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Philips Galle

(1537 Haarlem – 1612 Antwerp)

The Misery of Human Life. Six engravings. Each measuring approx. 18.6 x 24.2 cm. (1563). The New Hollstein 287–292 I (of II).

The engraver and publisher, Philips Galle, was one of Antwerp’s most influential and prolific publishers of engravings in the tradition established by Hieronymus Cock. He was trained by Dirck Volckertsz. Coornhert in Haarlem, where he began his career by making reproductive engravings for Cock. After 1563 Galle published his engravings himself, specialising in series of allegorical and moralising engravings after designs by Maarten van Heemskerck. Around 1570 he moved to Antwerp, where he continued his publishing activities. After Cock’s death, Galle became the leading publisher of engravings in Antwerp, where – thanks to the efforts of his sons – his workshop remained the centre of graphic production in the city until well into the 17th century. Throughout his life Galle adhered to his disciplined, somewhat rigid engraving technique. In contrast to Cock he did not encourage the engravers working for him to develop an artistic style of their own, as a result of which the many series of engravings he published have a very homogeneous, intellectual quality.

The present series produced in 1563 is a typical early example of his style. Based on one of his own designs it was undoubtedly intended for an educated, humanistic clientele. Galle depicts the misery of human existence in six episodes. The individual scenes, illustrating verses by the Dutch humanist, Hadrianus Junius (1511–1575), reflect the pessimistic intellectual climate of the late 16th century. Galle shows people born naked and helpless who have to learn everything the hard way. The third engraving looks at the dangers and diseases that human beings encounter on their journey through this world. The other scourges afflicting man include his sinfulness and the agonies of poverty and violence, which are portrayed in the last three works. The resulting compendium of the human condition is conveyed in images which are in some cases drastic and in others symbolically encoded. The basic, rather dry engraving technique, which is devoid of all frivolity, gives the individual scenes a powerful, expressive force.

Very fine, tonal early impressions. Before the verses of Junius in the block print and before the address of Carolus Collaert. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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