Father Cats and the Luykens

One of the leading poets and statesman in the Golden Age of Dutch literature and engraving, Jacob “Father” Cats (1577-1660) played a prominent role in the political life of Holland and as diplomat to England. A native of Zeeland, the most southwestern province of present Netherlands, Cats was familiar with the rural life in the Dutch countryside. He combined his interests as writer and moralizing Calvinist to author several popular emblem books which featured clever, and often humorous, poems, common proverbs, and Bible verses with allegorical illustrations that were widely circulated through Holland’s nascent printing industry. These books offer a rich trove of sociological and historical information about seventeenth century Dutch life with recurrent themes regarding the dangers of indolence and the value of honesty and hard work.

Dutch painter and genre artist of the commonplace Adriaen van de Venne (1589-1662) supplied many illustrations for Cats’s books which were then reproduced for publication by Flemish engraver Daniel van den Bremden (1587-1649). Beautifully rendered seventeenth century images of Ruth and Boaz survive from the workshops of Jan Swart (1490-1553), Pieter Verbeeck (1610-1654), and Bernard Fabritius 1624-1673), while vigorous scenes of harvest in the Dutch countryside appear in engraved medallions of the months by Adriaen Collaert (1560-1618).

 

Top: Caspar Luyken, Ruth Meets Boaz—Ruth 2:8
Historia Celebriores Veteris Testamenti (Nürnberg, 1708)

Bottom: Jan Luyken, Bounty of the Land—Zechariah 8:12
Beschouwing der Wereld (Amsterdam, 1735)
Franklin County Museum Collection

The prolific Dutch father and son engravers Jan Luyken (1649-1712) and Caspar Luyken (1672-1708) contributed a series of exquisite biblical scenes and other landscape illustrations a century later for books with information on cereal crops and harvest. Dutch father and son Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606-1684) and Corneilus de Heem (1631-1695) painted some of most splendid still lifes of the Dutch Golden Age. Their canvases depict daring color and such subtle details as dewdrops on leaves, reflections on polished silver, and shadows of folded ribbons. Several of their paintings are notable for including wheat stalks and bunches of grain with arrangements of fruits and vegetables. A distinguished example in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum is the elder de Heem’s allegorical Communion Cup with Fruit and Grain (1648).

Jan Davidsz de Heem, Communion Cup with Fruit and Grain (1648)
Oil on canvas, 49 ¾ x 54 ¼ inches
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna