Navigation – Plan du site
Varia

Aesop’s Fables in Disguise: a Creative Interpretation of Gheeraerts’s Illustrations for De warachtighe fabulen der dieren in Two Early Publications by Johann Weichard Valvasor

Les fables d’Ésope travesties : une interprétation créative des illustrations de Gheeraerts pour De warachtighe fabulen der dieren dans deux des premières publications de Johann Weichard Valvasor
Martin Germ

Résumés

Le livre de fables emblématique De warachtighe fabulen der dieren, comprenant des gravures de Marcus Gheeraerts (Bruges, 1567), fut traduit en plusieurs langues et les illustrations de nombreuses fois copiées. Une réinterprétation originale des gravures de Gheeraerts a récemment été découverte dans deux publications de Johann Weichard Valvasor (1641-1693), grand mécène qui a introduit le premier atelier de gravure dans le Duché de Carniole. Les gravures contenues dans Dominicae Passionis Icones (1679) et Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum (1682), élaborées dans l’atelier de Valvasor au château de Bogenšperk sont enrichies de bordures décoratives originales, créées par le maître graveur de Valvasor Andreas Trost. Jusqu’à une période récente, ces bordures étaient considérées comme purement ornementales, bien que les motifs de plantes et d’animaux finement représentés forment parfois une scène narrative distincte. En analysant ces scènes animales, on voit que beaucoup représentent un épisode caractéristique d’une des fables populaires d’Esope. La plupart prennent modèle sur les gravures de Gheeraerts pour De warachtighe fabulen der dieren, à travers les copies qu’Aegidius Sadeler II avait réalisées pour son Theatrum morum (le livre de Sadeler était à la disposition de Trost dans la bibliothèque de Valvasor au château de Bogenšperk). Cet article s’intéresse aux stratégies mises en place pour intégrer les illustrations des fables de Gheeraerts dans ce nouveau format, afin de révéler l’inventivité et la créativité du maître graveur de Valvasor. Il tente aussi de répondre à deux questions d’une importance cruciale : pourquoi Trost a-t-il choisi les illustrations de Gheeraerts comme modèle et quelle est la véritable fonction des scènes de fables animales dans ce nouveau contexte ?

Haut de page

Texte intégral

  • 1 Johann Weichard Valvasor (1641-1693) was a nobleman, the greatest seventeenth-century polymath in t (...)
  • 2 Valvasor’s library is estimated to have had c. 2,750 titles. It was the largest private library in (...)
  • 3 Topographia Ducatus Carnioliae modernae (1679), Dominicae Passionis Icones (1679), Topographia arci (...)

1The establishment of a printmaking workshop by Baron Johann Weichard Valvasor1 at Bogenšperk Castle near Ljubljana in 1678 represented the start of an ambitious project that was destined to have far reaching consequences for the cultural milieu of the Duchy of Carniola. It was not only the first enterprise of its kind in the duchy, but more important still: the castle almost immediately became a lively artistic center under the patronage of the great Carniolan polymath. Valvasor, who was himself an amateur draughtsman of considerable skill, encouraged both local and foreign painters and engravers to stay at his castle in order to produce original copperplate illustrations for his books. He was a prolific author interested in many subjects, as demonstrated both by his published books and his famous library.2 From 1679 to 1689 nine richly illustrated works originated at Bogenšperk Castle, the most famous among them being The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola (Die Ehre dess Hertzogthums Crain) in 15 volumes with 528 engravings.3

  • 4 The engravings by Trost are actually not modeled directly on Holbein's woodcuts, but via woodcuts b (...)
  • 5 See: B. Murovec, “Die Zeichnungen des 17. Jahrhunderts im Herzogtum Krain: der Künstlerkreis um den (...)
  • 6 The Valvasor Print Collection, housed in the department of the Metropolitan Library at the Croatian (...)
  • 7 The great part of the books in Valvasor's library were published in Nürnberg, Frankfurt am Main, Le (...)
  • 8 U. Lubej, Prispevki k biografijam na Kranjskem delujočih flamskih in holandskih slikarjev druge po (...)

2The original drawings for the book illustrations produced at the castle were done by several masters and thus from the stylistic point of view differ considerably. Another reason for the stylistic variation is the fact that sometimes the engravers in Valvasor's circle used prints by various European painters as models. The illustrations of the Ovidii Metamorphoseos icones for example, are based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Crispijn de Passe the Elder (Cologne, 1602-1604). The majority of the engravings for The Dance of Death (Saltus mortis) in the Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum are modeled on famous woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger.4 The engravings for the Passion scenes in the Dominicae Passionis Icones are made after the original drawings by Jan Wierix,5 and several individual engravings in other books are inspired by prints or drawings by different sixteenth and seventeenth-century masters. This is due partly to the fact that they were well-known to the artists in Valvasor's circle through the prints in the rich collection owned by the baron.6 The prints that most often served as a model or a source of inspiration are by Dutch, Flemish and German artists, while those by French and Italian masters are less well represented. This is not surprising because works by northern artists prevail in the Valvasor collection, in which can be found prints by Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger, Marcus Gheeraerts, Jan Wierix, Adriaen Collaert, Crispijn de Passe the Elder, Jacob Hoefnagel, Aegidius Sadeler II and many others. No less important in this context are the illustrated books in the baron's library – a great majority of them of German, Dutch and Flemish origin.7 One should also bear in mind the fact that at the time Carniola was part of the Holy Roman Empire, as were Flanders and parts of Netherlands (the Austrian Netherlands), and that quite a few Dutch and Flemish masters were active in Carniola in the second half of the seventeenth century.8 One of the central figures of Valvasor’s artistic circle was Justus van den Nypoort (c. 1645/49 - 1698), who actually settled in Ljubljana and married there.

  • 9 U. Lubej, “Justus van der Nypoort na Kranjskem”, Varstvo spomenikov, 37, 1997, p. 54-68; idem, Just (...)
  • 10 See: L. A. Lisac and B. Reisp, Trost Andrej, in Slovenski biografski leksikon 4, Ljubljana 1971, p. (...)
  • 11 This small booklet consists of 17 copperplates: a frontispiece with a dedication to the Ljubljana b (...)
  • 12 The Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum is an edifying work imploring the reader to reflect upon th (...)
  • 13 The decorative borders display an incredibly rich selection of animals: insects (mostly butterflies (...)
  • 14 There are several beautiful Gheeraerts prints with animal motifs in Valvasor's collection; some of (...)

