives at the well, Genesis 29: 1-141Then Jacob hurried on, finally arriving in the land of the east. 2He saw a well in the distance. Three flocks of sheep and goats lay in an open field beside it, waiting to be watered. But a heavy stone covered the mouth of the well. 3It was the custom there to wait for all the flocks to arrive before removing the stone and watering the animals. Afterward the stone would be placed back over the mouth of the well.
7Jacob said, “Look, it’s still broad daylight, too early to round up the animals. Why don’t you water the sheep and goats so they can get back out to pasture?” 8“We can’t water the animals until all the flocks have arrived,” they replied. “Then the shepherds move the stone from the mouth of the well, and we water all the sheep and goats.”
9Jacob was still talking with them when Rachel arrived with her father’s flock, for she was a shepherd. 10And because Rachel was his cousin, the daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, and because the sheep and goats belonged to his uncle Laban, Jacob went over to the well and moved the stone from its mouth and watered his uncle’s flock. 11Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and he wept aloud. 12He explained to Rachel that he was her cousin on her father’s side, the son of her aunt Rebecca. So Rachel quickly ran and told her father, Laban.
13As soon as Laban heard that his nephew Jacob had arrived, he ran out to meet him. He embraced and kissed him and brought him home. When Jacob had told him his story, 14Laban exclaimed, “You really are my own flesh and blood!”
Jacob Marries Leah and Rachel, Genesis 29: 14-30
14After Jacob had stayed with Laban for about a month, 15Laban said to him, “You shouldn’t work for me without pay just because we are relatives. Tell me how much your wages should be.”
16Now Laban had two daughters. The older daughter was named Leah, and the younger one was Rachel. 17There was no sparkle in Leah’s eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face. 18Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he told her father, “I’ll work for you for seven years if you’ll give me Rachel, your younger daughter, as my wife.”
19“Agreed!” Laban replied. “I’d rather give her to you than to anyone else. Stay and work with me.” 20So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days.
21Finally, the time came for him to marry her. “I have fulfilled my agreement,” Jacob said to Laban. “Now give me my wife so I can sleep with her.” 22So Laban invited everyone in the neighborhood and prepared a wedding feast.
23But that night, when it was dark, Laban took Leah to Jacob, and he slept with her. 25But when Jacob woke up in the morning—it was Leah! “What have you done to me?” Jacob raged at Laban. “I worked seven years for Rachel! Why have you tricked me?” 26“It’s not our custom here to marry off a younger daughter ahead of the firstborn,” Laban replied. 27“But wait until the bridal week is over; then we’ll give you Rachel, too—provided you promise to work another seven years for me.”
28So Jacob agreed to work seven more years. A week after Jacob had married Leah, Laban gave him Rachel, too. 30So Jacob slept with Rachel, too, and he loved her much more than Leah. He then stayed and worked for Laban the additional seven years.
Jacob’s Wealth Increases, Genesis 30:25-4325Soon after Rachel had given birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Please release me so I can go home to my own country. 26Let me take my wives and children, for I have earned them by serving you, and let me be on my way. You certainly know how hard I have worked for you.”
27“Please listen to me,” Laban replied. “I have become wealthy, for the Lord has blessed me because of you. 28Tell me how much I owe you. Whatever it is, I’ll pay it.” 29Jacob replied, “You know how hard I’ve worked for you, and how your flocks and herds have grown under my care. 30You had little indeed before I came, but your wealth has increased enormously. The Lord has blessed you through everything I’ve done. But now, what about me? When can I start providing for my own family?” 31“What wages do you want?” Laban asked again.
Jacob replied, “Don’t give me anything. Just do this one thing, and I’ll continue to tend and watch over your flocks. 32Let me inspect your flocks today and remove all the sheep and goats that are speckled or spotted, along with all the black sheep. Give these to me as my wages. 33In the future, when you check on the animals you have given me as my wages, you’ll see that I have been honest. If you find in my flock any goats without speckles or spots, or any sheep that are not black, you will know that I have stolen them from you.” 34“All right,” Laban replied. “It will be as you say.” 35But that very day Laban went out and removed the male goats that were streaked and spotted, all the female goats that were speckled and spotted or had white patches, and all the black sheep. He placed them in the care of his own sons, 36who took them a three-days’ journey from where Jacob was. Meanwhile, Jacob stayed and cared for the rest of Laban’s flock.
37Then Jacob took some fresh branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees and peeled off strips of bark, making white streaks on them. 38Then he placed these peeled branches in the watering troughs where the flocks came to drink, for that was where they mated. 39And when they mated in front of the white-streaked branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked, speckled, and spotted. 40Jacob separated those lambs from Laban’s flock. And at mating time he turned the flock to face Laban’s animals that were streaked or black. This is how he built his own flock instead of increasing Laban’s.
41Whenever the stronger females were ready to mate, Jacob would place the peeled branches in the watering troughs in front of them. Then they would mate in front of the branches. 42But he didn’t do this with the weaker ones, so the weaker lambs belonged to Laban, and the stronger ones were Jacob’s. 43As a result, Jacob became very wealthy, with large flocks of sheep and goats, female and male servants, and many camels and donkeys.
Abraham & Sarah
Two sons: Isaac (with Sarah) and Ismael (with Hagar).
Isaac & Rebecca
Two sons: Jacob and Esau
Jacob & Leah
Six sons and one daughter: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun and Dinah
Lucas van Leyden was a Dutch Renaissance painter and printmaker. He was born in Leiden, The Netherlands, in 1494, and died there in 1533 at the age of 39. Lucas van Leyden was one of the most important artists of the Northern Renaissance. He was known for his intricate and detailed engravings in various genres, including religious subjects, portraits, and landscapes; with a particular interest in capturing the expressions and emotions of his subjects. Lucas van Leyden’s style combined the influences of the Italian Renaissance with the local traditions of the Netherlands. His religious works originate from the traditional Catholic background, as that was the widely accepted and almost exclusive religion during Lucas van Leyden’s life and that of his contemporaries. The Reformation started only during his lifetime.
