Etching: 11,8 x 17,3 mm;
Signed and dated lower right (on the boat): Rembrandt f 1633
a narrow margin below, trimmed to the platemark elsewhere.
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As one of the towering figures in the history of art, Rembrandt, a miller’s son from the university town of Leiden, was an artist of unmatched genius. Equally gifted as a painter, printmaker, and draftsman, Rembrandt proved himself to be as skillful at making portraits as he was at creating religious and mythological narratives. His landscapes are just as remarkable as his rare still lifes and subjects detailing everyday life.
Widely recognized as the greatest practitioner of the etching technique in the history of art, Rembrandt created 300 prints that constitute a body of work unparalleled in richness and beauty.
This iconographically unusual etching, full of movement and incidental action, is one of the few book illustrations within Rembrandt’s graphic output. Rembrandt occasionally received requests to illustrate books. He created it for the publication of Elias Herckmans’s narrative poem Der Zee-Vaert lof Handelende vande gedenckwaerdighste Zee (‘In Praise of Sea-Faring’, Amsterdam, 1634), which describes the history of sea voyages from antiquity to Christopher Columbus.
Rembrandt chose to depict the closure of the Temple of Janus, a symbolic event which could only take place in peacetime, after the defeat of Marcus Antonius by Octavianus (later Augustus Ceasar) at the Battle of Actium on 2 September 31 BC. The partially closed entrance to the temple, with the double-faced bust of Janus on a plinth, are shown on the left. Before the doorway a crowd gathers, including priests, soldiers and a captured prisoner petitioning for clemency. The wreathed figure in the centre of the composition has been identified as the defeated Marcus Antonius, his arms outcast in a gesture of despair, stranded on the beach with no control over his horse or the Roman Empire. Alternatively, the rider could also be interpreted as the the victorious Augustus, releasing the reins of the warhorse. The goddess Fortuna departing on the ship heralds the beginning of a new age of peace and the flourishing of maritime trade. This emphasis on peace, and the prosperity which follows, was particularly pertinent for Holland, a seafaring nation who at the time were in peace negotiations with Spain. It is believed that Rembrandt gave himself a cameo role, using his own likeness for the image of Janus, the two-faced god whose temple was closed to mark the arrival of peace in Rome. In addition to the published edition with Herckman’s in letterpress, single pulls of this etching without text were also taken, of which this is a fine example.
Bartsch 111; The New Hollstein Dutch (NHD) 123, second state of II
(this impression cited):
Plate not in existence. With Nowell & Usticke as R – Scarce.