The engraving’s publication credits inscribed in the print lower center indicate the print is based on a painting by Bartholomeus Spranger. However, the engraver, Aegidius Sadeler, took some significant liberties with the composition of the original painting to make it even more dramatic. In Spranger’s painting, Minerva as Victor over Ignorance (1591), now in the Kunst Historisches Museum in Vienna, Minerva effortlessly holds the cord with one hand and gazes over her left shoulder at a putto (there are two in the painting, but only one in the print). In the painting, her softly feminine breasts are highlighted as a symbol of her role as “Sapentia Lactans,” the nurturing mother of wisdom, whereas the Minerva of the print leans forward with the focus is on her muscular arm and leg. The figures surrounding Minerva in the print also appear more active and engaged with the central scene than in the original painting.
Bartholomeus Spranger was a Flemish artist known for his paintings in oils and watercolors, as well as drawings and etchings. Known as a master of Mannerism, he painted religious and political allegories in a lush and often erotically charged style. Spranger received his early training in Flanders followed by studies in France and Italy. He spent a decade in Italy where he worked for Cardinal Farnese and Pope Pius V, then achieved his greatest success as court painter to two Holy Roman Emperors — Maximilian II in Vienna, and especially Rudolf II in Prague. His works are in many major museums. A 2014 biography by Sally Metzler, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the occasion of a major Spranger exhibition there, makes the case that he was one of the first truly international artists and one of the most important and influential artists of his era. The Met also has an example of this print.
The Sadelers were a family of Flemish engravers, publishers and printsellers who were active throughout Europe for three generations. There were two Aegidius Sadelers, known as Aegidius I (c. 1555-c. 1609) and Aegidius II (c. 1570-1629); the latter worked for Emperor Rudolf II in Prague and his successors. Aegidius II was a friend of Bartholomeus Spranger. He often engraved after his own drawings as well as after works by Spranger and others. His mastery of the medium earned him the sobriquet “Phoenix of Engravers.” Marcus Christoph Sadeler (1614-1656) was an engraver and publisher. The Sadeler family played a dominant role in European graphic art, producing a wide range of high quality work.
Condition: Generally very good, recently professionally cleaned and deacidfied, with a few short tears professionally closed as backed with Japanese tissue, and some marginal chips similar restored, now with only overall light toning, and wear, noting some minor glue residue in the upper margins, verso, from former matting not affecting the front.
“Bartholomeus Spranger: Splendor and Eroticism in Imperial Prague.” Metropolitan Museum of Art. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Bartholomeus_Spranger_Splendor_and_Eroticism_in_Imperial_Prague (1 November 2021).
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 7, pp. 461-462, Vol. 8, p. 63.
“Minerva als Siegerin über die Unwissenheit.” Kunst Historisches Museum Wien. https://www.khm.at/objektdb/detail/1825/?offset=13&lv=list (28 October 2021).
“Sadeler.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan, 2000.