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Wednesday 19 April 2017

Jan Luyken’s engraved biblical illustration of darkness from “Exodus” 10:22–23

Jan (Johannes) Luyken (1649–1712)
“Moses lifts his hand to Heaven …” (Moses syn hand na den Hemel uit strekkende, vald een Dikke Duysternis van drie dagen, over gands Egipten-land; maar daar is Ligt in alle de woningen Israels), 1770, published by Willem and David Goeree in “Mosaize Historie der Hebreeuwse Kerke” (Mosaical History of the Hebrew Church)

The illustration is for the text from “Exodus” 10:22–23
“22 And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days:
23 They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.”
(King James Version)

Engraving on fine laid paper with full margins as published and lined onto a conservator’s support sheet.
Size: (sheet) 33.4 x 40 cm; (plate) 28.7 x 36.7 cm; (image borderline) 27.5 x 36 cm
Inscribed above the image borderline: (right) “3 Deel p.166.”
Lettered below the image borderline: “Moses syn hand na den Hemel uit strekkende, vald een Dikke Duysternis van drie dagen, over gands Egipten-land; maar daar is Ligt in alle de woningen Israels. Exod. 10:22.23.”

Eeghen 2602 24 (Pieter van Eeghen 1905, “Het werk van Jan en Casper Luyken”, F. Muller & Co., Amsterdam, p. 485 (online:

Condition: richly inked, crisp impression with full margins as published. The sheet is professionally conserved with the published centrefold professionally flattened on a fine archival support sheet. The sheet is in superb condition for its age (i.e. there is no stains, tears, holes, abrasions or foxing).

I am selling this large (double page) original engraving from 1770 by Jan Luyken for a total cost of AU$136 (currently US$102.24/EUR95.40/GBP79.70 at the time of this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.
If you are interested in purchasing this rare image of a night time scene, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

Although this is an illustration showing “a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt” (Exodus 10:22 [KJV]) I wonder if there wasn’t more than biblical calamities in the mind of Jan Luyken when he engraved the scene. The reason I raise this question is that for the previous fifty or so years before he made the engraving, the Netherlands had suffered its own dreadful natural calamities and plague-like infestations. For instance, according to Adam D. Sundberg, in his PhD thesis (2015), “Floods, Worms, and Cattle Plague: Nature-induced Disaster at the Closing of the Dutch Golden Age, 1672-1764”, there was “a massive coastal flood in 1717 that devastated communities across the North Sea coastal region, an infestation of invasive mollusks (shipworms) into the wooden components of sea dikes in the 1730s, and two outbreaks of cattle plague (1713-20; 1744-1764) that decimated herds in the Netherlands and across Europe.” Of course, what happens around an artist may not impinge upon the artist’s mindset but I have yet to meet an artist where this is true.

Aside from personal motivations driving Luyken to portray this scene in his special way, such a dark landscape is a very rare image in art history. Usually when artists represent darkness they rely on juxtaposed contrasts of extreme light and dark tones to make the shadow areas appear intensely dark. Here, the upper-left corner of the composition applies this device of strong tonal contrast—note in particular the strong contrast of the silhouette shape of the corner or a building on the far left side with the sunlight behind it—but the remainder of the composition relies on tiny specks of light to enliven the darkness.

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