[Four Illustrious Rulers of Antiquity]

Method Copper engraving
Artist Gregorius Fentzel after Maarten de Vos
Published M. de Vos invent. Gregorius Fentzel sculp. P. Furst excudit [Nuremberg, c.1650]
Dimensions Images ~200 x 255 mm, Plates ~215 x 260 mm, Sheets ~320 x 385 mm
Notes A rare set of four plates depicting the succession of empires in antiquity, obliquely referencing the famous Dream of Nebuchadnezzar from the Book of Daniel. The current set, engraved by Gregorius Fentzel and published in Nuremberg in the mid-seventeenth century, are relatively close copies of the more well known series by Adriaen Collaert (New Hollstein 1174-1177) published half a century earlier. Both credit Maarten de Vos as the originator of the designs. The plates centre around the four most famous conquerors of antiquity: Ninus, Cyrus, Alexander, and Julius Caesar. Each figure, on horseback, rides over the corpses of those who have come before. Behind each features one of the four beasts from the Book of Daniel, representing each of the empires in turn. In place of the original Latin descriptive text that features in the Collaert impressions, Fentzel has substituted captions in German blackletter.

In Plate 1, Ninus holds aloft the lion banner of the Assyrians. In the dust under his horse's hooves lies a fallen king, a representative of the many nations that fell to him. Behind him, the winged lion of Nebuchadnezzar's dream stands rampant, emerging from the waves. In the background, the classical-style city is assumedly Nineveh, the city which bears Ninus' name, and which was once the greatest and most powerful city of the Assyrian empire. Unlike the other three figures in this series, there is no historical basis for Ninus' existence. He appears to have been an invention of Hellenistic geographers, with his name deriving from a Greek back-formation from the city of Nineveh. Ninus' popularity in antiquity was mostly based around his supposed conquering of all of Western Asia as far as India, making him the first empire-builder. During his campaigns in Bactria, he was alleged to have met and fallen in love with Semiramis, herself one of the most pervasive and popular figures of classical stories about the ancient Near East. Blackletter text below.

Plate 2 depicts the rise of Cyrus the Great, Shahanshah of the Persians, and the builder of the biggest empire the ancient world had yet witnessed. The fallen body of Ninus and the crumpled Assyrian flag in the foreground represent the fall of the Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) Empire, the last king of which, Nabonidus, formally surrendered to Cyrus, making the latter the King of Babylon, Sumer, and Akkad in addition to an already vast kingdom encompassing Persia, Lydia, Lycia, Cilicia, Phoenicia, Armenia, Bactria, Sogdia, and Gandhara. Cyrus' banner features a ram that, like the bear emerging from the waves, represents the Empire of the Medes and Persians in the visions of the Book of Daniel. The city in the background is unidentified. It is most likely Babylon, the greatest and most important city at the time of Cyrus, though could also represent Pasargadae, where he became King and where he formed his government, or even Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenids that flourished under Cyrus' successors. Blackletter text below.

Alexander the Great is the subject of Plate 3, trampling the bodies of Ninus and Cyrus underfoot, with the he-goat flag of the Greeks flying behind him. The winged leopard of Nebuchadnezzar's dream rears its four heads, a reminder that despite his conquests, Alexander's vast Empire is destined to fail upon his death, divided amongst the four rival generals Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander. Like Cyrus, Alexander's greatest conquest was Babylon, though the city in the background is more likely to be Alexandria, which, through Ptolemy's manoeuvring, would eventually become the resting place of Alexander's body and the city most identified with his legacy over the succeeding centuries. Blackletter text below.

The final plate in the series, Plate 4, focusses on Julius Caesar and the last and greatest of the Empires of Antiquity, the Imperium Romanum. Caesar, dressed in armour of the lorica segmentata type and garlanded with a laurel wreath, holds before him the banner of the Romans, emblazoned with the imperial eagle. His horse rides over the bodies and standards of the preceding three rulers, marking the Romans' subjection of the entire Mediterranean and Near East to their authority. From the waves at the right of the scene, a hideous beast arises, the last of the four that form Nebuchadnezzar's dream. The ten twisted horns on its head represent the nations of the empire, three of which will be supplanted by the pointed horn that has erupted between them. Blackletter text below.

Gregorius Fentzel (fl. c.1650) was a German printmaker and publisher, active in Nuremberg. Very little is known of him, though he was a relatively prolific re-engraver of allegorical, historical, and religious scenes, particularly series by engravers including de Vos, de Jode, Philips Galle, the Collaerts', and the Weirix family.

Maerten de Vos (1532-1603) was a Flemish painter and draughtsman. He was a pupil of his father Pieter de Vos and a follower of Frans Floris in Antwerp. Between 1550 and 1558 he travelled in Italy, visiting Rome, Venice and possibly Florence. In 1558 he became a master of the Antwerp Guild of St Luke. Between 1571 and 1572, he was dean of the Guild. From 1575 he mainly produced print designs. He was the father of the artists Daniel (1568-1605) and Maerten the Younger (1576-1613).

Adriaen Collaert (1560 - 1618) was a Flemish engraver and major publisher, active in Antwerp. He was a member of the Guild of St Luke, and worked with Gerard de Jode, Eduard Hoeswinckel and Hans van Luyck. His works are known for their anatomical correctness as well as their physiognomical expressiveness. Some of his original plates are engraved with a cipher.

Hollstein 14-17.

Condition: Clean impressions with full margins. Printers ink-stains to platemarks, and to bottom right corner of sheet on Plate 4. Central vertical creases, with minor scuffing to folds. Small tears to bottom of sheets, not affecting images. Printer's crease to left margin of Plate 1, not affecting image.
Framing unmounted
Price £1,500.00
Stock ID 49619