3With regard to the Dutch and Flemish art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, researchers in Valvasor's artistic circle focused on Justus van Nypoort and Jan Wierix.9 It is only recently that Marcus Gheeraerts (the Elder) has also been recognized as an important source of inspiration for at least one of the artists active at Bogenšperk Castle, namely Valvasor's master engraver Andreas Trost (c. 1643-1708). Trost was the leading copperplate engraver in Carniola in the last quarter of the seventeenth century and the head of Valvasor's printmaking workshop from the very start in 1678 until 1688.10 The fact that so far Gheeraerts's prints have not been identified as potential models for engravings produced at Bogenšperk Castle should not come as a complete surprise, since they were not used in the usual way. While in most of the illustrations for Valvasor's books the entire compositions are modeled on great sixteenth and seventeenth-century masters, or (more often) only selected parts of the compositions are incorporated into the new arrangement, the case of Gheeraerts is more complex. Andreas Trost, who used the Passion scenes by Jan Wierix for Valvasor's Dominicae Passionis Icones11 and took Holbein's famous series of the Dance of Death as a prototype for the illustrations of Saltus mortis in his Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum,12 embellished the engravings in both books with beautifully designed decorative borders. The borders abound in a variety of animals of every sort, countless flowers, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms etc.13 As the inner band of the decorative borders where the plants and animals are depicted measures only 9-10 mm, the images of individual animals are very small indeed. However, they are rendered with such skill that they are recognizable without any difficulty. Some of them have the preciseness of zoological illustrations – a genre that was very popular in the Baroque era. In the midst of countless miniature plants and animals there are quite a number of beasts that evidently form a distinctive narrative scene. Some animals – like the bear, wild boar, sheep, wolf, fox or dog – often have a noticeable resemblance to the drawings of beasts by Marcus Gheeraerts.14

4The idea that Andreas Trost, who was himself highly skilled in drawing different animals, might have needed models for his depiction of every beast, bird, reptile, fish etc. is hardly to be taken seriously. He was able to study many of them from nature. The thought that he took the pain to search for models among the many thousands of prints in Valvasor's collection might appear equally unjustified. However, there is something which must not be overlooked: certain animals by Trost are not only reminiscent of Gheeraerts’s drawings and prints, they are actually rendered in the same, or very similar, compositional schemes. The similarity is often so striking that it can hardly be taken as a coincidence.

  • 15 E. Cevc, “Ob Valvasorjevem Prizorišču človeške smrti” in J. W. Valvasor, Theatrum mortis humanae tr (...)
  • 16 M. Germ, “Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum (1682) de Johann Weichard Valvasor : un livre d'emblè (...)

5Until recently the decorative borders of the engravings in both Dominicae Passionis Icones and Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum were considered to be of purely ornamental character. The idea of the potential allegorical meaning of animals and/or plants was deemed to be completely improbable and unjustified.15 However, the latest studies have successfully shown that at least with the illustrations of Theatrum mortis this is not the case. It turns out that a number of animals have a distinctive allegorical meaning and that the tiny narrative episodes clearly derive from the illustrated editions of Aesop’s fables and Baroque emblem books.16

  • 17 Valvasor owned seven books of Aesop's Fables: Der wahre und erneuerte Esopus. Das ist: Das gantze L (...)
  • 18 In Valvasor's collection there are three editions of Emblematum liber by Andrea Alciati as well as (...)
  • 19 Among Valvasor's prints there are for example 29 emblems from Symbolicarum quaestionum de universo (...)

6The catalogues of Valvasor's private library and his collection of prints show that the baron was enthusiastic about both Aesop’s fables and books of emblems. He owned several editions of the former,17 as well as quite an astonishing number of emblem books.18 Moreover, in his collections of prints there are more than a few folios with fable illustrations and different emblems featuring animals.19 Valvasor's master engraver Andreas Trost obviously shared the baron's enthusiasm: he studied the illustrated books in Valvasor's library and with great virtuosity incorporated many miniature scenes with animal protagonists into his decorative borders. The animal episodes merge perfectly with the rest of the ornamental design – one can easily take them as part of the decoration without actually noticing their potential allegorical value. However, a learned reader of the late seventeenth century would probably not overlook them and would appreciate the mastery and the intrigue.

  • 20 Gilles Corrozet, Les fables du très ancien Ésope Phrigien, premièrement escriptes en grec, et depui (...)
  • 21 Available online: http://cabrio.bibliotheek.brugge.be/browse/webgaleries/St137/index.html.
  • 22 See: P. J. Smith, Dispositio: Problematic Ordering in French Renaissance Literature, Leiden, 2007 ( (...)
  • 23 The translation in Latin is by Arnold Freitag. See: P. J. Smith, “Arnold Freitag's Mythologia ethic (...)
  • 24 Aegidius Sadeler, Theatrum morum. Artliche Gesprach der Thier mit wahren Historien den Menschen zur (...)
  • 25 Bibliotheca Valvasoriana, nr. 31 and nr. 2328.
  • 26 See note no. 11.
  • 27 The scenes illustrate the fables: The Crow and the Scorpion, The Old Stork, The Dog and its Reflect (...)

7As for the origin and nature of the animal episodes that appear in Trost’s decorative borders, it is often difficult to say whether they are to be considered as emblem pictures (pictura) or Aesop’s fables illustrations. But the question is actually not a real dilemma nor does it pose any embarrassment regarding their classification. By the time of Valvasor, Aesop’s fables and the books of emblems had long merged to the point where a new genre appeared, referred to as emblematic fable books. The process of the merging of the two genres had started already in the first half of the sixteenth century. In 1542 Gilles Corrozet published Les fables du très ancien Ésope, his book being the first example of the new hybrid publication designated by scholars as an emblematic fable book.20 In 1567 the famous emblematic fable book De warachtighe fabulen der dieren (The Truthful Fables of the Animals) by Flemish poet Eduard de Dene was published in Bruges.21 The structure of the book is close to the one issued by Gilles Corrozet, although the quality of the illustrations differs greatly. While Fables d’Ésope is illustrated by simple woodcuts with no significant artistic merit, De warachtighe fabulen der dieren is adorned by fine etchings by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder. The book was an immediate success: it was soon translated into several languages and Gheeraerts’s illustrations (107 in the original edition) were copied time and again.22 The most influential were the French edition Esbatement moral des animaux, published by Philip Galle (Antwerp, 1578), and the Latin edition Mythologia ethica, published by Philip Galle and Christophe Plantin (Antwerp, 1579). Both French and Latin editions are expanded with 18 additional fables, for which the illustrations were done by Gheeraerts himself.23 For the German-speaking countries the new augmented version of the book entitled Theatrum morum by Aegidius Sadeler II (Prague, 1608) was of crucial importance. Sadeler copied the etchings by Marcus Gheeraerts and added fifteen new fables accompanied by original etchings of his own.24 Sadeler's Theatrum morum is still part of Valvasor’s library; in fact, the baron owned two copies of the book.25 The book was (as well as many other illustrated volumes) at Trost's disposal and he was obviously impressed by the illustrations. Valvasor’s master engraver used selected illustrations from Theatrum morum even in the first publication printed at Bogenšperk Castle, the above mentioned Dominicae Passionis Icones, a tiny illustrated Passion book published in 1679.26 Actually, it can hardly be called a proper book, since there is no text at all – just a short dedication to the Ljubljana bishop Joseph Rabatta. In the decorative borders of 16 Passion scenes and the frontispiece there are 15 narrative animal scenes modeled on Gheeraerts’s illustrations (via Sadeler’s copies in Theatrum morum).27

  • 28 Besides the scenes from 15 fables included in the decorative borders of The Passion booklet (see no (...)
  • 29 The engravings in Theatrum mortis (including the decorative borders) measure c. 90x77 mm. As alread (...)
  • 30 The episode modeled on Gheeraerts appears twice in Theatrum mortis (p. 43 and p. 55). It does not f (...)

