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From mythology to merchandise: an interpretation of the engraved title of Van Mander's Wtleggltinglt *

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Karel van Mander's Schilder-Boeck (Haarlem 1604) contains, apart from the most frequently read biographies of the painters ('Levens'), a theoretical justification of painting (the 'Grondt'), and an interpretation (Wtlegghingh) of Ovid's Metamorphoses. The interpretation discusses the thesaurus of mythological images for the benefit of the painter of historical subjects. The first Dutch iconology (Vvtbeeldinge), which immediately follows the text of the interpretation of Ovid, sums up and supplements the latter. In both the Wtlegghingh and the 'Grondt' Van Mander employs a language of images involving several layers which ultimately goes back to the doctrine of the fourfold meaning of the Scripture. This philological tradition is flanked by elements from (Italian) mythographical literature. This paper offers a reading of the title-page of the Wtlegghingh, engraved by J. Matham after a sketch by Van Mander, and following Italian examples, Vasari's among others. It makes use of the interpretative scheme mentioned. Van Mander's own text in the Wtlegghingh justifies and explains the four layers of the interpretation: mythological, cosmological, ethical, and art theoretical interpretation. The title-print considered as façade and portal of the book thus contains a demonstration of the method used in the Wtlegghingh immediately following, and a concise summary of contents, encoded pictorially. Thus the title-print satisfies the demands which according to rhetoric the proemium has to fulfil. The interpretation of this engraved title-page might appear far-fetched if it were not for the fact that the title-print introduces an art theoretical text, and that the writer of that text and the inventor of the title-print are the same person. Furthermore it is supported by other examples. The fact, however, that only nineteen years later the original plate was used in a historical treatise on Friesland, and without any secondary meaning whatever, indicates that plates of this complexity could be used for purely decorative purposes, perhaps because of their complexity.


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