In 1510 Lucas van Leyden produced a series of fourteen engravings with Christ as Salvator Mundi, Paul and the Twelve Apostles. Let’s have a look.
“Salvator Mundi” is a Latin term that translates to “Savior of the World”. In the context of art, “Salvator Mundi” refers to a specific subject matter that has been depicted in Christian religious art. “Salvator Mundi” typically portrays Jesus Christ as the savior of humanity. The subject is often depicted with Jesus blessing the viewer with his right hand and holding a globe or crystal orb symbolizing his role as the ruler of the world.
The Apostles are the twelve disciples who were chosen by Jesus Christ to be his closest followers and to spread his teachings. They played a central role in the formation and early development of Christianity. Paul, not part of the original group of twelve, is considered so important in spreading the word of God, that he often is included in the group of apostles. Together with Jesus Christ himself, the group as depicted by Lucas van Leyden in 1510 consists of 14: Jesus Christ as Salvator Mundi, Paul and the Twelve Apostles.
Their names and symbols, in sequence of the series by Lucas van Leyden, are as follows:
Jesus Christ as Salvator Mundi
Peter, with the Keys, representing his role as the “keeper of the keys” to the Kingdom of Heaven
Paulus with a sword as a reminder of the means of his martyrdom.
Andrew, with an X-shaped cross known as the saltire or St. Andrew’s Cross, as he was crucified on such a cross.
John, holding a chalice or cup with a serpent in it, representing the cup of poisoned wine that he drank without harm, symbolising Christian faith prevailing over death, signified by the serpent.
James the Greater, with a pilgrim staff and bag, and a hat with scallop shells, symbol of pilgrimage.
Thomas, with a spear, referring to his martyrdom.
James the Less, with a club, as he was beaten to death.
Bartholomew, with a knife, alluding to the tradition that he was martyred by being skinned alive.
Philip with a cross, referring to his crucifixion.
Judas Thaddeus with a builder’s square, as he was an architect of the Christian church.
Simon, with a saw, as he was reportedly martyred by being sawn in two.
Matthew, A halberd, symbol of his martyrdom.
Matthias, with an axe, or cleaver, symbol of martyrdom.
Their symbols serve as visual cues to help identify and distinguish the individual Apostles in religious art and iconography. It’s worth noting that some variations and interpretations of the symbols may exist in different traditions or artistic representations.
An engraving is a printmaking technique that involves incising or carving a design onto a hard surface, typically a metal plate. The process is typically done with a sharp tool called a burin, although other tools can be used as well. Here’s a general overview of the engraving process:
Plate Preparation: The artist begins with a flat, smooth metal plate, often made of copper, zinc, or steel. The plate is polished and cleaned to create a clean surface for the engraving.
Incising the Design: Using a burin or another engraving tool, the artist cuts lines directly into the plate. The lines are incised with varying depths and thicknesses to create the desired effects of light, shade, and texture.
Ink Application: After the engraving is complete, ink is applied to the plate. The ink is usually spread across the surface, filling the incised lines.
Wiping and Printing: The excess ink is carefully wiped off the plate’s surface, leaving ink only in the incised lines. A sheet of paper is then placed on top of the plate, and both are passed through a printing press. The pressure transfers the ink from the incised lines onto the paper, creating the printed image.
Engravings can produce highly detailed and precise images with a distinctive quality. The process allows for intricate line work and shading effects, making it suitable for capturing fine details and subtle variations in tone. Engravings are often characterized by their crisp lines and rich contrasts. Engravings have been used for centuries by artists, particularly during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. They have also been utilized for illustrations, bookplates, currency printing, and decorative purposes.
Hereunder a timetable linking the Italian Renaissance and Northern Renaissance, and linking the invention of book printing to the spread of the Reformation over the continent. Lucas van Leyden lived and worked at the dawn of the Reformation. His work originates from the tradition Catholic background. As reference, Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age are a century later.
1433, Jan van Eyck
Northern Renaissance artists, such as Jan van Eyck and Albrecht Dürer incorporated new techniques like oil painting and printmaking, contributing to the advancement of artistic practices.
Jan van Eyck (Flemish, c.1390 – 1441), Portrait of a Man, Self-portrait (1433), National Gallery, London.
1450, Gutenberg Bible
The Gutenberg Bible was the first “printed” book. It was printed by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany in 1450. The Gutenberg Bible is a landmark achievement in the history of printing and played a significant role in the dissemination of knowledge and the spread of the Protestant Reformation.
1479, Sandro Botticelli
One of the prominent artists of the Italian Renaissance whose works exemplify the ideals and themes of the classical mythology, humanism, and the exploration of perspective and proportion.
Sandro Botticelli (Florentine, 1446 – 1510), Portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici (c.1479), National Gallery of Art, Washington.
1498, Albrecht Dürer
Painter, printmaker, and theorist; one of the most renowned figures associated with the Northern Renaissance. Dürer’s mastery of printmaking allowed for the wider dissemination of his works and ideas throughout Europe.
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471 – 1528), Self-portrait at 26 (1498), Prado, Madrid.
Lucas van Leyden (Netherlandish, 1494 – 1533) Series with Christ, Paul and the Twelve Apostles (c.1510)
1517, Maarten Luther
On 31 October 1517, Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg protesting at the sale of papal indulgences. This led to public debate about corruption in the Catholic Church and about church doctrine itself, and sparked off the Reformation.
Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, 1472 – 1553), Portrait of Martin Luther (1528), Veste Coburg Art Collections, Coburg, Germany.
1550, Johannes Calvin
Johannes Calvin (1509 – 1564) was a French theologian and key figure of the Protestant Reformation. His teachings and writings, particularly the concept of predestination, shaped the development of Reformed theology and had a lasting impact on Protestant Christianity.
Portrait by unknown painter (c.1550), Museum Catharijne Convent, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
The “Beeldenstorm” (Iconoclastic Fury) refers to a series of violent outbreaks in the Netherlands in 1566. Protestant reformers expressed their opposition to the Catholic Church and its practices by vandalizing and destroying religious images and statues, particularly those found in churches and monasteries. The “Beeldenstorm” became the starting point of the Eighty Years’ War or Dutch Revolt (1566 – 1648), the protracted conflict where the Dutch provinces fought for independence from Spanish (and Catholic) rule, ultimately leading to the establishment of the Dutch Republic.
Rembrandt (Netherlandish, 1606 – 1669), Self-Portrait, Age 23 (1629), Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA.
In religious contexts, the term “apostles” typically refers to the twelve individuals chosen by Jesus Christ to be his closest followers and to spread his teachings. They are also known as the Twelve Apostles or the Apostles of Jesus. The apostles played a significant role in the development and early spread of Christianity. They witnessed Jesus’ teachings, miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the apostles became central figures in the formation of the early Christian community. They preached the gospel, performed miracles, and established churches in different regions. The word “apostle” comes from the Greek word “apostolos,” meaning “one who is sent out.” The twelve apostles are traditionally identified as:
Peter: fisherman, leader of the apostles and first pope according to Catholic tradition.
Andrew: brother of Peter, also a fisherman.
John: “The Beloved One”, known as the author of the Gospel of John.
James: the pilgrim, also referred to as James the Greater.
Matthew: former tax collector, maybe the author of the Gospel of Matthew.
Thomas: known for his initial doubt about Jesus’ resurrection.
Bartholomew: preaching as far as in India and Armenia, skinned alive.
Philip: baptised an Ethiopian courtier.
Simon: martyred by being sawn in half.
James: also known as James the Less.
Judas Thaddeus: not to be confused with Judas Iscariot.
Judas Iscariot: infamously known for betraying Jesus.
After Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and subsequent death, Matthias was chosen to replace him. The apostle Paul (originally known as Saul) is also considered an apostle, although he was not part of the original twelve. Paul played a significant role in spreading Christianity throughout the Mediterranean and authored several spiritual letters (epistles).
It’s worth noting that in some religious traditions, the term “apostle” may be used more broadly to refer to other individuals who were not part of the original twelve but were influential in the early Christian movement. For example, the apostle Paul is often considered an apostle due to his significant contributions to the spread of Christianity through his missionary journeys and his epistles included in the New Testament.
Petrus (“Petrus”) was a fisherman named Simon. Jesus called him and his brother Andrew to be Jesus’ followers. He received the name “Cephas” from Jesus, which means “rock” in the local Aramaic language; hence “Peter” (Πέτρος, Petros), which means “rock” in Greek, the language of the first bible books. Peter is recognised as the leader of the 12 apostles and as the first Pope and Bishop of Rome. He was crucified in Rome under Emperor Nero around AD 65. Peter’s attributes are a set of keys, one gold and one silver, which are The Keys of Heaven. He is buried in the St Peter Basilica in Rome.
A story from the life of Peter is as follows. When Jesus was arrested, Peter had followed at a distance. On the painting hereunder we can see what happened next. A servant girl apparently recognised Peter and said to him, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus. “ Peter denied it. But then she said it to some bystanders. Again Peter denied it. Finally, the bystanders said it to him as well and, for the third time, he denied knowing Jesus. This time he swore, “I do not know this man of whom you speak”. Then the cock crowed for the second time and Peter remembered the words of Jesus, “Before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” Then Peter broke down and wept (New Testament, Mark 14:72).
Andrew, in Latin “Andreas”, is the brother of Petrus. Both Andrew and Peter were fishermen by trade, hence the tradition that Jesus called them by saying that he will make them “fishers of men” These narratives record that Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and initially used a boat, described as being Peter’s, as a platform for preaching to the multitudes on the shore and then as a means to achieving a huge trawl of fish on a night which had hitherto proved fruitless.
Andrew is said to have been martyred by crucifixion in the year 60, bound – not nailed – to a Latin cross of the kind on which Jesus is said to have been crucified. Yet a tradition developed that Andrew had been crucified on a cross of the form called crux decussata (X-shaped cross, or “saltire”), now commonly known as a “Saint Andrew’s Cross”, supposedly at his own request, as he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus had been. The “Saint Andrew’s Cross” is now also the national flag of Scotland. Several legends state that the relics of Andrew were brought by divine guidance from Constantinople to the place where the modern Scottish town of St Andrews stands today. Andrew preached along the Black Sea and the Dnieper River as far as Kiev, and from there he travelled to Novgorod. Hence, he became a patron saint of Ukraine, Romania, and Russia.
Andrew is traditionally portrayed with a long beard and a saltire cross. How to remember: the flag of Scotland and The Saint Andrews Golf Club, one of the oldest and most posh golf clubs worldwide
In the painting hereunder we find Jesus calling his first disciples. He approaches two fishermen at work on the Sea of Galilee: Simon, called Peter, and his brother Andrew. Their net is full when Jesus says to them: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (New Testament, Matthew 4:18).
The Apostle John, also known as Saint John the Evangelist and not to be confused with John the Baptist, holds a significant place in Christian tradition and the New Testament of the Bible. John had a brother named James (often referred to as James the Greater). John, James and Peter, formed the inner circle of disciples closest to Jesus. They were present at all the important events in Jesus’ life and ministery. John is often referred to as “The Beloved One”, the disciple whom Jesus loved. He is portrayed as having a close and intimate relationship with Jesus. According to tradition, John is also credited as the author of the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. According to legend, John the Evangelist was given a cup of poisoned wine that he drank without harm. As emblems of the tale, John’s chalice symbolizes the Christian faith prevailing over death. In the painting above, Rubens depicted John with the chalice.