8In Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum the number of animal scenes modeled on Gheeraerts’s illustrations is considerably higher: at least 26 can be recognized with great certainty.28 In both Dominicae Passionis Icones and Theatrum mortis the rendering of the narrative animal episodes in the borders is often fashioned after Gheeraerts’s compositions. The scenography is of course simplified, and various adjustments are made due to the difference of scale and the form of the decorative borders.29 However, the layout of the basic composition and the depiction of the animals show great fidelity to the model. The episode from the fable The Fox and the Stork may serve as a good example.30

Fig. 1: J. W. Valvasor, The Brigand

Fig. 1: J. W. Valvasor, The Brigand

Theatrum mortis, 1682, p. 55, decorative border by Andreas Trost

Fig. 1a: Detail of the decorative border with the fox and the stork

Fig. 1a: Detail of the decorative border with the fox and the stork
  • 31 The fox invited the stork to dine with him but served the soup in a flat dish, which the fox lapped (...)

9After being tricked by the cunning fox the stork gets its revenge by inviting the fox for dinner and serving the meal in a tall, narrow-necked jar.31 The fox cannot get his snout in the vessel while the stork with her long bill enjoys both the dinner and retribution. The scene created by Trost is a faithful reproduction of the central part of Gheeraerts’s illustration.

Fig. 2: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Fox and the Stork

Fig. 2: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Fox and the Stork

Theatrum morum, 1608, p. 97

Fig. 2a: Marcus Gheeraerts, The Fox and the Stork

Fig. 2a: Marcus Gheeraerts, The Fox and the Stork

De warachtighe fabulen der dieren, 1567, p. 180

10In both images the jar in the center of the composition has an almost identical form. Trost’s stork is practically the same as the one by Gheeraerts (both having the tail cut off by the frame), and the foxes by the two artists are also very much alike. The slightly different silhouette of the fox in Theatrum mortis is due to the limitated space in the horizontal band of the border. It is worth pointing out how carefully Valvasor’s master engraver depicts the glassy quality of the jar, with the stew visible through the glass. The hungry fox is licking the vessel, yearning for the meal that he cannot reach, while the stork is eating with great appetite. In Gheeraerts’s illustration the stork is holding a piece of meat in its beak. Trost makes painstaking efforts to follow the model in every detail: the magnifying glass reveals a tiny bite at the very tip of the stork’s bill. The whole beak of the bird is barely 4 mm long and the diameter of the morsel is less than 1 mm!

11While many of the compositions by Trost follow the model closely, more often the staging of the episodes is transformed in a way that fits better into the border design. The story of a greedy dog, as represented in the fable The Dog and its Reflection, is an illustrative example: Gheeraerts’s etching displays the key moment of the plot when the dog on the footbridge over the stream perceives its mirror image in the water.

Fig. 3: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Dog and its Reflection

Fig. 3: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Dog and its Reflection

Theatrum morum, 1608, p. 59

  • 32 The episode appears both in Theatrum mortis (p. 191) and Dominicae Passionis Icones (fol. 14).

12The arrangement of the figures and the key elements of the landscape fit nicely into the almost square frame of the illustration. For obvious reasons it was impossible for Trost to follow the model.32

Fig. 4: J. W. Valvasor, The Death by Impaling

Fig. 4: J. W. Valvasor, The Death by Impaling

Theatrum mortis, 1682, p. 191, decorative border by Andreas Trost

Fig. 4a: Detail of the decorative border with the dog and its reflection

Fig. 4a: Detail of the decorative border with the dog and its reflection

13However, he finds an inventive solution: he sketches a small lake in the lower horizontal band of the decorative border that creates an illusion of extending well into the background. The dog stands on the edge of the water in a corner of the decorative frame on some sort of a board or a beam that recalls the wooden footbridge. The animal is placed in the lower part of the vertical band while its reflection is depicted in the near end of the horizontal band of the decorative border. Because of the shortage of space in the vertical band the dog’s tail is cut off. But Trost nevertheless provides a full compensation: the mirror image of the greedy little beast in the horizontal band sports a beautiful tail.

  • 33 The same composition also appears in the lower horizontal band of the Expulsion from Paradise in Th (...)

14Some border compositions by Andreas Trost differ more radically from the prototype and might easily mislead the scholar in his search for a direct model. So for example, in the lower band of the decorative frame of the Crucifixion (Dominicae Passionis Icones, fol. 17), there is an unusual composition of a sheep in the center with two great birds of prey on either side.33

Fig. 5: J. W. Valvasor, The Expulsion from Paradise

Fig. 5: J. W. Valvasor, The Expulsion from Paradise

Theatrum mortis, 1682, p. 17, decorative border by Andreas Trost

Fig. 5a: Detail of the decorative border with the sheep, the dog, the wolf and two birds

Fig. 5a: Detail of the decorative border with the sheep, the dog, the wolf and two birds
  • 34 A dog brought false accusations against the sheep, saying that she must give him back the bread whi (...)

15The birds are turned towards the sheep in an aggressive posture and it looks as if they are going to attack it. In the left corner there is a dog glancing towards the curious scene, as does a wolf in the right corner. The explanation of the scene might prove quite a challenge because it is hard to find a parallel in any illustration of Aesop’s fables or in the Baroque emblems. The arrangement in the decorative border could be merely a sequence of animals placed in a symmetrical composition (as in many other cases) with no allegorical meaning. However, once the reader becomes familiar with Trost’s methods of incorporating narrative episodes in the ornamental pattern of the borders, he cannot ignore the scene. It is true that the dog and the wolf at the far ends of the decorative band seem not to participate directly in the action of the central group. But if the animals are conceived as elements of a single composition and part of the same story, the answer to the problem is close at hand. The sheep, the two birds of prey, the dog and the wolf are the protagonists of the well-known fable The Sheep, the Dog and the Witnesses.34 In The Truthful Fables of the Animals there is a beautiful illustration that explains the riddle.

Fig. 6: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Sheep, the Dog and the Witnesses

Fig. 6: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Sheep, the Dog and the Witnesses

Theatrum morum, 1608, p. 42

16Gheeraerts’s picture that accompanies the fable has a firm axial composition with the wrongly accused sheep in the center. On both sides – almost symmetrically positioned – are the dog, who has been accusing the sheep, and the wolf giving false testimony. Behind them on the branch of the tree and the wooden perch-like structure we can see a vulture and a kite. Both birds are depicted in an agitated mood to underline the fact that at that very moment they are falsely witnessing in favor of the accuser. The figural scheme fits well in the almost square format of the illustration. As in many other cases the execution represented a serious obstacle for Trost, who had to place the episode in the narrow band of the decorative border. He naturally opted for the horizontal band and found an original solution. The sheep, the dog and the wolf are all modeled on Gheeraerts, but to preserve the right proportions of the protagonists (the dog and the wolf being considerably bigger than the sheep) Trost moves the two beasts to the far ends of the lower border, one in each corner. In this way he is able to make the dog and the wolf larger on account of the additional space in the vertical bands. The limited height of the horizontal band offers no possibility of placing the kite and the vulture higher, as in Gheeraerts’s illustration. The best way to solve the problem is to place the birds on the ground on either side of the sheep. To illustrate the fact that the two birds of prey are bearing witness against the sheep, the master engraver emphasizes the aggressive attitude of the birds towards the innocent creature.

