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Crispijn de Passe the Elder

(1564 Arnemuiden – 1637 Utrecht)

The Four Elements. Four circular engravings. Each approx. 11 cm in diameter. 1592. Hollstein 528–531.

The distinguishing feature of Crispijn de Passe’s series of The Four Elements is its highly ornamental quality, which derives primarily from the meticulously worked decorative frames surrounding the four allegorical figures. To depict the elements of fire, air, water and earth the artist has chosen four personifications with the relevant attributes and accompanying symbolical animals. In doing so he has used traditional, albeit highly complex imagery: Ignis appears with a bolt of lightning in front of an erupting volcano; Aer, surrounded by numerous representatives of the bird kingdom, hastens through airy banks of cloud; Aqua leans against a bubbling amphora like an ancient river goddess; and Terra with a bulging horn of plenty in her arm gazes after a pack of hounds. In de Passe’s extensive printed oeuvre this cycle forms part of a series of small ornamental engravings with decorative frames which very likely served as designs for gold and silverware or ceramics. Crispijn de Passe the Elder, who was not only an exceptionally gifted engraver but also the founder of a dynasty of extremely successful print publishers, has combined various images and pictorial elements here, thus catering to the tastes of the time. For example, the traditional imagery of allegories and symbols is contrasted inter alia with the detailed depiction of numerous types of animal, thereby reflecting the growing interest in the rendering of flora and fauna in as naturalistic a way as possible.

Very fine, even impressions with wide margins around the circular platemarks. Minor staining and soiling, slightly scuffed at the edges, otherwise in uniformly excellent condition. Literature: Bernard Barryte, Myth, Allegory, and Faith. The Kirk Edward Long Collection of Mannerist Prints, exh. cat. Stanford, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Milan 2015, p. 580 f. with fig.

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