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Monday 28 December 2020

Harmen Jansz. Muller’s engraving, “Judah gives Tamar his Signet Ring”, c1566 (2nd copy)

Harmen Jansz. Muller (1540–1617)

“Judah gives Tamar his Signet Ring” (aka “Judah Giving Tamar the Pledge”), c1566 (1564–1568), 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”.

Note that the Rijksmuseum holds a copy of this print in its first state published in “Thesaurus sacrarum historiaru[m] veteris testame[n]ti, elega[n]tissimis imaginibus expressu[m] excelle[n]tissimoru[m] in hac arte viroru[m] opera: nu[n]c primu[m] in luce[m]” (“Treasure sacred stories of the Old Testament elegant pictures express the finest works of art in this, now for the first time into the light”) by Gerard de Jode (1516/17–1591) in Antwerp in 1579 (see

Engraving on fine laid paper with a small margin, lifetime impression (first state of four), backed with a support sheet.

Inscribed on plate within image borderline; (lower right) “1 […] Meemskerck In. / [interlaced monogram of Harmen Jansz. Muller] HMVL fe,”.


Size: (sheet) 23 x 28.4 cm; (plate) 21.2 x 26.5 cm; (image borderline) 19.8 x 26.1 cm

State i (of iv)

New Hollstein Dutch 5-1 (4) (Harmen Jansz. Muller); New Hollstein Dutch 39-1 (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:

(transl.) “Under a tree sits the veiled Tamar 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 he will use to pay her. In the background to the right the sheep and shepherds of Judah and to the left a city. At the bottom in the margin a verse in Latin.”


See also the description of this print at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

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.

Condition: a strong, well-printed, near faultless impression showing no signs of wear to the printing plate with a small margin and laid onto a sheet of archival (millennium quality) washi paper. There are a few closed tears in the margins, otherwise the sheet is in an excellent condition for its considerable age and has no losses, holes, folds, abrasions, significant stains or foxing.

I am selling this exceedingly rare lifetime (first state) engraving executed by the father of Jan Harmensz. Muller for AU$327 (currently US$248.85/EUR203.69/GBP183.45 at the time of posting this listing) including Express Mail (EMS) 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.

Note that this is the second copy of this print that I have listed. The earlier listing (now sold) was a state iv (final state) impression.

This print has been sold 

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