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DIRCK VOLKERTSZ. COORNHERT
(1522 Amsterdam – 1590 Gouda)

attributed. Six Sayings about Fortune. Set of six engravings, each measuring approx. 20.3 x 25 cm. The Illustrated Bartsch, vol. 55,
no. 96.1; Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, 46, nos. 2–3, (1998), pp. 322–24.


The present, extremely rare set of engravings is now attributed to the humanist, writer and printmaker Dirck Volkertsz. Coornhert. Coornhert grew up as the son of a prosperous draper in comfortable circumstances in Amsterdam. After his marriage to a much older and penniless woman in 1539 his parents deprived him of any further financial support. Coornhert moved to Haarlem, where he subsequently established himself as a printmaker. In 1547 the artist went to work as an engraver for Maarten van Heemskerck and produced an extensive oeuvre of reproductive prints after the latter’s originals. Coornhert was an esteemed and respected figure, not only as an artist, poet and political writer in Haarlem. In 1560 he founded a publishing house and later became a notary public. In 1564 he was appointed town clerk. His courageous pleas for religious tolerance and his freethinking forced him into exile in 1568, first in Cleves on the lower Rhine, then in Xanten, where Hendrick Goltzius became his pupil round about 1574. Not until 1577 did the artist return to Haarlem.

It is possible that Coornhert himself was the auctor intellectualis of the present set of prints about the fickleness of fortune, as their didactic moral content closely matches that of his writings. The cycle shows visual portrayals of popular sayings about fortune, which are reproduced as inscriptions under each portrayal. Fortuna is an inconstant, unpredictable goddess who dispenses fortune or misfortune without respect of persons, and most of the sayings warn the viewer of the whims of fate and the vain striving for worldly goods. Only upright moral conduct and prudence can protect a man from her vagaries. The final sheet of the series shows the personification of Fortuna lying exhausted on the ground, having been defeated by Patience.

Superb, early impressions printed with considerable tone, with full margins. Slight foxing, some traces of handling and minor defects, otherwise in excellent condition.