The engraver of this print is Jan Pietersz. Saenredam (1565-1607), father of the now more famous painter of Dutch church interiors, Pieter Saenredam. Jan was a Northern Mannerist painter, printmaker and cartographer, noted for the many images that he created from classical mythology and the Bible. This print is based on an original work (probably a drawing) by Hendrick Goltzius, one of the most significant Dutch artists of this period. Saenredam learnt drawing with Goltzius in Haarlem. According to traditional accounts, the almost inevitable professional rivalry and jealousy prompted his departure to work in Amsterdam in 1593. If true, it seems likely that they made it up, as Saenredam's engraving is believed to date from about 1598. It was only published, however, in 1616, by Robert de Baudous, as the lower left inscription identifying all those involved (HG, I Saenr and de Baudous himself), indicates.
This delightful, highly complex engraving, often called <em>Allegory of Sight</em>, was aimed at connoisseurs rather than the general art market. Its camp, affected elegance and weird juxtaposition of humans, animals and objects has the hallmarks of the Northern Mannerist style. The subject matter is an allegory of visual perception. Everything and everybody before us refers to the physical act of seeing and the mental act of perceiving. They include a bespectacled artist sitting before an easel, painting a beautiful nude, Venus-like woman; the model kneels before a mirror held by a winged Cupid; in the foreground a cat crouches and beholds the viewer with its large, glowing eyes. The foreshortened eagle flies towards the sun, as the bird was supposed to be able to look at the sun. Throughout the scene are sundials, orreries and a telescope – all aids to perception.
Katharine M. Rogers, <em>The Cat and the Human Imagination</em> (Ann Arbour, 2001), p. 30.
Dr Mark Stocker Curator, Historical International Art February 2017