One of the most celebrated, and most often reprinted, of these was Hovwelyck ("Matrimony"), which first appeared in 1625 and went through numerous editions during the following decades. This is the work for which the present drawing is an illustration. The text describes, in six "books", the situation of the good Christian woman at different stages of her life, and the associated duties of the man. The six stages are: Maeght (girl), Vrijster (literally, "batchelorette"), Bruyt (bride), Vrouwe (wife), Moeder (mother) and Weduwe (widow).
The anonymously engraved print after this drawing by van de Venne (fig. 1) was included on page 39 of the last of these "books", in the first edition of the publication.2 Showing an ancient, bearded man trying to warm himself up by the fire, both the accompanying text and visual details such as the candle beside him, burned all the way down and clearly about to go out, highlight that his powers and strengths have now all but left him, and his days are nearly done.
The public appetite for Cats's entertaining yet improving book is clear from the numerous editions and reissues that appeared over the decades following its initial publication. The first, quarto, edition of 1625 was richly illustrated with 22 prints based on designs by van de Venne. In 1628, there followed a smaller, octavo edition, with an entirely new set of 39 illustrations after van de Venne, and this edition was reissued, with a few additional illustrations, in 1632. Then in 1634 another octavo edition was published, with yet another new set of 29 illustrations by van de Venne, followed by several other editions and reprints.
Although van de Venne made many illustration designs for the poems of Cats, very few of these highly influential works have come to the market in recent times, and nothing comparable to this example, in terms of scale and condition, has been sold since 2003, when a small group of beautifully preserved drawings formerly in the van Pallandt Collection, including four tiny designs for the second edition of Hovwelyck, reappeared at auction in Amsterdam.3
When, as here, van de Venne's illustration designs are in near-perfect condition, we are able fully to appreciate the wit, verve and technical mastery that characterises his extraordinary skill as a narrator and illustrator.
1. For a full account of van de Venne as an illustrator, see L.J. Bol, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, Doornspijk 1989, pp. 112-141
2. C. Schuckman, Hollstein's Dutch & Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts, vol. XXXV, Roosendaal 1990, p. 89, no. 190
3. Sale, Amsterdam, Sotheby's, 4 November 2003, lots 36-38
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