Images for the Eye and Soul is a collection of eleven essays by Ilja Veldman, a premier scholar of Netherlandish prints. For the past three decades, Veldman has investigated many aspects of early modern print production in the Netherlands, a relatively neglected field. The reprinted essays in this volume span Veldman’s career, to examine many major artists, subjects, and functions of Netherlandish prints. Together, they demonstrate the cultural significance of printed images in the Netherlands during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
With the exception of the introductory essay and an entry titled, “From Allegory to Genre,” all essays in this collection have been published previously in various journals and edited volumes. In several instances, longer publications have been abridged, illustrations have been added, and the literature has been updated. The selection of essays reflects the scope of Veldman’s scholarship while highlighting some of her favorite artists and themes. These recurring motifs help to unite the various entries and make the volume relatively coherent.
The collection opens with a previously unpublished overview of Netherlandish prints and printmaking between 1450 and 1650. In addition to describing the evolution of graphic techniques, the essay introduces some of the key figures – artists, engravers, and publishers – involved in the production of prints in the Netherlands. The essay also lists some of the major themes and subjects found in printed images, including religious imagery, complex philosophical allegories, scenes from classical history and mythology, and depictions of contemporary life. The introductory essay supplements the standard account of Netherlandish printmaking found in most general texts and provides a good orientation for those unfamiliar with the development of graphic art in the Netherlands.
As Veldman indicates, Netherlandish printmaking was initially influenced by German techniques, methods, and subjects, especially during the fifteenth century, when woodcuts were the principal graphic medium. By 1550, however, print production in the Netherlands had matured greatly. Engraving emerged as the dominant medium for high-quality prints, and printmakers in Antwerp and other centers professionalized the trade by creating large workshops full of trained specialists. While artists were still responsible for creating designs, few engraved their own plates as they had in earlier decades. Instead, publishers hired artists to provide designs to be executed by professional engravers. This shift led to an explosion in the production of prints in the Netherlands after the mid-sixteenth century, the period that occupies most of Veldman’s attention.
Although the book’s title includes the dates “1450-1650,” these essays are primarily concerned with the second full century of Netherlandish printmaking.
In the collected studies of Images for the Eye and Soul certain artists, themes, and subjects recur as leitmotifs. Following the introductory essay, the volume begins with several entries that discuss the work of Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574), an important painter from Haarlem and a prolific designer of prints. “Eloquent Inventions,” originally a chapter from Veldman’s 1977 book on Heemskerck, explores the possibility that Heemskerck’s early engraver, Dirck Volkertsz. Coornhert, may have helped the artist devise some of his complicated allegories. Heemskerck also features prominently in “Convictions and Polemics,” which examines religious themes in Reformation prints from the Northern and Southern Netherlands. Heemskerck’s prints are also discussed in several other entries in the volume.
Crispijn de Passe (1564-1637) likewise occupies a central position in various essays. An important designer, engraver, and publisher of prints around the turn of the seventeenth century, De Passe received his training in Antwerp but went into exile when the Spanish conquered the city in 1588. De Passe’s 24 prints from the Iliad, published in 1613, form the core of Veldman’s “Homer as a Hymn to Virtue,” which concerns Christian allegorical interpretations of Classical literature. The final two essays in the collection – “Views of a Printmaker: Crispijn de Passe on his Craft” and “The Business of Prints and the De Passes’ Publishing House” – condense material from Veldman’s book on De Passe and his descendants, published in 2001. Through her studies on Heemskerck and De Passe, Veldman encompasses almost a century of Netherlandish print production.
During this pivotal period, the depiction of genre scenes increased. In “From Allegory to Genre,” a new essay, Veldman traces the evolution of allegorical series involving natural subjects (e.g., the Four Seasons, the Seven Planets, the Four Elements) into landscapes and scenes of everyday life. She continues her discussion of genre in “The Portrayal of Universities and Student Life,” which looks at images of university life produced between 1606 and 1612. In this essay, Veldman considers the possible aims and audiences for these print series, a concern that recurs in other essays as well.
Throughout the volume, Veldman demonstrates an interest in the purposes of prints. Her descriptions of the visual content and literary sources of printed images are typically conducted as a means of addressing its potential functions and audiences. Several essays emphasize the moral and didactic messages found in prints, a feature that often distinguishes the Netherlandish tradition from others, as Veldman has noted elsewhere. In “The Old Testament as a Moral Code,” Veldman describes the use of Old Testament stories as moral guides for daily life in the Netherlands, while in “Lessons for Ladies,” she argues that prints of famous women frequently served an instructional purpose related to the ethics of marriage and sexuality. Finally, ” Images of Diligence and Labour” uses printed imagery to explore the emerging appreciation of work ethic as a social and domestic virtue. As Veldman observes, printed images could often be morally ambiguous. Inscriptions in Latin or the vernacular frequently clarified the intended message of the imagery by providing a moralizing gloss.
For those unfamiliar with Veldman’s work on Netherlandish prints, Images for the Eye and Soul provides an excellent selection of general and focused studies. Even those who have read Veldman’s essays previously would benefit from rereading them in their collected form. The recurrent themes and artists allow relationships to emerge between the various entries, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
University of Pennsylvania