3 parts in one, 4to (251 x 160 mm). 142 leaves, entirely engraved. Contents: 1) title, dedication leaf, signed by Richard Collins [i.e., Collin], 54 portraits by various engravers after Jan Meyssens; 2) title and 45 (of 46) numbered portraits, without plate 39, which was never bound in; 3) title and 39 portraits. The plates of parts 2 and 3 unsigned but by Cornelius Meyssens after his father Jan Meyssens. Worming in lower margins of the first half of part 1, diminishing to a single wormhole, not touching the engraved images, some dust-soiling and marginal discoloration, plates 40 in part 1 and 31 in part 2 browned. 18th-century mottled calf, spine gilt (rehinged, repairs to corners, marbled endpapers soiled and frayed).***
First complete edition of a remarkable series of portrait engravings, depicting kings, princes, princesses and dukes of Brabant, Flanders and Holland, from the seventh century to the present; third issue of the first part and first editions of the second and third parts. All were engraved after drawings by the Antwerp artist and print publisher Jan Meyssens (1612-1670). Those of the first series are by various engravers, while the second and third series were engraved by his son Cornelis Meyssens. A few plates in the first part were based on paintings whose artists are cited: these include Rubens, van Eyck, Titian, and Lucas van Leyden. The quality of the engravings ranges from respectable to virtuosic.
In the first part, the Effigies title precedes a dedication leaf (used as the title of the earlier, Meyssens issues, see below), signed by the engraver Richard Collin, with the following title, on a shield supported by half-lions and surmounted by putti and the arms of the dedicatee, Charles van den Bosch, bishop of Bruges: Les pourtraicts de tous les souuerains princes et ducs de Brabant recueilliz de diuers cabinetz et originaux antiques; desseignez par Iean Meyssens, peintre. Shown in chronological order, the 54 portraits effectively convey the characters of kings, princes, princesses, counts and dukes. Set in a variety of frames, each bears a Latin motto lettered at the foot, and below the frame a succinct (and informative) biographical note and the arms of the subject. The portraits are the work of various engravers of the “Rubens school” (cf. Funck, p. 245): Pieter de Jode the younger (25 engravings), Coenraet Waumans (9), Pieter de Bailliu (6), Pieter van Schuppen (6), Frederik Bouttats (4), Jacob Neefs (2), Pieter Clouwet (1), and Richard Collin (1), who also engraved all the coats of arms (as stated on the dedication leaf). The engravings by de Jode stand out.
Cornelis Meyssens’s portraits, in the second and third series, are in unadorned frames with no Latin quotations, but otherwise follow the model of the first series. Meyssens shaded the frames with cross-hatching to add dimensionality, showing the subjects as if through open windows lit by the sun. The third, Holland series is especially fine (Funck noted that this “très beau receuil” was “recherché”). Varied in facial types, beauty or lack of it, and accoutrements, ranging from the woolen hat over the tense, unshaven face of “Antoine, second son of Liederic,” who succeeded his father in 692 and was a “mean and depraved Prince” (II:2) to the plumed helmet of Thierry IV of Holland (III:5), whose life went south after he inadvertently killed the brother of the Bishop of Cologne, or the jeweled turban of William I, governor of Frise, smiling gently beneath a dandily curling mustache (III:16), the portraits show obscure local counts as well as powerful monarchs like Maximilian I, Charles V, or Philip IV of Spain (shown twice). Equally skilfully depicted are floral brocades and shining armor, in which one fearsome character, the “extremely valiant” Florent IV (III:17) hides everything but his nose and one maniacal eye. There are 18 portraits of women, including the only saint in the crew, Saint Begga (I:4), grandmother of Charles Martel (shown in plate 6).
The bibliographical history of these suites has confused cataloguers, and ascribed dates vary. The first series, on the Princes of Brabant, was originally issued under Meyssens’ own imprint, in the Cammerstraet, ca. 1660 or 1661, with 53 portraits. It was subsequently reissued under a different Meyssens address, in the Eyermert (egg market), adding a 54th plate. Finally, the same 54 plates and title were re-issued by the Antwerp print publisher Martin van den Enden, with a new title, along with the two new “in-house” Meyssen series. Most copies have 54 plates, as here, but a few include 3 or 4 additional plates (which may be an indication of later issues). Vanden Enden’s imprints in all three titles are undated, and cataloguers have attributed dates of 1663 and 1662 respectively to the second and third series based on the dates in their titles, but those state when Cornille Meyssens engraved the plates rather than the date of publication. Funck implies that Vanden Enden may have produced reimpressions of the plates, using the same titles, more than once during the following years. The impressions in this copy are fine and dark.
In N. America there are complete or partial copies at the National Gallery of Art, Spencer Library at U. Kansas, the Free Library, Yale, the University Club Library, the Metropolitan Museum (possibly only individual prints), and McGill University. The British Museum holds some of Jan Meyssen’s preparatory drawings.
Brunet III: 1693; Funck, Le livre belge à gravures 361; Thieme-Becker 24:502; for a succinct summary of the publication history see British Museum Collections online database, museum number 1879,1011.60. Item #4129