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Flemish School, circa 1570

Two Short-Spined Sea Scorpions (Myoxocephalus scorpius). Watercolour and gouache. 17 x 25.6 cm, mounted on an album sheet 19.6 x 25.6 cm. Watermark (album sheet): Crowned double-headed eagle (Briquet 315, W├╝rzburg 1585).

Like the two previous numbers, this very lifelike depiction of two short-spined sea scorpions comes from the so-called Charles V Album. In stylistic terms the watercolour is very closely related to other depictions of fish and shellfish in Amsterdam. One need only compare it with the images of two gurnards, for example, in which the mise-en-page with the parallel arrangement of the fish is very similar (cf. K. G. Boon, Netherlandish Drawings of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, The Hague 1978,
vol. II, p. 218, fig. 580). The very high quality of the execution also matches that in other images of a crab and on a sheet with sea snails, a soft coral and an animal skull (Boon, op. cit., p. 218, figs. 571, 575). The latter drawing, in turn, is very close in style to an album sheet in the W├╝rttembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart, which in the past was attributed to Joris Hoefnagel (Boon, op. cit., p. 606). This testifies to a studio practice that was widespread at the time and illustrates the lively exchange among like-minded artists on ideas for images.

The present depiction was undoubtedly drawn from nature. The colouring and patterns on the skin of the spiky, largemouthed predatory fish appear as fresh as if they had only just been caught, and the artist demonstrates great mastery and meticulousness in depicting details such as the gill covers, the
pectoral and dorsal fins and the scales. Its exotic appearance notwithstanding, the short-spined sea scorpion is a common type of fish in North Atlantic waters. So the author of this sheet will probably have had little trouble in getting hold of a fresh specimen.

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