Recently, while wandering around a local antiques and collectibles show, I happened upon an interesting black ink, unframed engraving on paper. I was struck by the large size of the work, approx. 27.4 x 21.4 cm. (10.5 x 8.5 in.) and also, the unusual subject matter and composition.
C. de Visscher, Shepherd in Skin Vest.
The image depicts a shepherd wearing a hat and holding a staff with both hands. He is riding a horse into the landscape parallel to the axis of the viewer and is about to cross a shallow river. A cow at his right, travelling in the same direction and an uninterested goat, linger behind. Immediately to his left on the river shore is a woman with a staff in her right hand and a full bag cradled in her left. Her dog, which appears to be travelling with her, cowers at her right side, presumably at the sight of the horse and shepherd. In the far landscape, above a mountainous outcrop stand the ruins of a tower.
Visual elements in the image suggest a definite delineation between the labours of men and women and perhaps insight into their respective positions in 17th century agrarian society. The man on horseback, with his animals, leading the viewer into the landscape is contrasted by the woman on foot, passing in the opposite direction, with perhaps a bag of grain under her arm and supported by elements of domesticity, such as the dog. The positioning of the staffs in the hands of both figures form a strong diagonal, from upper right to lower left.
The work was in good condition, although there was some browning. In the top right of the image appeared the words Berghem Delineavit with C. Visscher f. below. In the bottom centre, outside the image, appeared the words Nicolaus Visscher excudit and at the extreme right, outside the image appeared the numeral 1.
As I entered the booth to take a better look, the merchant offered the work for $25. As the show was about to close and I presume he did not want to take his unsold merchandise back to the store, he offered the piece at $15. At his insistence, I reluctantly purchased the work.
I knew something about antique engravings and my curiosity led me to research the work. I knew that the engraving was of the period and an engraved copy of an oil on canvas painting by Nicolaes Pietersz Brechem (1620-1683) as evidenced by the words Berghem Delineavit (Berchem painted this). I also knew that C. Visscher f. indicated that C. (Cornelis) Visscher f (fecit) made or manufactured the engraving and the words Nicolaus Visscher excudit indicated that Nicolaus Visscher had printed or published the engraving.
What I did not know was that an exact multiple of the same engraving was in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and appeared in the catalogue, Dutch 17th Century Prints. The catalogue listed works, which toured the country in 1981-1982. Further research indicated that another exact multiple was in the permanent collection of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. The work was titled Shepherd in Skin Vest, and is also known as Man on Horseback with Cow and Sheep; Woman and Dog Crossing a River.
Cornelis Visscher, designer and engraver was born in Harlem, Netherlands around 1628 and died there about 1658. His family was very influential in the engraving industry and works engraved by Cornelis were often published by another family member, Nicolaus.
I believe the work to be an authentic, original 17th century engraving by the listed Dutch Master, Cornelis de Visscher (circa 1628-1658).