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Flemish School

circa 1560

Carefree Living or: The Dissolute Household. Engraving. 20.5 x 28 cm. Hollstein (Baltens) 5; Hollstein (after Hieronymus Bosch) 46; Hollstein (anonymous after Jan Verbeeck) 1 II.

This witty moralising engraving was issued by the Aux Quatre Vents publishing house of the famous and influential Antwerp publisher, Hieronymus Cock. Hieronymus Bosch was long considered to be the author of this multifarious, satirical iconographic work, while Pieter Baltens was named as the engraver in the first Hollstein volume. In more recent research this enig­matic and fascinating piece has come to be regarded as the work of an anonymous Flemish artist, probably after an invention by Jan Verbeeck, a painter and draughtsman from Mechelen, whose true identity and activities remain largely shrouded in mystery.

The engraver has depicted the interior of a shoemaker’s workshop with obvious delight, a distinct sense of irony and a keen eye for anecdotal detail. The scene is one of utter chaos. The inscription at the bottom right says that the shoemaker is much more interested in playing a few notes on his bagpipes than in going about his day’s work, there being enough time to finish it tomorrow. His sullen-looking wife, who appears worn out, clearly derives more pleasure from idling away her time than from working assiduously at the spinning wheel. The result of their sloth is all too apparent. The children dance around like dervishes in the foreground, while to the rear an apprentice is about to throw a tool at a beggar woman in the doorway. The legend above her wretched, haggard figure says: “I left too much to the morrow and now my clothes are full of holes.” The scene is rendered in a concentrated, meticulous engraving technique in which the utmost attention is paid to everyday details such as clothing, items of furniture and workshop utensils. Complementing the visual pleasure of the behol­der are the detailed moralising and admonishing commentaries. Crude depictions of this kind with their lecturing, didactic tone probably enjoyed great popularity at the time and made a major contribution to the prosperity of Cock’s publishing house.

The engraving is extremely rare; this impression is from the second state published by Johannes Galle from Antwerp. It was he who added “H. Bos invent” to the address. A superb, crisp and contrasting impression with thread margins around the borderline. Minor ageing, otherwise in pristine condition. From the collection of Gaston de Ramaix (Lugt 4099).

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