The print is the ultimate democratic art form. Relatively inexpensive to produce and reproduce, prints allow mass viewing-and even mass ownership-of texts and images that might otherwise be seen only by an elite few.
At least, that’s how it used to be. The current show at Westmont’s Reynolds Galley, Dutch Prints in the Age of Reformation, is a reminder of the impact that printed images once made on the lives of ordinary people.
Drawn from the private collection of Westmont College alumni Dewayne and Faith Perry, the nearly 50 16th- and 17th-century Dutch prints depict Old and New Testament subjects, and are earmarked for the college’s permanent collection. Most of these works would have been tacked to the walls of middle-class homes. Unlike paintings, which were commissioned only by those with significant wealth, these prints would have reinforced the ideas of the Protestant Reformation, bringing biblical narratives-and the opportunity to reflect upon the lessons they told-into the hands of the masses.
Among the most significant of these small prints, all of which measure fewer than 18×10 inches, is “Joseph Telling His Dreams” by the painter and engraver Lucas van Leyden. For artists like van Leyden, prints served as advertisements for more expensive paintings, as well as art objects in their own right. In this scene, Joseph sits recounting his visions to a crowd of characters, their strange clothing and individual physiognomies described in fine, delicate lines.
Many of the prints, such as Abraham Blooteling’s “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” and Schelte Adams Bolswert’s “St. Barbara” (chosen especially for its regional relevance) are copied after the paintings of the masters. Other prints echo the style of Rembrandt in their dark, shadowy scenes, while still others employ the sharp contrasts of chiaroscuro. Among the treasures are Heinrich Goltzius’s tiny print of St. Paul, whose soulful eyes gaze out with unsettling intensity, and the strange scene captured in “The Temptation of St. Anthony” by Franz van den Wyngaerde, replete with flying fish and skeletal rodents. Viewed daily in the intimacy of the home, such visions must have made indelible impressions upon the God-fearing.