  • 35 In the edition by Joseph Jacobs (New York, 1894) the Aesop's fable goes as follows: “The Hares were (...)

17Due to the limited space, Valvasor’s engraver often reduces the figural composition to a point that might beguile the reader: in order to compress the image to the compositional basics vital for understanding the fable, Trost’s illustration might differ considerably from its prototype. As an example we can take the fable The Hares and the Frogs35 illustrated in both Dominicae Passionis Icones (fol. 16) and Theatrum mortis (p. 213).

Fig. 7: J. W. Valvasor, The Torments of the Discontented Soul

Fig. 7: J. W. Valvasor, The Torments of the Discontented Soul

Theatrum mortis, 1682, p. 213, decorative border by Andreas Trost

Fig. 7a: Detail with the hares and the frogs in the right corner of the engraving

Fig. 7a: Detail with the hares and the frogs in the right corner of the engraving

18The number of protagonists is considerably reduced: instead of the six hares and eight frogs depicted by Gheeraerts there are only three hares and three frogs in the reinterpretation by Andreas Trost. The message is nevertheless clear and so is the source of inspiration: the three hares are modeled on the Flemish master and the focal point of the composition with the hare on the edge of the water, staring at the frightened frog that has just jumped off the ground in front of his nose, is a faithful replica of the prototype.

Fig. 8: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Hares and the Frogs

Fig. 8: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Hares and the Frogs

Theatrum morum, 1608, p. 55

19From the iconographic point of view the most intriguing cases of Trost’s reinterpretation of the original scenes are those where he eliminates a key figure. Consequently it is often quite difficult to identify the scene. A closer look at Gheeraerts’s illustrations for The Truthful Fables of the Animals quickly shows that in his selection of the fables Trost avoids those that include men. The reason is obvious: the concept, layout and scale of the border decoration do not allow the inclusion of human figures. An attempt to introduce men would not only undermine the basic principles of the ornamental pattern of the borders as designed by Trost, but also challenge the well-balanced unity of the decorative framework and the composition of the central image. Consequently one does not expect fables with human characters to appear in the borders. Nevertheless, there are a few examples where – for reasons unknown – Trost opts for a fable involving men. It is interesting to see how he invests great effort into making the composition of the animal co-protagonists without the human figure as illustrative as possible. Valvasor’s engraver successfully creates the scene in a way that it sets off a trigger in the reader’s mind, providing of course that he is familiar with Aesop’s fables.

  • 36 “A hawk teased a cuckoo for her coarse way of feeding – looking for worms in the grass instead of e (...)

20An excellent illustration of this is the fable of The Cuckoo and the Hawk.36 In the upper band of the decorative border of the Crowning with Thorns (Dominicae Passionis Icones, fol. 12) and the engraving illustrating the Death of Emperor Basil (Theatrum mortis, p. 167) the reader can see a strange undulating shape with a criss-cross pattern.

Fig. 9: J. W. Valvasor, The Crowning with Thorns

Fig. 9: J. W. Valvasor, The Crowning with Thorns

Dominicae Passionis Icones, 1679, fol. 12, decorative border by Andreas Trost

Fig. 9a: Detail of the decorative border with the captured hawk and the cuckoo in the upper horizontal band

Fig. 9a: Detail of the decorative border with the captured hawk and the cuckoo in the upper horizontal band

21Only by examining the picture very carefully will he realize that the curious outline is actually a bird-catching net, tied to the ground at both ends. In the middle there is a bird caught in the net. The rear of the body with the tail and the lower ends of the wings that are not covered by the net are clearly visible. A magnifying glass also helps to reveal the front of the bird covered with the catching net: a silhouette of the chest, a strong neck and a head with a sharp beak typical of a bird of prey. A little further to the right there are four tiny birds, pecking and looking for food in the grass. The arrangement is actually a reduction of Gheeraerts’s illustration of the fable in question. The Flemish master logically focuses on the key figure – a man who has just caught a hawk in the bird-catching net not far from a farmhouse.

Fig. 10: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Cuckoo and the Hawk

Fig. 10: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Cuckoo and the Hawk

Theatrum morum, 1608, p. 124

  • 37 The above discussed fable is a good example of Trost’s skill, although one should also mention the (...)

22A few steps from the captured hawk there are four cuckoos on the ground, feeding on worms, while in the background a farmyard with a pigeon house is depicted. In Trost’s rendering of the fable the figure of the farmer is gone and so is the farmhouse – both for good reason. However, there is no doubt about the meaning of the picture nor is there any uncertainty about the model after which it was made.37

23Looking at the various animal episodes incorporated in the fine ornamental patterns of the decorative borders in the Dominicae Passionis Icones and the Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum, one cannot avoid some fundamental questions. Why would Trost make such an effort to integrate them? Why do it in such a sophisticated manner that a learned reader, familiar with Aesop’s fables, could recognize them without much trouble whereas a layperson would see them only as ornamentation? Is there any link to the iconography of the central images framed by the decorative borders? Are the tiny animal scenes related to the subject of the book? What might be their ultimate purpose?

24As there is no doubt that each of the miniature compositions has a distinctive and well-known moral, the allegorical dimension of the animal “tableaux” cannot be questioned. The precision with which Trost delineates the scenes reveals his purpose: the episodes are intended to be identified by the educated reader acquainted with Aesop’s fables and Baroque emblems. Because they are modeled on the emblematic fable book, one can consider them to be of emblematic character. However, to prove the thesis, their function in the context of Valvasor’s books should be examined. There is no straight answer to the problem because the narrative animal episodes appear in two books that from the thematic point of view do not have much in common. In other words: there is not one single context, but rather two different ones.

  • 38 Valvasor's interest in flora and fauna is well documented in his works, especially in The Glory of (...)

25As already mentioned, the tiny Passion booklet is not a proper book at all. It is impossible to find any iconographic link between the Passion scenes and the allegorical meaning of the fable episodes. The distribution and the placing of the scenes appear to be completely arbitrary: 6 out of 17 engravings with decorative borders contain narrative animal scenes modeled on Gheeraerts. One of them has only one scene, three have two scenes, while two engravings even have four animal scenes. As the booklet contains no text, there can be no comparative analysis and any further speculation would be futile. We can only conclude that Trost inserted the pictures of beasts for reasons which at present remain unknown. The daring narrative interpolations may well be considered to be a result of his interest in Aesop’s fables and Baroque emblems, a wish to demonstrate his erudition and to display his virtuosity. Such a sophisticated performance aimed at an educated reader is consistent with the late seventeenth-century European intellectual atmosphere and the cultural milieu of Bogenšperk Castle: not only was his patron part of the intellectual elite of the age, one should also constantly bear in mind Valvasor’s profound interest in fables and emblems, as well as his fascination with animals and plants.38

  • 39 Jacob Hoefnagel, Archetypa studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii Jacobus F. genio duce ab ipso scalp (...)
  • 40 See: M. Germ, op. cit. (note 16), p. 104-107.