John (or Johannes) has an important presence at the crucifixion, as depicted in the painting hereunder. Immediately after Christ’s death, his followers lifted Jesus Christ down from the cross and lamented over his body. At the heart of the composition, the weeping Virgin kneels beside her dead son, supported by John. From the cross, Jesus had entrusted the care of his mother to his most beloved disciple. Joseph of Arimathea supports the dead body, Nicodemus holds up one end of the shroud. According to the Bible, these two men would anoint and bury the body. On the left, three women let their tears flow freely. One of them is Mary Magdalene (identified by her ointment jar), who dries her eyes with her cloak. On the right, by Christ’s feet, kneels a bishop, undoubtedly the man who commissioned the work. He is accompanied by Peter (with the keys of heaven) and Paul (with the sword used to behead him). The skull in the foreground is an allusion to Calvary, the site of the Crucifixion. The skull belongs to Adam, who was supposedly buried there. Van der Weyden rendered the bishop’s episcopal robes in breathtaking detail. The fact that the twelve apostles are depicted on the embroidered borders of the cope is significant. The bishop, after all, had followed in the footsteps of the apostles who spread the gospel after the Crucifixion. The presence of Peter and Paul behind the bishop can be explained in that light. As the first Bishop of Rome, Peter also had a special significance: he was the most eminent predecessor of the man who commissioned this painting.
James the Greater
James the Greater, in Latin “Jacobus Maior”, preached the message and teachings of Jesus in Spain and became the patron saint of Spain and, according to tradition, his remains are held in Santiago de Compostela. This name Santiago is the local evolution of his name “Sancti Iacobi”. The traditional pilgrimage to the grave of the saint, known as the “Way of St. James”, has been the most popular pilgrimage in Western Europe from the Early Middle Ages onwards. James is styled “the Greater” to distinguish him from the Apostle James “the Less”, with “greater” meaning older or taller, rather than more important. James the Greater was the brother of John. James, along with his brother John and Peter, formed an informal triumvirate among the Twelve Apostles. He is mostly depicted clothed as a pilgrim, with a scallop shell (Coquille St Jacques) on his shoulder, and his staff and pilgrim’s hat beside him. Pilgrims to his shrine often wore the scallop shell as symbol on their hats or clothes.
How to remember? Think: Coquille St Jacques and Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
Before becoming an apostle, Matthew (“Matheus” in Latin) worked as a tax collector in Capernaum. Tax collectors were often despised by their fellow Jews because they were seen as collaborators with the Roman authorities and were associated with greed and corruption. However, Jesus called Matthew to be one of his disciples, demonstrating his inclusive message of grace and forgiveness. As an apostle, Matthew witnessed Jesus’ teachings, miracles, and ministry firsthand. He was chosen by Jesus to be part of the inner circle of disciples and was present at significant events such as the Transfiguration and the Last Supper. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Matthew, along with the other apostles, was entrusted with spreading the message of salvation and establishing the early Christian community.
Matthew is traditionally regarded as the author of the Gospel of Matthew, which is the first book of the New Testament. This gospel focuses on presenting Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, and the teacher of the new law. According to tradition, after his time with Jesus, Matthew traveled and preached the Gospel, possibly in regions such as Ethiopia or Persia. However, the historical records regarding his later life and martyrdom are limited and not universally agreed upon.
The painting hereunder depicts the story from the Gospel of Matthew (New Testament, Matthew 9:9): “Jesus saw a man named Matthew at his seat in the tax collector’s office, and said to him, “Follow me”, and Matthew rose and followed Him.” Ter Brugghen depicts Matthew as the tax collector sitting at a table with few companions who seem to be more interested in the money and earthly tax collecting business. Jewish tax collectors in the time of Christ worked for the occupying Roman government, so they were especially hated in Israel. If that were not enough, tax collectors commonly took more than was required by the Romans in order to pay themselves. This meant tax collectors were frequently much wealthier than most Jewish citizens, who were just barely getting by day by day. The typical stereotype of a tax collector, in that time, was that of a greedy, sinful, traitorous sinner. On this painting Jesus Christ has entered the room, and is pointing at Matthew. Matthew is surprised and seems to say: “Who, me?”. This is a depiction of a moment of spiritual awakening and conversion, the moment when Matthew abandons everything and joins the circle and life of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Thomas, also known as “Doubting Thomas”, is particularly known for his initial skepticism regarding Jesus’ resurrection. After Jesus’ crucifixion, the other disciples told Thomas that they had seen the risen Jesus. However, Thomas expressed doubt and insisted that he needed to see and touch Jesus’ wounds to believe. Later, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, he specifically addressed Thomas and invited him to touch his wounds. Thomas, upon seeing and touching Jesus, declared, “My Lord and my God!” This incident reflects Thomas’ transformation from doubt to faith. Thomas’ subsequent activities and ministry are not extensively documented in the biblical texts. However, early Christian tradition suggests that he may have traveled and preached the Gospel in regions such as Parthia (part of modern-day Iran) and India and maybe even into China.
The subject of this painting herunder is taken from the Gospels (New Testament, John 20:24–28). The scene depicts the moment when Thomas, seeking proof of the Resurrection, places his fingers in the wound in Christ’s right side. Thomas not only rejected all the evidence of the Resurrection, but he also demands the most absolute, personal proof possible. He wants more than visual proof. He insists on disbelieving until he can physically touch the wounds in Jesus’ resurrected body. Which Christ allows him to do so. Here he gained his nickname: “Doubting Thomas.” This is the theme of human weakness in believing and the tendency to disbelieving.
