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.