26However, in the case of Theatrum mortis the situation is more complex. In the decorative borders of 120 engravings there are many more emblematic animal scenes, and their provenance is not restricted to Gheeraerts’s illustrations. They are taken from different emblem books such as Emblematum liber by Andrea Alciati, Nucleus Emblematum Selectissimorum by Gabriel Rollenhagen, Symbola heroica by Claude Paradin or Emblemata by Hadrianus Junius, to name just a few. Considering their origin, the emblematic character of the depicted animal stories could be taken for granted. It is further confirmed by the fact that besides the already mentioned books Trost used another important source for his images of animals (and plants), namely the Archetypa Studiaque by Jacob Hoefnagel, which has a universally acknowledged emblematic character.39 More important still: the comparative analysis of Hoefnagel’s prints in Archetypa studiaque and the selection of plants and animals in Trost’s decorative borders brings to light the fact that even individual beasts which are not part of narrative scenes have an allegorical meaning.40 The animal scenes or individual beasts with manifest allegorical value can be found in the decorative borders of almost every illustration in the Theatrum mortis. Their number and frequency are not comparable to the Passion book, thus indicating that they probably have a different or at least an additional function: there are good reasons to believe that they are skillfully integrated into the iconography of the illustrations and the subject matter of the book.

  • 41 According to the title and the author's foreword, the Theatrum mortis can be understood as an alleg (...)

27Theatrum mortis is a sort of illustrated morality book on the vanity of human life, urging the reader to lead a virtuous and pious life as the most secure way towards the salvation of the soul. As indicated by the title, the book consists of three parts: the first – Saltus mortis – follows the traditional iconography of the Dance of Death, the second – Varia genera mortis – describes the picturesque deaths of famous men and women, while the third – Poenae damnatorum – brings forth various images depicting the torments of damned souls in hell. The book serves as a unique literary-and-visual memento mori, as well as a sort of moral guide. Valvasor’s speculation on virtues and vices, on wisdom and foolishness, with special regard to the transience of human life, is illustrated by different “exempla”. The verses abound in allegories and metaphors of a distinctively didactic character, while the illustrations represent their visual counterparts.41

28The allegorical meaning of the animal episodes and individual beasts in the decorative borders fits well into the didactic concept of the book: each of them represents a certain virtue or vice, wisdom, folly or a rather more elaborate moral. This is the very reason why Trost chose the emblem books and not a book with animal illustrations, although there are many in Valvasor’s library. It also explains why he rendered the images with such precision. The intention of Valvasor’s master engraver is clear enough: he embellished the illustrations of Theatrum mortis with admirable decorative borders not only for the sake of beauty, but also to considerably enrich the iconography of the book. To underline Valvasor’s idea of the transience of human life which, like a sort of “fil rouge”, connects the three parts of Theatrum mortis in both word and image, Trost has also woven this “thread” into the fine embroidery of the decorative borders.

  • 42 The image of the world as a kind of theatre was a popular topos in literature of the early modern p (...)
  • 43 Valvasor’s letter to the emperor Leopold I with his request for the privilege as well as the the Im (...)

29Although Gheeraerts’s illustrations for De warachtighe fabulen der dieren are not Trost’s only source of inspiration, they are certainly one of the most important. The reasons are evident enough: the animal episodes are depicted in a very illustrative way, the compositions are faultless and the moral is always well-defined. They are actually an ideal model and served Trost’s and Valvasor’s purposes perfectly. Needless to say: as lovers of art the patron and the master engraver could hardly resist their charm and virtuosity. But there seems to be yet another reason for the choice: the Truthful Fables of the Animals was a very popular publication. Its translations and adaptations circulated widely and were well-known among the intellectual elite of the time. This was the very same audience that Valvasor was targeting in his open attempt to create a book that might bring him both fame and financial compensation. In order to make his publication more compelling for the learned audience across Europe, Valvasor carefully planned the structure and the content of the book. Theatrum mortis fits well into the popular literary genre of “Theatre” (Latin: Theatrum, German: Schau-Bühne or Schau-Platz, French: Théâtre), the type of books which often have an encyclopaedic as well as a didactic character.42 The decision to model his Theatrum mortis on the much admired emblem books may also be part of the same strategy. Furthermore, the decision to write the book bilingually – in both Latin and German – confirms that he had his audience very practically in mind. In seventeenth-century Europe Latin was still the lingua franca of intellectuals, while German was the most widespread vernacular of Central Europe, as well as the language of the social elite in Carniola. Other important ways of assuring wide circulation of a book were attractive illustrations and a handy size: an octavo format with one hundred and twenty-one beautiful engravings was, reasonably enough, expected to sell well. The fact that the illustrations of the Saltus mortis are made after the famous woodcuts by Hans Holbein might find its explanation in the same context. The proof that Valvasor was harbouring great expectations about the popularity of his book is even historically documented: he actually asked Emperor Leopold I of Habsburg for a special imperial privilege which granted him the exclusive right to publish and sell Theatrum mortis on the entire territory of the Holy Roman Empire.43

  • 44 Some of them, like the Bavarian State Library in Munich, the Austrian National Library in Vienna, t (...)

30Unfortunately, Valvasor’s great expectations were not realized. There was only one reprint of Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum and the number of copies sold remains unknown. The fact that today the book is in the catalogues of several important European libraries44 and occasionally still appears on the antique books market proves at least that Theatrum mortis found its way into different European countries. At present we have no adequate evidence of how the book was accepted by its audience and no commentary on Trost’s intriguing idea of incorporating the allegorical animal episodes into the decorative borders has so far been documented. It might be that the idea was too sophisticated after all and that most of the readers never actually grasped it. It was certainly not noticed by art historians until very recently. The fact that the miniature scenes are modeled on Marcus Gheeraerts’s illustrations presents the first evidence of his influence in the artistic circle of Johann Weichard Valvasor, and yet another proof of how appreciated Flemish masters were in the Duchy of Carniola.

Haut de page

Notes

1 Johann Weichard Valvasor (1641-1693) was a nobleman, the greatest seventeenth-century polymath in the Duchy of Carniola (today’s central Slovenia), an internationally renowned writer and member of the Royal Society of London. Among recent publications on Valvasor (with relevant older bibliography) see: I. Palladino and M. Bidovec, Johann Weichard von Valvasor (1641–1693): Protagonist der Wissenschaftsrevolution der Frühen Neuzeit: Leben, Werk und Nachlass, Wien & Köln & Weimar, 2008; the most recent studies on different aspects of Valvasor’s life and work by prominent Slovenian scholars: J. Weiss (ed.), Studia Valvasoriana, Ljubljana, 2014. Some basic online information about Valvasor’s life and his work can be found at: http://www.valvasor.org/.

2 Valvasor’s library is estimated to have had c. 2,750 titles. It was the largest private library in the Duchy of Carniola and one of the most important private libraries in Central Europe. The greatest part of the collection (2,630 titles) has been preserved and is now owned by the Metropolitan Library of the Archdiocese of Zagreb. It is presently housed in the Croatian State Archives, Zagreb. A catalogue of books in the Valvasor Library is available in a modern edition: B. Kukolja and V. Magić (eds.), Bibliotheca Valvasoriana, katalog knjižnice Janeza Vajkarda Valvasorja, Ljubljana & Zagreb, 1995. For the Valvasor Library see also: V. Magić, “Die Bibliothek Valvasors” in S. Füssel (ed.), Gutenberg Jahrbuch, 72, Mainz, 1997, p. 331-341.