The Apostle Bartholomew, in Latin “Bartholomaeus”, is listed among the apostles but is not as prominently featured as some of the others. He is mainly mentioned in the context of being one of the twelve and participating in the ministry of Jesus. According to early Christian traditions, Bartholomew is believed to have traveled extensively as a missionary, spreading the teachings of Jesus. Some traditions suggest that he traveled to India and Armenia, where he preached the Gospel and established Christian communities. The accounts of his martyrdom vary, but many sources indicate that he was martyred for his faith, with some accounts suggesting that he was flayed or crucified upside down.
One famous painting that features the apostle Bartholomew is “The Last Judgment” by Michelangelo. It is a monumental fresco located on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. In this painting, Bartholomew is depicted holding his own flayed skin, as he was said to have been martyred by being skinned alive. In Michelangelo’s depiction, Bartholomew holds his skin in one hand, while his other hand holds a knife, symbolizing the instrument of his martyrdom.
Bartholomew is the patron saint of tanners, tailors, leatherworkers, bookbinders, and butchers.
According to the Bible, Philip was from the town of Bethsaida in Galilee, like Andrew and Peter. He is first mentioned in the Gospel of John, where he is called by Jesus to become his disciple. Philip played a role in several significant events in the New Testament. For example, he was present when Jesus fed the multitude of thousands with five loaves of bread and two fish. After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Philip continued to spread the teachings of Jesus and played a role in the early Christian community. Philip is particularly known for his encounter with an Ethiopian courtier or eunuch. He explained the Scriptures to the eunuch and baptized him, leading to the spread of Christianity in Ethiopia. A note: this could also have been Philip the Evangelist; it’s unclear if these two are one and the same Philip or both different ones. Philip the Apostle’s later life and his ultimate fate are not extensively recorded in the Bible. However, according to tradition, he continued to preach the gospel and performed miracles in various regions, including Syria and Greece. It is believed that Philip died as a martyr, having been crucified upside down. He is therefor often depicted with a cross.
Rembrandt painted the scene related to the baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch. In his painting, Rembrandt depicts the biblical episode found in the Book of Acts (New Testament, Acts 8:26-40), where the apostle Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza. The eunuch is reading a passage from the Book of Isaiah but does not fully understand its meaning. Philip explains the Scripture to him, and upon their arrival at a body of water, the eunuch requests to be baptized. Rembrandt captures this pivotal moment as Philip performs the baptism.
The apostle Simon, also known as Simon the Zealot, was also one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus Christ. Not much is known about Simon’s background or his activities outside of being an apostle. The name “Simon the Zealot” suggests that he may have been a member of the Jewish political group called the Zealots, known for their fervent patriotism and opposition to Roman rule. As an apostle, Simon was entrusted with spreading the message of Jesus after his death and resurrection. Tradition holds that Simon continued to spread the Gospel after Jesus’ ascension, possibly traveling to Persia or further regions. Historical records regarding his later life and martyrdom are sparse and not widely agreed upon.
There are several paintings that depict the apostles, including Simon. However, there are no definitive or widely accepted artistic representations of Simon the Apostle, as there is no specific physical description of him in the biblical texts. In religious artwork, the apostles are often portrayed as a group or in scenes related to specific biblical events, such as the Last Supper or the Pentecost. In these depictions, Simon is typically included among the twelve apostles, but he may not always be individually highlighted or distinguishable. There is a vague story that Simon was martyred be being sawn in half and therefore in art, Simon sometimes has the identifying attribute of a saw.
James the Less
The apostle James the Less is called “Less” to indicate his relative obscurity or younger age compared to James the Great. Not much is known about James the Less beyond his designation as an apostle.
The martyr symbol traditionally associated with Saint James the Less is a fuller’s club, as he was said to have been martyred by being beaten to death with a club or a similar instrument. A fuller’s club was a tool used by fullers, the workers in the wool industry who beat or thump the cloth to clean, shrink and thicken it. James the Less is still the patron saint of the fullers and textile workers.
Judas Thaddeus is one of the twelve original apostles, but information about him is limited. Although he certainly played an important role in spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ after his death and resurrection. Judas Thaddeus is believed to have traveled to various regions, including Syria, Mesopotamia, and Armenia, where he is highly venerated as one of the founding apostles of the Armenian Church. His attributes are ambiguous. It can be a club as symbol of his martyrdom, or a book as general “scripture” reference, or a flame around his head which represents his presence at Pentecost, when he received the Holy Spirit with the other apostles. I like the option of a carpenter’s square the most, as a metaphorical symbol of Judas Thaddeus being an architect of the church. Judas Thaddeus is the patron saint of desperate situations and lost causes; good to know!
A note: Judas Thaddeus is to be clearly distinguished from Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus prior to his crucifixion.
Judas Iscariot was chosen by Jesus Christ to be one of his apostles but is known primarily for his betrayal of Jesus. According to the Gospels, Judas agreed to betray Jesus to the religious authorities in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. He identified Jesus to the authorities by giving him a kiss, leading to Jesus’ arrest. This event ultimately led to Jesus’ crucifixion. The act of betrayal has been widely condemned, and Judas is often portrayed as a symbol of treachery and betrayal. Judas’ story concludes tragically. After the betrayal, he reportedly felt remorse for his actions and attempted to return the money. However, overcome by guilt, he ultimately hanged himself.
On the frescos by Giotto, both from the wonderful Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, we can see (above) Judas who just plotted his betrayal and received the bag with the thirty pieces of silver; firmly in grip of the devil! And (below) Judas identifies Jesus Christ with a kiss, an act of friendship he would turn into betrayal.
The Apostle Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the twelve apostles following Judas’ betrayal and subsequent death by suicide. After Jesus’ ascension, the remaining eleven apostles felt the need to replace Judas Iscariot in order to restore the number of apostles to twelve, a significant symbolic number. They believed it was essential to have twelve apostles to fulfill the mission and ministry that Jesus had entrusted to them. To select a new apostle, the remaining apostles prayed and sought guidance from God. They determined that the new apostle must be someone who had been with them from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and had witnessed his resurrection. The apostles prayed, cast lots, and ultimately chose Matthias as the one to take Judas’ place. Matthias was then counted as one of the twelve, and he joined the other apostles in spreading the message of Jesus Christ. The biblical account does not provide extensive details about Matthias’ activities or specific teachings, and he is not mentioned again in the New Testament after his selection. In art, Matthias does not have a well-defined or universally recognized symbol. While he is often depicted as one of the twelve apostles, his individual attributes or symbols are not as established or consistent as those of some other apostles.
