In her book, The Shadow of Rubens: Print Publishing in 17th-Century Antwerp, Ann Diels provides a study of the printmaking activities of three of Antwerp’s most important, yet relatively unheralded artists – Abraham van Diepenbeeck, Erasmus Quellinus II, and Cornelis Schut. Offering a synthetic study of printmaking in Antwerp, she addresses topics such as Antwerp’s status relative to other prominent European centers for print production in the seventeenth century; the types of prints most frequently published in Antwerp at this time; and the various financial arrangements that determined the specific artistic roles of Antwerp history painters and the printmakers they engaged to reproduce their works. In adopting a synthetic approach – as opposed to the more common monographic study of a single printmaker – Diels also suggests a way forward in the study of printmaking, or, as she puts it “a point of departure for sketching a broader picture of the printmaking milieu in Antwerp at this time” (p. 1). Indeed, as Diels’s study demonstrates, there is a great need for an integrated historical narrative of print production in Antwerp specifically, but also more generally in the northern and southern Netherlands and most broadly, in western Europe as a whole.
The text is organized in four chapters, which move from broader to more specific points of discussion. In Chapter One, Diels establishes Antwerp’s place as a center for print production in the seventeenth century in the context of print publishing activities in Rome, Amsterdam, Paris, and London. Print production in Antwerp, as Diels discusses, was distinctive in its relative emphasis on prints designed for book illustrations as well as the republication of single-sheet prints designed in the sixteenth century. Republication efforts were frequently undertaken by descendants of the dominant print publishing families of the sixteenth century (Galle, Collaert). Though these ‘firms’ continued in their engagement with print publishing, individual artists based in Antwerp took an increasingly active role in the publication of prints – especially those based on the inventions of history painters like Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. To provide this comparative analysis of Antwerp’s status as a center for printmaking, Diels summarizes the state of research as it pertains to the study of print production in these other European centers. It is precisely because this type of comparative study is so unusual that it is also unfortunate to encounter editorial errors in this section of the text, which lead the reader to missing or confused bibliographic entries.
Chapter Two continues the discussion of the role of Antwerp’s history painters and their involvement with printmaking. Antwerp-based print production, as Diels sketches, was dominated by three categories of prints: reproductive prints, book illustrations, and inventive prints. Following a general discussion of the market conditions for history paintings produced in Antwerp in the seventeenth century, Diels provides an account of the overall artistic activities of Van Diepenbeeck, Quellinus, and Schut. This account is further elaborated with a discussion of the inter-relationship between the production of history paintings and prints. Three tables present data that clarify the points of intersection for the production of prints and history paintings. The first (‘Print Production of Ten Antwerp History Painters’, p. 62) provides information related to the number of reproductive prints produced by specific artists; the second table (‘Ten Antwerp History Painters and Their Designs for Book Illustrations,” p. 74) quantifies the output of book illustrations produced by the same group of artists; and the third (Loose-Leaf Prints/ Series after Inventions by Abraham van Diepenbeeck and Erasmus Quellinus II, p. 126-27) provides lists of the ‘inventive’ prints produced based on designs by Van Diepenbeek and Quellinus. Finally, the chapter concludes with an appendix that lists the titles of books illustrated the same sample group of artists.
In Chapter Three, Diels explores the nature of the professional relationships that Van Diepenbeeck, Quellinus, and Schut established with engravers and print publishers. She provides anecdotal evidence drawn from surviving contracts and notarial acts to elucidate how specific engravers were selected for specific projects and how the terms of their employment were defined. From case studies, Diels is able identify two typical forms of remuneration for Antwerp-based engravers. The first and more common was a fee per piece structure in which the fee would be agreed upon in advance of a specific commission. Usually, a fee would be established for a group of prints, with the fee per engraved plate falling in the neighborhood of 80 guldens. A less typical arrangement would involve the establishment of an annual salary; in this situation the engraver would also lodge with the artist and would be engaged to engrave plates over a period of time rather than in connection with a specific project. As Diels acknowledges, the documentary evidence for these relationships is not overwhelming in volume, which makes it difficult to establish a general sense of working conditions for history painters and the professional engravers that they employed. Diels concludes this chapter with a table that cross-lists painters and professional engravers (‘Which Engravers Based in Antwerp Works for Which History Painters?’ p. 163), allowing the reader to make connections between a certain engraver and the various painters by whom he was contracted. This table is elaborated over the course of twenty-five pages of short-form biographical entries that clarify the nature of a given artist’s engagement with reproductive printmaking. The chapter concludes with a discussion of reproductive prints produced after the death of Rubens and Van Dyck, in which Diels identifies Van Diepenbeeck’s role as a publisher of such prints.
The fourth and final chapter of the book considers Antwerp history painters as authors of etchings. In the cases of Van Diepenbeeck and Quellinus, we find that these two artists only experimented with the technique, with one and approximately five etchings attributed to these artists, respectively. In this way, Van Diepenbeeck and Quellinus provide parallels to the etching activities of Jacob Jordaens and Peter Paul Rubens, who are also believed to have experimented briefly with this art form. Schut presents a rather different example, as Diels discusses. His etched oeuvre numbers over two hundred, with the vast majority of these prints based on inventions rather than designs first articulated as paintings. In perhaps the most object-based section of her study, Diels considers the elements that identify Schut’s style as an etcher, using two contrasting versions of a Judith and Holofernes (one by Jan Witdoeck after Schut and one etched by Schut himself) as a case study in what Diels calls ‘technical connoisseurship.’
Taken together, these chapters provide important insights into the print publishing landscape of seventeenth-century Antwerp. As a complement to extant studies of the production of prints in the circles of Rubens and Van Dyck, Diels’s study features three lesser-known artists who were similarly active in print production as designers, producers, and publishers. Throughout her book, Diels presents information aggregated from both primary and secondary sources, substantiating descriptions of working relationships between painters and printmakers or trends in the print market (to take two examples) with references to specific cases. Though, as Diels consistently remarks, it is difficult to extrapolate a seamless narrative from the evidence that has come to light thus far, her account provides a valuable starting point for further research in this field. Diels’s frequent use of tables also provides opportunities for comparative analysis. While these tables are not always satisfying due to the data available, they do effectively consolidate what is presently known about the subjects of Diels’s study at the same time that they offer points of comparison for the broader context in which these three artists operated. Another important feature of her study is the consistent, almost exclusive use of illustrations drawn from the print collection of the Royal Library of Belgium. In many cases, her illustrations present unfamiliar material and, taken together, they provide an overview of the holdings of this important, though under-utilized repository of prints.
Victoria Sancho Lobis
Print Collection and Fine Art Galleries
University of San Diego