Monday, 27 February 2017

Jan Luyken’s “Hippopotamus with Crocodile“, 1690


Jan Luyken (1642-1712)
“Hippopotamus with Crocodile“, or (as titled in the plate), “Het Wonder-dier Behemoth int gemeen Hippopotamus of Nylpaard; met den Leviathan of Krokodi, volgens de niewfte ervarenis en Job kap. 40. afgebeeld.”(The wonder animal Behemoth, normally called Hippopotamus with the Leviathan or Crocodile depicted according to the latest experience and the Book of Job. 40. As shown), 1690, from Wilhelmus Goeree’s (1635–1711) famous Jewish biblical history: “Joodse Oudheden, ofte Voor-Bereidselen tot de Bybelsche Wysheid, en gebruik der heilige en kerkelijke historien: uit de Alder-Oudste Gedenkkenissen der Hebreen, Chaldeen, Babyloniers, Egiptenaars, Syriers, Grieken en Romeinen, ...', Amsterdam, 1690, p.1091.

Engraving with etching on laid paper with margins and centre-fold (flattened) as published, lined onto a conservator’s support sheet.
Size: (sheet) 36.5 x 40.7 cm; (plate) 29.5 x 39 cm; (image borderline) 27 x 37.8 cm
Inscribed with the plate/page number within the image borderline at top-left corner: “1091”
Lettered below the image borderline: “Het Wonder-dier Behemoth int gemeen Hippopotamus of Nylpaard; met den Leviathan of Krokodi, volgens de niewfte ervarenis en Job kap. 40. afgebeeld.”

Condition: faultless impression in near pristine condition. The sheet has been laid onto a conservator’s support sheet.

This print has been sold 


Sometimes when I list prints like this one, executed way back in 1690, I have to remind myself that Leonardo had only completed his “Mona Lisa” (aka la Gioconda) around 87 years before. If I then take into account that this portrayed scene of somewhere on the Nile—based on the pyramids shown in the background and the interestingly stretched hippopotamuses and a crocodile—was created a full two centuries before David Livingstone (1813–73) went on his search for the source of the Nile, I then find myself looking very closely at all the details. In short, this is an early print and the curious imagery featured in it has evolved from folklore and not always reliable descriptions from Renaissance era travellers.

Leaving aside my shameful joy in seeing errors in this late 17th century artist’s vision of what critters from a far distant land might look like, my eyes keep looking at the moiré patterns (i.e. patterns like those produced when fly-screen mesh is folded over upon itself) enlivening the surface of the foreground hippo. Early printmakers often had this “problem” and, no doubt, it must have been a celebrated achievement for some as it meant that such an artist had the amazing technical ability to lay down a network of cross-hatched lines that were so fine, so precisely aligned in parallel rows and arranged at such a close angle that the eye can only see the moiré effect. In fact, the labelling of the effect with the word “moiré” seems to have been first identified in the English language with the word “mohair” in 1570 (derived from Arabic “mukhayyar”) used to describe the shimmery effect of the finest wool. (Thank you Wikipedia!) By the nineteenth century, however, illustrators had developed ways to avoid this late Renaissance/Mannerist “problem” (e.g. by increasing the angle between the cross-hatching).







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