hieronymus cock
(ca. 1510 – 1570, Antwerp)

Landscape with the Temptation of Christ. Etching. 31.5 x 43.3 cm. Wurzbach 19; Hollstein 2. Watermark: Fleur de lis with letters „Simeon Nivelle“ (cf. Briquet 7079 ff, Troyes, after 1547).

This very rare print dates from Hieronymus Cock’s early period as a printmaker and publisher. Although the etching was long con sidered to be based on an invention by Cock, whose name appears in the lower left of the image, the composition is connected to an early drawing by Pieter Brueghel from 1554, which is now in Prague (Národní Galerie). Cock was not, however, faithful to Brueghel’s original; he changed the composition by replacing a group of romping bears in the left foreground by a depiction of the Temptation of Christ. This intervention, no doubt primarily designed to enhance the print’s commercial success, makes it clear that Cock played a dominant role in the relationship between the two artists at the time and that he was free to adapt the originals of the younger Brueghel as he saw fit. Very characteristic of Cock’s publishing practices, too, is his addition in the lower margin of the print of an uplifting motto from the Gospel of Saint Matthew: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The present etching is the earliest example of this habit of combining Brueghel’s themes with moralizing Latin verses, which made a major contribution to the enormous success of the Aux Quatre Vents publishing house.

A light, dynamic etching technique is used to depict the landscape, which displays – especially in the middle and background – a series of attractive, typically Brueghelesque details. The gnarled tree trunks with their bizarrely twisted branches and opulent foliage are rendered very vividly and convey an impression of the surging force of nature. Compared with this powerful evocation, Cock’s intervention seems somewhat artificial. Jesus and the odd figure of the devil disguised as a hermit have been banished to the lower left-hand corner of the image and make a curiously forlorn impression against the imposing sylvan background.

A very fine, sharp impression printed with subtle tone; with borderline, minimally trimmed in the top right margin. Slight aging, old numbering in pencil and brown ink in the lower margin, otherwise in excellent condition.