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HOEFNAGEL, Jacob. Archetypa studiaque Patris Georgio Hoefnagelii. Frankfurt, 1592.

4 parts in one vol., oblong 4to. [26.1 x 38.7 cm], comprising 4 engraved titles and 48 engraved plates (12 plates to each part), the plates trimmed to plate border, the second suite mounted on the versos of the first. Bound in contemporary limp vellum, worn and cockled. With a manuscript frontispiece in sepia featuring a coat-of-arms surrounded by a wreath of fruit, and inscribed ‘Di Liberta Mazzuchi’, and a some contemporary sketches and pen-trails on the blank leaves. A few minor stains and tears, but generally very good.


First edition, first issue, of this beautiful and influential pattern book, one of the principal sources of seventeenth-century still-life painting. The work was engraved by the teenaged Jacob Hoefnagel (1573-1635) court painter to Emperor Rudolph II of Prague from 1602, under the supervision of his father Jours (1542-1601), last of the great Flemish miniaturists and manuscripts illuminators.

The title reads: ‘Archetype and verses by Jours Hoefnagel, his father, are presented, engraved in cooper under the guidance of his genius and communicated in friendship to all lovers of the Muses by his son Jacob’. Originally it was issued both in portfolio and as a bound volume and published in the imperial city of Frankfurt-am-Main, where Jours had moved with his son in 1591 to escape religious persecution as a Calvinist in his native Antwerp. It was aimed to advertise his son’s talents although this was the last time Jacob features as an engraver: he was trained and practiced as a painter.

The work is divided in four parts, each containing an engraved title and twelve engraved plates illustrating natural history specimens, many of these illustrated for the first time. Jacob Hoefnagel drew from his father’s small-scale cabinet miniatures and principally from a painted model book (which has not survived) which Jours Hoefnagel used for the illumination of some highly important manuscripts, especially those for Emperor Rudolph II of Prague. These include the Missile Romanus for Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (e.g. the snail and hawk moth in plates 7 and 8, part I); the Four Elements for Rudolph II in the National Gallery in Washington (e.g. the hummingbird hawk moth, part I plate 5); and the incomparable calligraphic Schriftmusterbuch of Georg Bocksay. Also for Rudolph II, and now at the Getty Museum (e.g. the bunch of grapes in part II, plate 3). Other illuminated books by Jour Hoefnagel may have been broken up and individual leaves are to be found all over the world, many of which can be linked to the Archetypa: the Amor Lethaeos in the British Museum ( from which the dead frog on plate 5, part II and the mouse on plate 8, part II are derived); the elephant beetle in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett (no. 4866) reappears on the first plate of part I, while the stag beetle on the first plate of part II is derived from a drawing by Albrecht Dürer (London, private collection, Winkler 370). The mouse on plate 10, part I, first surfaces in Jours Hoefnagel’s allegorical miniature for his friend Johannes Muizenhol (literally ‘mouse hole’) now at the Amsterdam Rijksprentenkabinet. (no A 3115)
Jours Hoefnagel did not observe all his specimens from life and prototypes have been found for many (like the stag beetle from Dürer) but the majority of his images of plants and insects were done ad vivum.

Each of the forty-eight plates is arranged as if the specimens were items from a cabinet of natural curiosities, or a Wunderkammer , like that of Rudolph II at Prague with its special focus on the microcosm and the world of small creatures. Many specimens are drawn to scale and each is combined into a composition that fills the entire printed area to form a pattern. They are viewed as if seen on a flat surface from above, often casting a shadow, with flowers attached to the left and right of the frame itself and therefore upright.

Birds, mice and a rat (plate 3 part III) are the principal warm-blooded creatures while snakes, lizards, frogs, slugs and snails, crustaceans and empty shells predominate along with the plant life. Especially new and important is the large-scale depiction of the insects in the Archetypa: the first entomological publications date from after 1600. “It was Hoefnagel who for the first time made insects as a class worthy of depiction” (T. Vignau-Wilberg, Archetypa, p.40).

Flowers include the French rose and the marigold, the orange and the white lily, the tulip, the common foxglove, the wild pansy, the gilly flower, the four o’clock, the daffodil, the brown-flowered iris, the lily-of-the-valley, the carnation, the bell flower, the common poppy, sweet William, the primrose, the water forget-me-not, the English daisy, the sweet pea, the dog tooth violet, the buttercup, the cowslip, the violet, the snakeshead, the columbine, the pasque flower, and the common periwinkle.

The specimens are arranged not according to any taxonomic system, but for pictorial effect and symbolic significance. Generally, they are not named but engraved inscriptions in Latin at top and bottom explain (or provide clues to) the content of each plate. These are strongly emblematic in character and formed part of the didactic programme Jours had set his son in this showpiece of humanist learning as well as artistic skill. The title-page of the Archetypa says it is concerned with the studia, i.e. the literary works of the father and display his command of Latin literary allusions and wordplay. These consist mainly of epigrams and mottoes, generally quotations from the Bible, Latin authors and above all the Adagia of Erasmus. There are also visual puzzles entitled Aenigma to which the inscription provides clues, in the emblematic tradition. Nearly all these dicta are connected with the theme of death and the ephemerality of life, the element of momento mori which enters into the whole seventeenth-century still-life tradition. Thus on plate 9, part I, next to the flower we read: ipsa dies aperit; conficit ipsa dies (‘One day brings it forth, and the same day ends it’) or part II, plate 8, with a dead mouse and moth over a chrysalis: Nasci Pati Mori (‘ I am born, I suffer, I die’). The four title-pages, with the strapwork grotesques of interweaving birds, mammals, fruits and flowers also contain a metaphysical message: the title-page of part IV has at its center the monogram HOMO with a laurel-crowned skull and the motto Homo Bulla (‘Man Bubble’).

There is strongly religious content to the ensemble: a butterfly soaring upwards from a pupa here becomes a symbol for the Resurrection while the stag beetle is to be interpreted as an image of Christ, for (according to tradition) it did not reproduce sexually. The whole work therefore is dedicated to the glorification of God in his smallest creatures: He is the Archetype at the center of the whole work.

The influence of 1592 Archetypa both as a whole and its individual motifs is well documented: the Bishop of Eichstatt, the patron of Bessler, had colored copies of all of them made while Jan Breughel the Elder copied the famous Muizenhol mouse and other motifs from it. The descendants of the same mouse also populate the work of John Payne in the 1620s and other seventeenth-century illustrated books of natural history.

There were editions of the Archetypa through to the 18th century including one by Christoph Weigel of Nuremberg using the original (by then very worn) copper plates before 1726. The present copy is from the first edition with excudebat Hoef: on the title-page of part II and excud. Hoef: on the title-page of part III and the date 1592 on the title-page of part IV.

Thea Vigrau-Wilberg, in her fundamental work on the Archetypa lists only twelve known sets of the first edition and did not know of this one. (See Thea Vignau-Wilberg, J. Hoefnagel, Archetypa Studiaque Patris Georgii Hoefnagelii1592; Nature Poetry and Science in Art around 1600, Munich, 1994.)

* * BL STC 408; BN Dep. Est. J B72; VD16 H4035; Nissen ZBI1954; NUC lists only an imperfect copy, Clendening History of Medicine Library, Kansas State University; OCLC adds the Hunt Institute

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