3 Topographia Ducatus Carnioliae modernae (1679), Dominicae Passionis Icones (1679), Topographia arcium Lambergianarum (1679), Ovidii Metamorphoseos icones (1680), Topographia Archiducatus Carinthiae modernae (1681), Topographia Carinthiae Salisburgensis (1681) Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum (1682), Topographia Archiducatus Carinthiae antiquae & modernae complete (1688), Die Ehre dess Hertzogthums Crain (1689).

4 The engravings by Trost are actually not modeled directly on Holbein's woodcuts, but via woodcuts by Arnaud Nicolai in Birckmann's Icones mortis (Cologne, 1555). See: M. Germ, “Saltus mortis in Valvasor's Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum: A Copy of Holbein's Dance of Death?”, Ikon, 7, 2014, p. 313-326.

5 See: B. Murovec, “Die Zeichnungen des 17. Jahrhunderts im Herzogtum Krain: der Künstlerkreis um den Freiherrn J. W. Valvasor (1641–1693)“, Barockberichte 20/21, 1998, p. 244–246.

6 The Valvasor Print Collection, housed in the department of the Metropolitan Library at the Croatian State Archives, Zagreb, numbers 6,690 prints and 931 drawings and watercolours, which Valvasor grouped into eighteen volumes. Volume IV was already missing in 1815, thus seventeen volumes survive today. The entire Valvasor Print Collection is available in a facsimile edition: L. Gostiša (ed.), Iconotheca Valvasoriana 1-18, Ljubljana, 2004-2008. The prints in Valvasor’s collection and the question of their influence on the artists of the polymath’s circle were most extensively studied by the Croatian art historians Stella Ubel, Renata Gotthardi-Škiljan and Mirna Abaffy. The most recent contribution to this field, with earlier literature: M. Pelc, Theatrum humanum. Ilustrirani letci i grafika 17. stoljeća kao zrcalo vremena. Primjeri iz Valvasorove grafičke zbirke Nadbiskupije zagrebačke, Zagreb, 2013.

7 The great part of the books in Valvasor's library were published in Nürnberg, Frankfurt am Main, Leipzig, Augsburg, Strassburg, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Leiden etc.

8 U. Lubej, Prispevki k biografijam na Kranjskem delujočih flamskih in holandskih slikarjev druge polovice XVII. stoletja”, Acta historiae artis Slovenica, 2, 1997, p. 33-52; idem, Almanach, the painter and his patrons in M. Breščak (ed.), Almanach and painting in the second half of the 17th century in Carniola, Ljubljana, 2006, p. 23-62; idem, Herman Verelst (1640/41-London 1702) in Breščak, op. cit., p. 228-229; Justus van der Nypoort (Utrecht 1645/49-after 1698) in Breščak, op. cit., p. 226-228.

9 U. Lubej, “Justus van der Nypoort na Kranjskem”, Varstvo spomenikov, 37, 1997, p. 54-68; idem, Justus van der Nypoort: življenje in delo holandskega umetnika na Kranjskem in v drugih deželah nemškega cesarstva (unpublished PhD thesis), Ljubljana, 2008; Murovec, op. cit. (note 5).

10 See: L. A. Lisac and B. Reisp, Trost Andrej, in Slovenski biografski leksikon 4, Ljubljana 1971, p. 186–187. Available also online: http://www.slovenska-biografija.si/oseba/sbi724835/.

11 This small booklet consists of 17 copperplates: a frontispiece with a dedication to the Ljubljana bishop Joseph Rabatta and 16 plates with scenes of Christ’s suffering, from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion. The,extremely rare publication contains no text except for the title with some basic information and Valvasor's dedication to the bishop. The engravings with decorative borders measure c. 59x77 mm. Two uncompleted copies are preserved in Slovenia: one in the Graphic Cabinet of the National Museum in Ljubljana, the other in the Archives of the Archbishopric in Ljubljana. A modern edition was published in 1979. See: E. Cevc, “Valvasorjeva pasijonska knjižica” in Janez Vajkard Valvasor, Pasijonska knjižica: 1679: Reproducirani ponatis, Ljubljana, 1970, p. 37-67.

12 The Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum is an edifying work imploring the reader to reflect upon the transience of man and the world as well as on a virtuous life and piety, which lead to the salvation of human soul. The richly illustrated book with verses both in Latin and German is divided into three parts: Saltus mortis, Varia genera mortis and Poenae damnatorum. Hartmut Freytag in his afterword to the facsimile edition justly defines Valvasor's work as an allegorical poem in which memento mori is the central motif. See: H. Freytag, Nachwort in J. W. Valvasor, Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum: das ist: Schau-Bühne dess Menschlichen Todts in drey Theil: mit schönen Kupffer-Stichen geziehrt vnd an Tag gegeben. Mit einem Nachwort von Hartmut Freytag, Hildesheim & Zürich & New York 2004, p. 265–274. A copy of Valvasor’s Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum is kept in the Manuscript Collection and the Collection of Rare Prints at the National and University Library (NUK) in Ljubljana (R 12471). The NUK copy is digitalized and available at: http://www.dedi.si/virtualna-knjiga/24745; pages cited in the article refer to this copy. The format of the book is octavo (8°) and the size of engravings (with the exception of the full-page introductory illustration) varies from 89x76 to 91x78 mm. In 1969 a modern edition was published in Ljubljana, with the addition of a Slovenian translation by Jože Mlinarič and an afterword by Emilijan Cevc (J. W. Valvasor, Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum / Prizorišče človeške smrti v treh delih. Maribor & Novo mesto, 1969). The question of the integration of Theatrum mortis into the European context, with a list of relevant bibliography is presented in M. Germ, “La Renaissance et les renaissances : les éléments de la Renaissance dans les gravures de l'atelier du baron Johann Weichard Valvasor (1641-1693)” in L. Chvedova (ed.), La Renaissance en Europe dans sa diversité. Circulation des hommes, des idées et des biens, héritages : actes du Congrès International organisé à Nancy (Europe XVI-XVII, 22), Nancy, 2015, p. 249-265.

13 The decorative borders display an incredibly rich selection of animals: insects (mostly butterflies, different bugs, grasshoppers, bees, dragonflies, centipedes etc.), fish, seashell, crabs, snails, frogs and different reptiles, birds of every kind, small mammals (mouse, rat, mole, hedgehog, squirrel, weasel etc.) and also some bigger ones such as fox, wolf, dog, lion, bear, wild boar, deer, sheep and goat.

14 There are several beautiful Gheeraerts prints with animal motifs in Valvasor's collection; some of them are interesting because of their format, which is very close to the horizontal bands in the decorative borders by Trost. See: Iconotheca Valvasoriana, IX, p. 92-111.

15 E. Cevc, “Ob Valvasorjevem Prizorišču človeške smrti” in J. W. Valvasor, Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum / Prizorišče človeške smrti v treh delih, Maribor & Novo mesto 1969, p. 279-319.