The Apostle Paul, originally known as Saul, is recognized as one of the most influential and prolific writers of the New Testament. Paul’s life and teachings played a crucial role in the spread of Christianity. Before his conversion to Christianity, Paul was a zealous persecutor of early Christians. However, his life took a dramatic turn when he encountered a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus. This encounter led to his conversion and subsequent dedication to spreading the Gospel. Paul’s epistles, or letters, form a significant part of the New Testament. They provide theological insights, practical guidance for Christian living, and address various issues faced by the early Christian communities. Paul’s teachings contributed significantly to the development of Christian theology and helped shape the early Christian community. His writings continue to be studied and revered by Christians worldwide.
In addition to his theological and missionary contributions, Paul also endured hardships and persecution for the sake of the Gospel. He was imprisoned multiple times, faced opposition from both Jewish and Roman authorities, and eventually died as a martyr, traditionally believed to have been executed in Rome. Rubens includes Paul in his series of apostles, as many other artists also did. The depiction of Paul with a sword is primarily influenced by his writings and teachings. In his letters, Paul frequently uses metaphors related to warfare and battle to describe the Christian life and the spiritual struggle against evil. He speaks of the “sword of the Spirit” as a metaphor for the Word of God, emphasizing its power and authority.
And hereunder the Caravaggio painting with the moment of the apostle Paul’s conversion as described in the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible. Paul (then still known as Saul) is shown falling from his horse and extending his arms to the blinding divine light that emanates from heaven, in a gesture of astonishment and surrender.
Peter and Paul
And to make the circle round, here is an El Greco painting that brings “Peter”, the first apostle, together with “Paul”, the last one. These two apostles are the most prominent figures in the early Christian community and have a common feast day. Peter, was chosen by Jesus as the leader of the apostles and is considered the first Pope. Paul, formerly a persecutor of Christians who underwent a profound conversion and became a significant evangelist and writer of several Epistles in the New Testament. The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul is observed on June 29 to commemorate the martyrdom of these apostles and to celebrate the role of these apostles in spreading the Gospel and establishing the early Christian Church. The feast is marked with special Masses and liturgical ceremonies, and it holds particular significance in Rome, where the Basilica of Saint Peter and the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls are dedicated to these saints.
Jael, Samson, Judith and David are heroes from the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament who risked their own lives to save their people from the enemy. They are unlikely but true heroes, charming, clever and cunning, and in the case of Samson fighting with physical strength. Paintings with these true heroes had often a political or moralising message. Their stories were associated with the underdog defeating an oppressor; a small country fighting victoriously against the big enemy. The four are commonly depicted as follows: Jael holds the hammer and peg with which she killed Sisera (Judges 4:17-23), Judith displays the head of Holofernes and holds the sword with which she decapitated him (Judith 13:6-10), David leans on the gigantic sword with which he cut off the head of Goliath (I Sam.17: 51), and finally Samson who holds the jawbone with which he slew a thousand Philistines (Judges 15:15-20).
The topic of the canvas is the moment in which Jael is about to kill Sisera, a general of the enemy. Jael welcomed Sisera into her tent and covered him with a blanket. Sisera asked Jael for a drink of water; she gave him milk instead and comforted him so that he fell asleep in her lap. Quietly, Jael took a hammer and drove a tent peg through Sisera’s skull while he was sleeping, killing him instantly. Jael was the woman with the honour of defeating the enemy and their army.
Besieged by the Assyrians, the beautiful Israelite widow Judith went into the enemy camp of Holofernes to win his confidence. During a great banquet Holofernes became drunk, and later in his tent Judith seized his sword and cut off his head. Often an elderly female servant is depicted taking away the head in a bag or basket. Look at the Mantegna painting, you can see Holofernes on the bed, just by way of one of his feet! Their leader gone; the enemy was soon defeated by the Israelites. This ancient heroine was understood in the Renaissance as a symbol of civic virtue, of intolerance of tyranny, and of a just cause triumphing over evil. The story of Judith and Holofernes comes from the “Book of Judith”, a text that’s part of the Old Testament of the Catholic Bible. The Book of Judith is excluded from the Hebrew and Protestant Bible, but still considered an important additional historical text.
This is the story of the Israelite boy David and the Philistine giant Goliath. The Israelites are fighting the Philistines, whose champion – Goliath – repeatedly offers to meet the Israelites’ best warrior in single combat to decide the whole battle. None of the trained Israelite soldiers is brave enough to fight Goliath, until David – a shepherd boy who is too young to be a soldier – accepts the challenge. The Israelite leader offers David armor and weapons, but the boy is untrained and refuses them. Instead, he goes out with his sling, and confronts the enemy. He hits Goliath in the head with a stone from his sling, knocking the giant down, and then grabs Goliath’s sword and cuts off his head. The Philistines withdraw and the Israelites are saved. David’s courage and faith illustrates the triumph of good over evil. Donatello’s bronze statue is famous as the first unsupported standing work of bronze cast during the Renaissance, and the first freestanding nude male sculpture made since antiquity. It depicts David with an enigmatic smile, posed with his foot on Goliath’s severed head just after defeating the giant. The youth is completely naked, apart from a laurel-topped hat and boots, and bears the sword of Goliath. The phrase “David and Goliath” has taken on a more popular meaning denoting an underdog situation, a contest wherein a smaller, weaker opponent faces a much bigger, stronger adversary.
The biblical account states that Samson was a Nazirite, and that he was given immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats, including slaying a lion with his bare hands and massacring an entire enemy army of Philistines using only the jawbone of a donkey. Holding the jawbone as his attribute, Samson looks upward, perhaps to God. The great strongman just slew a thousand Philistines with that jawbone. Overcome by thirst, he then drank from the rock at Lechi, a name that also means “jawbone” in Hebrew. Due to a mistaken translation in the Dutch Bible, some artists, like Salomon de Bray on the paining above, depicted Samson with a jawbone and water dripping out of the bone, rather than the rock issuing water.
Jael, Judith, David and Samson are just a few of the many heroes depicted in art. These four are exceptionally brave. Through their courage their people found victory and freedom. The message these four send, is to be brave in difficult times. Keep hope, keep faith, and set a step when there is the opportunity. It can change history, for oneself, and maybe for the world!
Jael, Judith, David and Samson; a print series.
In 1588 Hendrick Goltzius designed a series of four Heroes and Heroines from the Old Testament, after which Jacob Matham made the engravings. The print series could refer to events during the Dutch Revolt or The Eighty Years’ War (1568 – 1648), an armed conflict between The Netherlands under the leadership of William of Orange (“The Silent”) and Spain under King Philips II, the sovereign of The Netherlands. An end was reached in 1648 with the Peace of Münster when Spain recognised the Dutch Republic as an independent country. It’s the unlikely hero and heroine fighting and defeating the enemy; a print series with stories from the old bible books, translated into a contemporary political message.
On the drawings and the corresponding prints Jael, Judit, David and Samson are all portrayed full-length, in the foreground, with their characteristic attributes, while in the background their heroic deed is depicted. Jael holds the hammer and peg with which she killed Sisera, Judith displays the head of Holofernes and holds the sword with which she decapitated him, David leans on the gigantic sword with which he cut off the head of Goliath, that he carries in his left hand, finally Samson who holds the jawbone with which he slew a thoudanss Philistines. The preparatory drawings all still exist and are in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Hereunder on the left the drawings by Goltzius and on the right the prints as engraved by Matham. Once engraved into a copper plate and after printing, the print becomes a “negative” of the original drawing.
Today 25th of March is the feast of The Annunciation, also referred to as the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son through a virgin birth and become the mother of Jesus Christ.
It’s easy to remember this date, as it’s a full nine months of pregnancy before Christmas, the birthday of Jesus. And it’s approximately the start of spring and the moment of the northern equinox when day and night are equally long. In medieval terms, start of spring is identified as the date of an unusual number of Biblical events: Adam’s and Eve’s fall into sin; Cain’s murder of Abel; Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac; the martyrdom of John the Baptist; and the Crucifixion. Still more strongly associated with this date is the Annunciation, at which, according to the Gospel of Luke, the archangel Gabriel brought word to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive the Son of God: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”
The Annunciation has been one of the most frequent subjects of Christian art. Its composition and details vary in accordance with its setting: the Virgin might appear on a throne, in a loggia, in a bedroom, or outdoors, and she often is shown sewing or reading. A variant of particular interest is the depiction of the Annunciation at the Spring, also known as the Annunciation at the Well. Inspired by accounts preserved in early apocryphal (non-Bible) texts such as the Gospel of James, this variant of the Annunciation depicts the Virgin Mary greeted by the angel Gabriel as she is fetching water at a well.
There are two basic sources that describe the Annunciation. The Gospel of Luke (1:26-38) and the Gospel of James (v.11). Luke’s Gospel is part of the traditional Bible books and mostly the story that is depicted in Western art from the 14th Century onwards. The other source is the 2nd Century Gospel of James, which is an “apocryphal” book, meaning it’s not included in the traditional Bible collection of books. James’s Gospel is mostly the source in Eastern art up to the 15th Century and – remarkably – again by British painters in the 19th Century. The Gospel of James describes how one day Mary took the pitcher and went forth to draw water at a well when she heard an angelic voice: “Hail, you are highly favored, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women.” And Mary looked around on the right and on the left to see from where this voice could have come.” During this first encounter, at a well or spring, the angel was heard but not seen. Mary appeared to be alone. Mary then went inside and it’s there that the angel appeared to her in person, while Mary is sitting on a throne-like chair.
From the 14th Century onward most Annunciations in Western art focus more on the story as written in the Gospel of Luke rather than the apocryphal Gospel of James. They dispense with the pitcher and the well and more and more they will also omit Mary sitting on a the throne-like seat. Many more images placed the event in a specific and unified space such as a portico (Fra Angelico), a private home (Rubens), or a church (Van Eyck).
When Cosimo de’ Medici rebuilt the convent of San Marco, he commissioned Fra Angelico to decorate the walls with frescos. This included the inside of the monk’s cells and inside the corridors; around fifty pieces in total. Out of all of the frescos at the convent, the Annunciation is the most well known. This fresco was not intended just for aesthetic purposes. Running across the loggia at the bottom of the fresco there is an inscription that instructs the viewer: “Virginis Intacte Cvm Veneris Ante Figvram Preterevndo Cave Ne Sileatvr Ave.” It means “When you come before the image of the Ever-Virgin take care that you do not neglect to say an Ave”. This was a daily reminder for the monks to pray.
March 25 was used as New Year’s Day in many pre-modern Christian countries. The holiday was moved to January 1 in France by Charles IX in 1564. In England, the feast of the Annunciation came to be known as Lady Day, and Lady Day marked the beginning of the English new year until 1752.
