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Wednesday 29 March 2017

Jacob Matham’s engraving after Goltzius, "Sloth", 1593

Jacob Matham (15719–1631)
“Sloth” (La Paresse), 1593, after Hendrik Goltzius (aka Hendrick Goltzius) (1558–1617) from the series “The Virtues and the Seven Deadly Sins” / “The Vices”

Engraving on laid paper with margins lined onto a conservator’s support sheet
Size: (sheet) 39.2 x 22.1 cm; (plate) 32.5 x 17 cm
Lettered in lower right corner "HG. Inue." and numbered in lower left corner "7". With two lines in the margin "Excecat .... moratur." by "F.E." (Franco Estius).

New Hollstein (Dutch & Flemish) 156 (Jacob Matham) (F W H Hollstein 1993, The New Hollstein: Dutch and Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts 1450–1700, Amsterdam); Hollstein 283 (F W H Hollstein 1949, “Dutch and Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts c.1450–1700”, Amsterdam); New Hollstein (Dutch & Flemish) 498-504 (Hendrick Goltzius; Prints after inventions by Goltzius); Bartsch III.165.138 (Adam Bartsch 1803, “Le Peintre graveur”, 21 vols, Vienna); TIB 4 (3).138 (165) (Walter L Strauss 1980, “The Illustrated Bartsch: Netherlandish Artists”, vol. 4 [formerly vol. 3 (Part 2)]. p.127)

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“Sloth; a female figure, whole-length, with a snail on her shoulder, in a niche. 1593 Engraving”

The curator of the BM also gives the following information about the series:
“This is one from a series of seven numbered plates by Jacob Matham (New Hollstein 150-156) after Goltzius …. The set was first published by Goltzius in Haarlem; then by Claes Jansz Visscher in Amsterdam (before 1652); and finally by Jochem Ottens. Seven preparatory drawings by Goltzius are in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, inv.nos.Dr.975.2-8 (Reznicek 89-95). (,0613.510&page=1)

Condition: crisp, richly inked impression laid upon a conservator’s support sheet. There is a flatten crease in the margin at top right, a small wormhole (on the far right) and slight age toning and minor marks at the lower edge of the sheet otherwise the print is in excellent condition for its age.

I am selling this marvellous impression of a very important print by Matham after Goltzius (Matham’s stepfather) for the total cost of AU$390 (currently US$298.52/EUR276.63/GBP139.89 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.
If you are interested in purchasing this female personification of sloth with a snail on her shoulder in a niche, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

This evening I asked my cook whether the abstract notion of sloth would be explained well if an illustrator were to show a bare-breasted woman set in a niche with a snail crawling down her shoulder. My cook—who knows everything—looked me in the eye and said slowly and with absolute certainty: “…it’s just not nice.” I guess that the audience that Matham was addressing with this engraving way back in the 16th century held very different ideas.

Leaving aside my cook’s insightful and persuasive argument against showing women in ways that are simply “not nice,” I am fascinated by how this image is constructed. For instance, if I start at the top of this personification of laziness I find myself looking at her from a slightly elevated—perhaps even god-like—position as I can see the very top of her head and gaze down her features to her breasts. Once I have lowered my gaze to her chest, my position from which I look at her changes as well. I am now at her thighs looking slightly up at her hands. My position of looking at her again slips further down until I reach the ground and from this position of a worm I look upwards. These changes of viewpoint are amazing and no doubt they also signify meanings about sloth that I am yet to fully digest.

Note also how the figure is arranged so that this epitome of sloth is set away from the viewer in what might be described as the socially removed “public space” of her architectural niche. Counteracting this spatial and social distance, is the very subtle use of the projecting toes of her right foot that extend beyond the niche into the viewer’s “private space.”

In short, the symbolism of this figure with its slowly moving snail has a complex layering of meanings that are worth taking the time to contemplate … but I will leave that task to others with a better understanding of laziness.

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