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Abraham Jansz. van Diepenbeeck ('s-Hertogenbosch 1596-1675 Antwerp)
Abraham Jansz. van Diepenbeeck ('s-Hertogenbosch 1596-1675 Antwerp)

A frontispiece design for the theses of the Morel brothers

Abraham Jansz. van Diepenbeeck ('s-Hertogenbosch 1596-1675 Antwerp)
A frontispiece design for the theses of the Morel brothers
dated '1644', and with inscription 'diepenbeek.' (on the mount)
black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, heightened with white (partly oxidized), squared in both black and red chalk
38.8 x 30 cm.
Private collection, France.
with Grosjean, Paris; from whom purchased by I.Q. van Regteren Altena in January 1927 for 40 guilders (Inventory book: '261. t. Diepenbeeck allegorie').
H. Schneider, 'Een Thesis van Abraham van Diepenbeeck', Onze Kunst, XXIV, 1928, pp. 162-5.
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Paris, Fondation Custodia, and Brussels, Bibliothèque Albert 1er, Le Cabinet d’un Amateur: Dessins flamands et hollandais des XVIe et XVIIe siècles d’une collection privée d’Amsterdam, 1976-77, no. 45, pl. 114 (catalogue by J. Giltaij).

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Lot Essay

A particularly large and fine design for a title-page, to accompany eight theses submitted to the University of Louvain by the brothers Johannes Michel and Ferdinandus Morel. The drawing was engraved by Michael Natalis (1610-1668) in 1644, and the resulting large-scale print was considered by Renier to be among Natalis's most audacious and successful works. It seems that only one impression of the print survives, in the University of Louvain archives (J.S. Renier, ‘Oeuvre de Natalis’, Bulletin de l’Institut Archéologique Liégois, IX, 1868, pp. 417-8). At the centre of the composition, raised on a pedestal, is the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III (1608-1657). He is flanked by the kneeling figures of the two brothers, in contemporary costume, who carry blank shields which, in the final print, bear the titles of their arguments. Beneath Ferdinand III sits Justice, blindfolded and holding a sword across her knees, who raises a supplicating hand to him. Further points from the theses were printed on the empty cartouches carried by the putti in the sky. The sun of glory sends down its rays from above and the arc of the sky also contains representations of the Zodiac with Scorpio visible behind the putti at the left, and Virgo in the upper right corner.

In the engraving, Ferdinand III is accompanied by an inscription celebrating his role as leader in war and defender of the peace: the theme of War and Peace was central to each of the brothers’ theses and consequently it plays a dominant role in the composition. The right-hand side of the drawing (which is the left-hand side of the print) is ruled by Mars: the putti in the foreground play with spears and lances, while in the background an army marches in a field with clouds of smoke rising from a battle on the horizon. On the left-hand side, by contrast (the right, in the print) the composition is ruled by Peace and so the putti occupy themselves with musical instruments, song and reading, while a calm city rises above a pastoral idyll with a ploughman working a field. The shield carried by the right-hand brother is inscribed, in the print, with a summary of the Law of War, stating that the Prince undertakes war with the agreement and support of his people, whom he arms and protects, and that any treason against the good of the country is to be met with extreme punishment. Similarly, the left-hand shield propounds the Law of Peace, noting that peace is the end to be desired in any war and that the Prince and his advisors should always work with a view to achieving that end for their people.

Diepenbeeck and Natalis worked together on title pages on several occasions during this period. Another example of their collaboration is the frontispiece for the emblem book Imago primi saeculi Societatis Iesu a Provincia Flandro-Belgica, published by Christophe Plantin in Antwerp in 1640.

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