Here are the two stories, written by Luke and by James, both accounts of the Annunciation and written down in the first few centuries after the birth of Jesus.The story as told by Luke in his Gospel (1:26-38) is focusing on the discussion between the Angel and Mary. It’s as follows:
Luke 1: 26-38
God sent the angel Gabriel, to a virgin named Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her
The story as told by James in his Gospel (v.11) gives also details about the setting. It happens at the well and inside Mary’s house, and it mentions that Mary is doing some sewing and needlework. It’s as follows:
And she took the pitcher and went out to fill it with water. And suddenly a voice could be heard, saying: “Hail, you who has received grace; the Lord is with you; blessed are yiou among women!” And Mary looked round to the right hand and to the left, to see from where this voice came. And she went away, trembling, to her house, and put down the pitcher; and she took her sewing basket with needlework, and she sat down on her seat. And then, look, an angel of the Lord stood before her, saying: “Fear not, Mary; for you have found grace before the Lord, and you shall conceive, according to His word.” And she is hearing, reasoned with herself, saying: “Shall I conceive by the Lord, the living God? and shall I give birth as every woman gives birth?” And the angel of the Lord said: “Not so, Mary; for the power of the Lord shall overshadow you: wherefore also that holy thing which shall be born with you shall be called the Son of the Highest. And you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” And Mary said: “See, I am the servant of the Lord before His face: let it be upon me according to your word.”
Spring is in the air! I wrote about Winter in Art not so long ago. The pictures in that story were all about keeping ourselves warm in the cold season. It made me so much longing for Spring and Summer, even Autumn would be fine. Can the dark winter days be gone please, and will we soon see some spring flowers and sunshine! To get in the mood for the warmer weather, here are two series of the Four Seasons, both starting with Spring: a cute series of paintings by David Teniers (made around 1644) with seasonal activities, and four prints by Hendrick Goltzius (from 1601) with the seasons represented by children growing up and falling in love. These pictures are all to get you in the mood for the warmer seasons. Stay warm for now and enjoy!
Four Seasons by David Teniers (1610 – 1690)
The series of four small paintings by David Teniers is an allegory of the seasons where Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter have been given human forms that embody the essence of each. Teniers placed his characters, of an appropriate age and dressed accordingly, in the foreground with a symbolic seasonal object. In the background figures doing work associated with each season. The paintings are from c.1644 and pretty small, about 22x16cm.
David Teniers the Younger (Antwerp 1610 – Brussels 1690) is one of the most famous 17th-century Flemish painters and particularly known for developing the peasant genre and tavern scenes. He was working for the King of Spain, as well as for Prince William of Orange and the Governor of the Netherlands, the Archduke Leopold. Teniers moved to Brussels where Archduke Leopold became his main employer. One of Teniers’ key tasks was to look after and enlarge the Archducal collection, which grew to incorporate about 1300 works. The archduke’s collection became the nucleus of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Fours Seasons by Hendrick Goltzius (1558 – 1617)
The Four Seasons (1601), designed and drawn by Hendrick Goltzius and engraved by his pupil Jan Saenredam, offer lush depictions of flora and fauna through changing times of the year. The prints simultaneously follow a young girl and boy’s journey into adulthood. The discovery of the bird’s nest of Spring passes seamlessly into the harvesting of Summer’s ripe crops. Autumn’s root vegetables and fruits attract the interest of a full-grown goat and a pig, while the adults and their loyal hound skate the Winter away on a frozen river. On Spring and Summer an Amor figure is shooting his arrows of love towards the boy and girl, and in all four prints the warm or cold wind is blowing from the mouth of a child’s head high in the sky. This is a series about the four seasons, about falling in love, and about growing up.
Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558–1617), draftsman, engraver, print publisher, and painter, was one of the most important engravers and print publishers of his time. He lived and worked in Haarlem, close to Amsterdam, and established his own print publishing business. He trained a number of engravers to work in his distinctive style. Goltzius and his workshop were internationally acclaimed; his patrons included sovereigns from all parts of Europe, most notably the art-loving Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II who also granted Goltzius copyright protection, which can be seen on the Spring engraving. It mentions “Cum Privil Sa Cae M” which means Cum Privilegio Sacrae Caesarea Majestatis or With Privilege of his Holy Imperial Majesty, and with the date Anno – in the year – 1601. This should prevent other engravers from copying Goltzius’ design and prints. Once such privilege was granted, artists indeed went to court and took action against illegal copying of their works of art.
Jan Pieterszoon Saenredam (Dutch, 1565 – 1607) was a printmaker in engraving, born in Zaandam (hence his name). He showed great artistic talent and the young Saenredam was sent to learn drawing and engraving from Hendrick Goltzius in Haarlem, where he became a master at the age of 24. After working for some time with Goltzius, he encountered the almost inevitable professional rivalry and jealousy, prompting his departure and set up his own workshop in Assendelft (just north of Amsterdam and Zaandam). He died of typhus at the age of 41, and was buried in the Saint Adolphus church at Assendelft. Jan left his wife a sizeable estate as a result of lucrative investments in the Dutch East India Company.
David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, 1610 – 1690), Spring, The Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, c.1644, Oil on Copper, 22x16cm, National Gallery, London.
Jan Saenredam, printmaker (Dutch, 1565 – 1607) after design by Hendrick Goltzius (Dutch, 1558 – 1617), The Four Seasons represented by four pairs of children: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, 1601, with Latin text by C. Schonaeus (Dutch, 1540 – 1611), Engraving on cream laid paper, 22×16 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago.
About the annotations on the prints:
H. Goltzius Invent. or HG Inve. This means that Hendrick Goltzius is the “inventor” or “drawer” of the design of the print.
I. Sanredam Sculpt or I.S Sculp. This means that Jan Saenredam is the “sculptor” or the “engraver” of the print.
Cum Privil Sa Cae M,. This means that the print was protected “Cum privilegio Sacrae Caesarea Majestatis” or “With imperial privilege from the Holy Roman Emperor”, as protection against illegal copies.
A° 1601 means “Anno 1601” or “in the year 1601”
C.S. means “Cornelis Schonaeus”, a scholar from Haarlem who wrote many Latin lines and verses that are found on prints of the Haarlem circle of print designers and engravers.