16 M. Germ, “Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum (1682) de Johann Weichard Valvasor : un livre d'emblèmes?”, Stephanos, 9, no. 1, 2015, p. 88-109. http://www.stephanos.ru/izd/2015/2015_1.pdf.

17 Valvasor owned seven books of Aesop's Fables: Der wahre und erneuerte Esopus. Das ist: Das gantze Leben und Fabeln Esopi…, Frankfurt am Main, 1608 (BV 27); Fabulae Aesopi iam demuo multo emendatius…, by Joachim Camerarius, Nuremberg, 1558 (BV 28); Fabellae Aesopicae quaedam notiores et in scholis usitatiores… by Joachim Camerarius, Stockholm and Hamburg, 1689 (BV 29); Lust- und Lehr-reiche Sitten-Schule, Aesopisches Fabel-Büchlein…, Ulm, 1679 (BV 30), Theatrum morum, artliche Gesprach der Thier mit wahren Historien den Menschen zu Lehr… by Aegidius Sadeler, Prague 1608 (two copies, BV 31 and BV 2328), Fabulae variorum auctorum, nempe Aesopi Fabulae Graeco-Latinaer CCXCVII…, by Isacus Nicolaus Neveletus, Frankfurt 1681 (BV 539), Vita di Esopo Frigio, prudente et faceto favolatore. Tradotta dal sig. Conte Giulio Landi, alla quale di nuovo sono aggiunte le Favole del medesimo Esopo…, Venice 1615 (BV 2462).

18 In Valvasor's collection there are three editions of Emblematum liber by Andrea Alciati as well as Symbolicarum quaestionium de universo genere by Achille Bocchi, Emblematum liber by Jean Jacques Boissard, Emblemata by Hadrian Junius, Speculum imaginum veritatis occultae, exhibens symbola, emblemata, hieroglyphica, aenigmata by Jacob Masenius, Nucleus Emblematum Selectissimorum by Gabriel Rollenhagen (1611), Symbola heroica by Claude Paradin (1600), Emblemata by Joannes Sambucus and Emblemata Psycho-ethica by Nicolaus Taurellus (1602). Valvasor was also in posession of Hieroglyphica by Horapollo Niliacus and Hieroglyphica by Pierio Valeriano.

19 Among Valvasor's prints there are for example 29 emblems from Symbolicarum quaestionum de universo genere by Achille Bocchi (dated 1555, engraved by Giulio Bonansone; Iconotheca Valvasoriana XV, p. 405b-413d), 4 emblems from Emblèmes ou devises chrestiennes by Georgette Montenay (dated 1571, most probably engraved by Pierre Woeiriot; Iconotheca Valvasoriana XV, 413d) and 8 emblems from Lyon rebati ou le Destin forcé by Gaspar-Joseph Charioner (dated 1667, engraved by Johann Jakob Thurneysen; Iconotheca Valvasoriana XIII, p. 368-378).

20 Gilles Corrozet, Les fables du très ancien Ésope Phrigien, premièrement escriptes en grec, et depuis mises en rithme françoise, izdal Denis Janot, Paris 1542. Available also online: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k70299v.image.r=les+fables+du+tr%C3%A8s+ancien+Esope.f4.langFR.

21 Available online: http://cabrio.bibliotheek.brugge.be/browse/webgaleries/St137/index.html.

22 See: P. J. Smith, Dispositio: Problematic Ordering in French Renaissance Literature, Leiden, 2007 (in particular the chapter Dispositio in Fable Books. The Gheeraerts Filiation 1567-1617, p. 143-168).

23 The translation in Latin is by Arnold Freitag. See: P. J. Smith, “Arnold Freitag's Mythologia ethica (1579) and the tradition of the emblematic fable” in K. A. E. Enenkel and A. S. Q. Visser (eds.), Mundus emblematicus: studies in Neo-Latin emblem books, Turnhout; 2003, p. 173-200.

24 Aegidius Sadeler, Theatrum morum. Artliche Gesprach der Thier mit wahren Historien den Menschen zur Lehr; Paul Sesse, Prague, 1608. Also available online: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5606663w/f9.image.r=T.M.%20Morum.langEN. For Theatrum morum see: P. J. Smith, “Cognition in emblematic fable books: Aegidius Sadeler's Theatrum morum (1608) and its reception in France, 1659-1743” in K. A. E. Enenkel and W. Neuber (eds.), Cognition and the Book: Typologies of Formal Organisation of Knowledge in the Printed Book of the Early Modern Period, Leiden, 2004, p. 161-185.

25 Bibliotheca Valvasoriana, nr. 31 and nr. 2328.

26 See note no. 11.

27 The scenes illustrate the fables: The Crow and the Scorpion, The Old Stork, The Dog and its Reflection, The Sow and the Wolf, The Fox and the Crow, The Lion and the Boar, The Sheep and the Crow, The Viper and the Hedgehog, The Frogs Asking for a King, The Fox and the Lion, The Hares and the Frogs, The Bear and the Bees, The Sheep, the Dog and the Witnesses, The Cuckoo and the Hawk, The Cock and the Turkey.

28 Besides the scenes from 15 fables included in the decorative borders of The Passion booklet (see note 25) there are episodes from eleven aditional fables: The Fox and the Stork, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse, The Eagle and the Fox, The Hawk and the Nightingale, The Fox and the Ape, The Fighting Cocks and the Eagle, The Chameleon, The Mouse and the Oyster, The Ape and her Babies, The Stork and the Swan, The Monkey and the Cat.

29 The engravings in Theatrum mortis (including the decorative borders) measure c. 90x77 mm. As already mentioned, the inner band of the borders with the animals and plants is only 9-10 mm wide. Gheeraerts's illustrations measure c. 97x114 mm.

30 The episode modeled on Gheeraerts appears twice in Theatrum mortis (p. 43 and p. 55). It does not figure in Dominicae Passionis Icones.

31 The fox invited the stork to dine with him but served the soup in a flat dish, which the fox lapped up easily while the stork could not eat it with its long bill and thus left the dinner hungry.

32 The episode appears both in Theatrum mortis (p. 191) and Dominicae Passionis Icones (fol. 14).

33 The same composition also appears in the lower horizontal band of the Expulsion from Paradise in Theatrum mortis (p. 17).

34 A dog brought false accusations against the sheep, saying that she must give him back the bread which she was loaned. The sheep insisted that she had never taken any bread from the dog. They took the matter to court and the dog claimed to have witnesses that could confirm the truth of what he is saying. The wolf swore that the sheep borrowed bread from the dog and so did both the kite and the vulture. Defeated by the false witness, the sheep was hard pressed to pay back the loan. In order to return what she had not borrowed, she was forced to sheer her own fleece and sell it.

35 In the edition by Joseph Jacobs (New York, 1894) the Aesop's fable goes as follows: “The Hares were so persecuted by the other beasts, they did not know where to go. As soon as they saw a single animal approach them, off they used to run. One day they saw a troop of wild Horses stampeding about, and in quite a panic all the Hares scuttled off to a lake hard by, determined to drown themselves rather than live in such a continual state of fear. But just as they got near the bank of the lake, a troop of Frogs, frightened in their turn by the approach of the Hares scuttled off, and jumped into the water. ‘Truly,’ said one of the Hares, ‘things are not so bad as they seem:’

There is always someone worse off than yourself.’”

