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Hieronymus Wierix

(1553–1619, Antwerp)

The Liberated Horse (Allegory of the Netherlands Liberated from Spanish Rule). Engraving and etching after Johan­nes Stradanus. 31.2 x 39.9 cm. Before 1584. Hollstein (Wierix) 1939; The New Hollstein (Stradanus) 401 III (of IV).

This monumental, powerful and graphic allegory based on a work by Johannes Stradanus (real name van der Straet, 1523 Bruges – 1605 Florence), a fellow artist a generation above Hieronymus Wierix, provides a vivid demonstration of the latter’s technical brilliance. Like his older brother Johannes, Hieronymus was primarily active as a reproductive engraver, although he did produce a number of sheets based on his own invention. He used a similar, technically sophisticated and refined engraving technique that had its origins in the tradition of such great predecessors as Albrecht Dürer and Lucas van Leyden.

The magnificent rearing warhorse that dominates the composition symbolises how the Netherlands sought to free them­selves from the yoke of Spanish oppression in its struggle for freedom. The proud stallion has thrown off its saddle; broken bridles, spurs and a discarded whip on the ground symbolise its passionate desire for freedom. The vast panoramic land­scape in the background is depicted in great detail and with remarkable draughtsmanship. Frans Huys’ engraving Naval Battle in the Straits of Messina after Pieter Brueghel the Elder, published by Hieronymus Cock in 1561, probably served Wierix as a source of inspiration. The four-master under full sail and the galleys are almost literal quotations from that work. In addition to its aesthetic quality as a printmaking master­piece the engraving functions as a political pamphlet and is an expression of the patriotism and national self-confidence of the breakaway northern provinces. A superb, subtly differentiated and rich impression of this rare print, trimmed to the platemark. On an 18th century mount. Minor ageing, inconspicuous smoothed central fold, otherwise in excellent condition.

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