Pieter de Jode was born in Antwerp in 1573. His father Gerard was a cartographer, publisher and engraver. Presumably, Pieter was taught in his father’s workshop from early on, possibly by the Wierix brothers, as his early work is stylistically closely related to theirs. He started making prints at a young age; the first prints bearing his name as engraver were published by his father in the late 1580’s. Before long, Pieter moved to Haarlem to work as an apprentice in the workshop of Hendrick Goltzius, who his father was connected to through his dealings with his fellow engraver Philips Galle, who was originally from Haarlem. In Goltzius’ workshop, he was trained in the engraving technique of the master, which would have a lasting impact on his style. In fact, he assimilated Goltzius’ technique and style so well that his unsigned Holy Family after Bartholomeus Spranger has been attributed to Goltzius himself in the past.
Following the death of his father in early 1591, de Jode returned to Antwerp to work in the family publishing firm, which was now run by his older brother Cornelis and his mother Passchijnke van Gelre. During this period he engraved designs by other artists, such as Maarten de Vos and Adam van Noort, but he also produced (and engraved) his own designs for his mother’s business - such as a series of the Five Senses. He also occasionally supplied other publishers, such as Jacob Goltzius, with designs. In 1595 de Jode left for Italy, first going to Venice and then moving on to Siena and Rome. During his five-year stay in Italy, he worked for various Italian publishers while also sending a few occasional plates home to be published in Antwerp.
De Jode had returned to Antwerp by early 1601, presumably after having heard about the death of his brother Cornelis, who died in October 1600. His mother died only a few months later, after which the de Jode publishing firm was wound up. Pieter, who was registered in the Antwerp guild of St Luke in 1601 (he became first dean of the guild in 1608), started a new publishing firm with a small stock of plates he had salvaged from his parents’ business, in addition to a few plates he had brought with him from Italy. In 1602 he married Susanna Verhulst. Their son, Pieter (II) also became an engraver after being taught by his father. De Jode could not be considered a ‘peintre-graveur’; his own part as an engraver and designer in the prints he published was rather limited. Of all ca. 460 prints that carry Pieter de Jode's address as their publisher, only fifteen can be considered to have been both engraved and designed by Pieter de Jode himself, as they are signed with fecit et excud[it] [made and published]. He mostly engraved works by Italian - notably a large group designed by Antonio Tempesta - and Flemish artists, the latter group including designs by Peter Paul Rubens, Sebastiaen Vrancx and Anthony van Dyck, to name but a few. Incidentally, Van Dyck included de Jode's portrait in his Iconographia.
Besides his work as a publisher, de Jode was active as a draughtsman, who designed many more prints for other publishers than for his own firm. His drawings are all executed in pen and brown wash over traces of black chalk. (In his later drawings he sometimes also used white highlights.) As a designer, de Jode mainly worked for the publisher Theodoor Galle; he also designed prints for book publishers, mostly for the Plantin-Moretus firm, whose account books mention several payments to de Jode for drawings. De Jode is known to have engraved plates for other publishers, although after setting up his own firm he did this only rarely. In addition to all this, he was also active as an art dealer, dealing in books, prints and paintings.
In 1601, the year de Jode returned to Antwerp, the Southern Netherlands were ruled by the Spanish Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, daughter of Philip II, and her husband, Archduke Albert of Austria. In 1609 they appointed Peter Paul Rubens court painter, formally marking the beginning of the era of baroque art in the Southern Netherlands. At the height of the counterreformation in Antwerp the market for religious prints had shifted from biblical series to devotional imagery, greatly stimulated by the very pious Isabella and Albert. Tellingly, one of the first prints published by de Jode’s new firm was dedicated to the Spanish governors, who are portrayed kneeling in adoration before the Virgin of Halle. Pieter designed and engraved the plate himself and presented two impressions to the couple, at the same time applying for a ten-year privilege on the plate, which was duly granted to him on 17 April 1603, if only for a period of five years.
The present work also features Albrecht and Isabella, standing in front of a a classically-inspired architectural cartouche, with a see-through showing a well-tended garden landscape. Depicted above the Archdukes are their respective coats of arms, while God the Father is overseeing the scene from his cloudy abode. Both Albrecht, who is carrying a sword, and Isabella, who is holding the scales of Justice, are laying their other hand on a cartouche in the form of a shield which bears the coat of arms of the Province of Hainaut, signifying they are lord and protector of the land. The cartouche is supported by a blindfolded woman who is trampling a figure underneath, as if symbolizing the victory over evil or injustice. Interestingly, Albrecht and Isabella had a close connection to Hainaut, as it was there that their country residence, the Castle of Mariemont where they spent many happy moments, was located.
Although the engraving for which the design was intended has not been identified and was perhaps never executed, there can be little doubt that this was a design for a frontispiece, as the spaces left blank in the drawing for a title, publisher etc clearly indicate. Furthermore, as all the coats of arms in the drawing are reversed, the drawing was clearly intended for print. Stylistically, there can be no doubt that the drawing is indeed by de Jode; in fact, a frontispiece (see illustration) designed by de Jode (the Plantin-Moretus account books indicate he was paid for the drawing) for Rodrigo de Arriaga’s Cursus Philosophicus which was engraved by Cornelis Galle and published by Balthasar Moretus in 1632 bears remarkable similarities to our drawing.
The question remains what the precise meaning and (intended) function of our drawing was. As de Jode had sought - and received - the support of the Archdukes in the past (as was not uncommon among artists at the time), was this drawing perhaps conceived as part of an attempt to again call upon their patronage? Whatever the case may be, this complex and highly finished design by de Jode constitutes an important rediscovery as well as a very fine addition to his drawn oeuvre.
August Grahl (1791-1868), Dresden (Lugt 1199); Sold by his estate at Sotheby's, London, 27/28 April 1885, Lot 221 (as "B. van Orley"); Galerie Fischer, Lucerne, 2-5 December 1966, Lot 713 (as "Virgil Solis"); Art trade, Basel; Where acquired in 1977 by Dr. Tilman Falk ("meine erste Altmeister-Zeichnung").