36 “A hawk teased a cuckoo for her coarse way of feeding – looking for worms in the grass instead of eating pigeon flesh like him. A few days later a farmer caught the hawk, who was chasing his pigeons and killed him, while he did no harm to the cuckoo pecking for worms.”

37 The above discussed fable is a good example of Trost’s skill, although one should also mention the fable The Frogs Asking for a King where the illustration is reduced to the crane eating the frogs (Dominicae Passionis Icones, fol. 14), Theatrum mortis, p. 191). The same goes for The City Mouse and the Country Mouse (Theatrum mortis, p. 43 and p. 55). In Trost’s decorative border the whole scenario of the dark cellar where the two mice feasting on the stolen food are surprised by men, is eliminated. The composition consists of the two animal protagonists at the rich meal placed in an open space. In both cases the rendering of the animals and the key details of the story are representative enough to enable the identification of the fable.

38 Valvasor's interest in flora and fauna is well documented in his works, especially in The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola. More important still, it is proved by the series of admirable aquarelles and drawings in his own hand. 234 folios with different plants and animals by Valvasor are preserved in his collection. See: T. Wraber, Introduction, Iconotheca Valvasoriana XVIII, p. 9.

39 Jacob Hoefnagel, Archetypa studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii Jacobus F. genio duce ab ipso scalpta omnibus philomusis amice D. ac perbenigne communicat, Frankfurt, 1592. For Archetypa studiaque see: T. Vignau-Wilberg, Archetypa studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii, 1592: Natur, Dichtung und Wissenschaft in der Kunst um 1600, München, 1994; idem, In Europa zu Hause: Niederländer in München um 1600, München, 2005.

40 See: M. Germ, op. cit. (note 16), p. 104-107.

41 According to the title and the author's foreword, the Theatrum mortis can be understood as an allegory – a metaphorical theatre stage on which we can contemplate tableaux of life and death.

42 The image of the world as a kind of theatre was a popular topos in literature of the early modern period, and the metaphor of the theatre is used in a variety of ways. One of these is a special type of literary or pseudo-literary work of moral-didactic character, to which also Valvasor’s Theatrum mortis humanae belongs. Identical titles are even more frequent in various encyclopaedic works and compilations. The two genres are often closely intertwined. See among others: M. Friedrich, “Das Buch als Theater. Überlegungen zu Signifikanz und Dimensionen der Theatrum-Metapher als frühneuzeitlicher Buchtitel” in T. Stammen and W. E. J. Weber (eds.), Wissenssicherung, Wissensordnung und Wissensverarbeitung. Das europäische Modell der Enzyklopädien, Berlin, 2004, p. 205-232; Louis van Delft, Les Spectateurs de la vie. Généalogie du regard moraliste, Paris, 2012.

43 Valvasor’s letter to the emperor Leopold I with his request for the privilege as well as the the Imperial office's reply from November 13th, 1681 are kept in Österreichisches Staatsarchiv in Vienna. See: A. Dular, “Iz zgodovine tiskarskih privilegijev. Ob privilegiju cesarja Leopolda za Valvasorjevo delo Theatrum mortis humanae tripartitum”, Zgodovinski časopis, 52, 1998, nr. 1, p. 21-23. The privilege, dated November 13th, 1681 confirms that Valvasor is the author of Theatrum mortis and grants him the exclusive right to print, reprint, and sell the book on the territory of the Holy Roman Empire.

44 Some of them, like the Bavarian State Library in Munich, the Austrian National Library in Vienna, the National and University Library in Zagreb or the National and University Library in Ljubljana, possess even more than one copy of Valvasor's Theatrum mortis.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: J. W. Valvasor, The Brigand
Légende Theatrum mortis, 1682, p. 55, decorative border by Andreas Trost
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 868k
Titre Fig. 1a: Detail of the decorative border with the fox and the stork
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 100k
Titre Fig. 2: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Fox and the Stork
Légende Theatrum morum, 1608, p. 97
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 450k
Titre Fig. 2a: Marcus Gheeraerts, The Fox and the Stork
Légende De warachtighe fabulen der dieren, 1567, p. 180
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 228k
Titre Fig. 3: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Dog and its Reflection
Légende Theatrum morum, 1608, p. 59
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,5M
Titre Fig. 4: J. W. Valvasor, The Death by Impaling
Légende Theatrum mortis, 1682, p. 191, decorative border by Andreas Trost
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 844k
Titre Fig. 4a: Detail of the decorative border with the dog and its reflection
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 136k
Titre Fig. 5: J. W. Valvasor, The Expulsion from Paradise
Légende Theatrum mortis, 1682, p. 17, decorative border by Andreas Trost
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-8.png
Fichier image/png, 6,5M
Titre Fig. 5a: Detail of the decorative border with the sheep, the dog, the wolf and two birds
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-9.png
Fichier image/png, 3,5M
Titre Fig. 6: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Sheep, the Dog and the Witnesses
Légende Theatrum morum, 1608, p. 42
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,4M
Titre Fig. 7: J. W. Valvasor, The Torments of the Discontented Soul
Légende Theatrum mortis, 1682, p. 213, decorative border by Andreas Trost
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 896k
Titre Fig. 7a: Detail with the hares and the frogs in the right corner of the engraving
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 196k
Titre Fig. 8: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Hares and the Frogs
Légende Theatrum morum, 1608, p. 55
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,5M
Titre Fig. 9: J. W. Valvasor, The Crowning with Thorns
Légende Dominicae Passionis Icones, 1679, fol. 12, decorative border by Andreas Trost
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-14.png
Fichier image/png, 8,1M
Titre Fig. 9a: Detail of the decorative border with the captured hawk and the cuckoo in the upper horizontal band
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-15.png
Fichier image/png, 2,1M
Titre Fig. 10: Aegidius Sadeler after Marcus Gheeraerts, The Cuckoo and the Hawk
Légende Theatrum morum, 1608, p. 124
URL http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/docannexe/image/1697/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,2M
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Martin Germ, « Aesop’s Fables in Disguise: a Creative Interpretation of Gheeraerts’s Illustrations for De warachtighe fabulen der dieren in Two Early Publications by Johann Weichard Valvasor », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 31 | 2017, mis en ligne le 03 octobre 2017, consulté le 12 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/episteme/1697 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.1697

Haut de page

Auteur

Martin Germ

Martin Germ, PhD, is Associate Professor at the Art History Department, Faculty of Arts University of Ljubljana. He studied art history at the University of Ljubljana (PhD in 1997 with the thesis Nicholas of Cusa and Renaissance Art) and pursued postdoctoral studies in Vienna, Munich and London. His research focuses on iconography and iconology with emphasis on humanist themes in late medieval and Renaissance art. He is the editor of the interdisciplinary journal Ars & Humanitas – Journal of Arts and Humanities published by the Ljubljana University Press, a member of the Centre for Iconographic Studies (CIS) at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, University of Rijeka (Croatia) and member of editorial board of IkonJournal of Iconographic Studies, published by CIS, University of Rijeka.

Haut de page
  • OpenEdition Journals