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Jacques de Gheyn III

(1596 Leiden – 1644 Utrecht)

The Sleeping Mars. Etching. 20.2 x 18 cm. Circa 1618. Filedt Kok/Leesberg (New Hollstein) 18 III. Watermark: Strasbourg coat of arms.

Jacques de Gheyn III, the eldest son of Jacques de Gheyn II, was a painter and etcher who left a modest but very varied corpus of prints. Trained by his father, he was subsequently active as an independent artist in The Hague and was admitted as a master to the city’s Guild of St. Luke in 1615. The de Gheyn family of artists was deeply rooted in the intellectual and cultural life of the city. Among the prominent friends of Jacques de Gheyn III were the brothers Maurits and Constantijn Huygens. In 1618 he accompanied Constantijn on a journey to England and in 1620 embarked on an official mission to Sweden, where he presented works by his father to the king. In his autobiography published in 1630 Constantijn Huygens regretted the fact that de Gheyn had evidently renounced his profession as an artist; in his old age Jacques appears to have concerned himself more with building up his collection of artworks and antiques. In 1634 de Gheyn moved to Utrecht, where he served as a canon of the Church of St. Mary until his death.

The present etching made around 1618 is a direct reference to the political situation in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 17th century. In 1609 a ceasefire had been negotiated in Antwerp between the adversaries, Spain and the northern Netherlands. This held for twelve years and was thus the only interruption in the Eighty Years War (1568–1648), from which Holland would ultimately emerge as an independent republic. In the visual arts the sleeping Mars, portrayed in striking manner here by de Gheyn, became an allegory of this ceasefire. The god of war, who has taken off his armour and laid down his arms, is slumbering on a large cannonball now that the threat of conflict has disappeared. His body is enveloped in a long cloak and he has exchanged his helmet, which he has placed within easy reach on a pole in front of him, for a beret decorated with feathers and laurel. While the motif of the sleeping Mars found its way into printed work in the early years of the ceasefire, Jacques de Gheyn’s etching is special in that it is the first known, completely independent image of the god of war at rest, which served as a model for other prints and later also for paintings.

A very fine, strong and slightly tonal impression with margins. Minor ageing and handling marks, otherwise in very good condition. Literature: Martina Dlugaiczyk, “Atempause des Krieges. Der zwölfjährige Waffensillstand von 1609 und seine Rezeption in der bildenden Kunst”, in: Mars und die Musen: das Wechselspiel von Militär, Krieg und Kunst in der Frühen Neuzeit, ed. by Jutta Nowosadtko und Matthias Rogg, Münster 2008, pp.109–132.

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