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Wednesday 18 July 2018

Harmen Jansz. Muller’s engraving, “Judah gives Tamar his Signet Ring”, c1566

Harmen Jansz. Muller (1540–1617)

“Judah gives Tamar his Signet Ring” (aka “Judah Giving Tamar the Pledge”), 1564–68, after a drawing by Maarten van Heemskerck (aka Maarten van Veen; Martin Heemskerk) (1498–1574), plate 1 from the series of 4 engravings, “History of Judah and Tamar”, published by Claes Jansz. Visscher (II) (1586–1652) in Amsterdam (1643–46).

Regarding the publication of this print, the Rijksmuseum offers the following insight:
(transl.) “Print possibly used in: Piscator, Nicolaus Johannes. Theatrum biblicum hoc est Historiæ sacræ Veteris and Novi Testamenti tabulis æneis expressæ. Amsterdam: Claes Jansz. Visscher, 1643. Or in: Schabaelje, Jan Philipsz. The big fig-bibel. That is an image and vivid display, of all the foremost histories of the gantscher Heyliger Schrift, in beautiful copere figueren (...) enriched with learning about the selve figuring. Alkmaar: Simon Cornelisz Brekegeest, Amsterdam: Jan Philipsz. Schabaelje, 1646.” (RP-P-1904-3343)

Engraving on fine laid paper watermark (“Arms of Amsterdam”?) and faded handwritten notes in brown ink by an old hand in lower margin, backed with a support sheet.
Numbered on plate at upper left: "1"
Inscribed on plate within and along the lower image borderline; (right of centre right) “1”; (right corner) “Meemskerck In. / [interlaced monogram of Harmen Jansz. Muller] HMVL fe, [interlaced monogram of Claes Jansz. Visscher] CJVißcher excu”
Lettered on plate below the image borderline: “IVDAS ET THAMAR COEVNT PROMITTITVR HOEDVS ANNVLVS, ARMILLÆ, ATQVE PEDVM PRO PIGNORE DANTVR. / Genesis 38.15.”
Size: (unevenly trimmed sheet) 29 x 32.5 cm; (plate) 21 x 25 cm; (image borderline) 19.7 x 26.2 cm
State iv (of iv) with the addition of the plate number repeated at the upper left corner (see the Rijksmuseum for state iii (RP-P-1904-3343)

New Hollstein Dutch 5-4 (4) (Harmen Jansz. Muller); New Hollstein Dutch 39-4 (4) (Maarten van Heemskerck) (FWH Hollstein 1949, “Dutch and Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts ca. 1450-1700”, Amsterdam)

The Rijksmuseum offers the following description of this print (state iii):
(transl.) “Under a tree the veiled Tamar is sitting with her father in law Judah, who does not recognize her and thinks she is a prostitute. He gives her his signet ring and staff as collateral for the goat with which he will pay her. On the right in the background the sheep and shepherds of Judah and on the left a city. At the bottom of the margin a verse in Latin.”
See also the description of this print (state i) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Condition: crisp impression with no signs of wear to the plate and the sheet has no foxing or significant stains within the image area, but there is a tear at the lower edge that is not perfectly closed and the margin area shows signs of use (i.e. minor marks/stains). The sheet is backed with a support sheet of archival (millennium quality) washi paper to address the tear. There are (antique and faded) brown ink handwritten notes by a past collector in the lower margin (recto).

I am selling this exceedingly rare print executed by the father of Jan Harmensz. Muller for [deleted] at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world (but not, of course, any import duties/taxes imposed by some countries).

If you are interested in purchasing this fascinating scene of a father-in-law mistaking his daughter-in-law for a prostitute, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

When I was examining this engraving the thought occurred to me: how would I illustrate a scene where a father-in-law mistakes his daughter-in-law for a prostitute and proceeds to engage her services by giving the ravishing daughter-in-law his signet ring—a ring that would fall off most chap’s finger it is so large!—along with his staff as collateral for a pending payment of a goat for her capitulation in delighting her father-in-law? Well, I guess that Muller’s engraving comes close to what my exploding brain could concoct. This is such a bizarre story!

For those who wish to know the “proper” story of Judah and Tamar in the Old Testament, (“Genesis” 38:12–23; and specifically 38:15) the following extract (Contemporary English Version) may be helpful:

“15 When Judah came along, he did not recognize her because of the veil. He thought she was a prostitute
16 and asked her to sleep with him. She asked, ‘What will you give me if I do?’
17 ‘One of my young goats,’ he answered.
‘What will you give me to keep until you send the goat?’ she asked.
18 ‘What do you want?’ he asked in return.
‘The ring on that cord around your neck,’ was her reply. ‘I also want the special walking stick you have with you.’ He gave them to her, they slept together, and she became pregnant.”

One feature of Muller’s composition (after van Heemskerck) that I find especially interesting is the representation of the tree shading the couple. It is so lumpy! This curious choice of a tree, of course is symptomatic of Muller’s Mannerist “lobulated” style (i.e. a style consisting of lumps like earlobes), but I must say that I wonder where this aesthetic love of lumpiness originated.

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