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CORNELIS BOS
(1506 or 1510 Herzogenbosch – 1556 Groningen)

Prudence and Justice. Engraving. 26.5 x 21.2 cm. 1537. Hollstein 71, Schéle 67.


Although the Dutch engraver, Cornelis Bos, was regarded as one of the leading masters of ornamental engraving known as the Floris style in the 1540s, important gaps remain in his biography that have yet to be filled. In 1540, Bos received the freedom of the City of Antwerp and was admitted to membership of the Guild of St. Luke the same year. His fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse in 1544, however, when he was banned from the city for belonging to Antwerp’s Libertine Sect and had his possessions confiscated.

Bos is thought to have trained as an artist in Rome and associated with some artists there, including Marco da Ravenna and Enea Vico. However, his sojourn in Rome now appears fraught with uncertainty, it being considered more likely that he trained in the Netherlands and spent time in Paris or Fontainebleau in the 1530s. Around 1537/38 Bos was active as an engraver and wood-engraver for Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen and Pieter Coecke van Aelst. After his flight from Antwerp Bos emigrated to the northern Netherlands, where his first stop was presumably Haarlem. He probably settled in Groningen for good around 1550.

This engraving has its origins in a triptych produced by Maarten van  Heemskerck for the town hall in Haarlem; only fragments of the triptych have survived. This was the artist’s first commission after returning from his journey to Italy (1532–1535). The Allegory of Prudence and Justice was modelled on a grisaille painting which originally formed part of one the outer wings of the triptych now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Bos made several engravings after Heems­kerck, which again may be seen as evidence of the artist’s temporary stay in Haarlem. Bos’s interpretation of the subject has been executed in a simple, forceful engraving technique that appears almost devoid of any sophistication. Nevertheless, the strong parallel and cross-hatchings lend the allegory an irresistibly expressive power and dynamism reminiscent of the prints emanating from the Fontainebleau School.

A superb tonal impression with thread margins. Occasional remains of old paper hinges on the verso, otherwise in excellent, unrestored condition. From the J. H. Jurriaanse Collection, Rotterdam (Lugt 1403 b).