The set of the bears. Untitled plate 15, result 1 of 1
Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder (c. 1520'c. 1590) was a Flemish printmaker and painter associated with the English court of the mid-16th century and mainly remembered as the illustrator of the 1567 edition of Aesop's Fables. He was a keen innovator and experimented with etching at a time when woodcut and increasingly engraving were dominant techniques. For example, his 1562 bird's-eye view of Bruges was etched on no fewer than 10 different plates, and the resulting map measures 1m x 1.8m. Although very highly regarded as a printmaker at the time, his fame has been somewhat eclipsed by his son Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, who revolutionised portraiture at the courts of Elizabeth I and James I. Gheeraerts was clearly a highly intelligent observer - and probably admirer - of animals, but deploying this subject matter was also making a virtue out of necessity, as with the Protestantism that he espoused, the market for religious art had come to almost a standstill. His animals are characterised by a greater naturalism than that seen in counterparts of his predecessors, notably the woodcuts of Virgil Solis and Bernard Salomon. He would be much imitated through the later 16th and 17th centuries. The set of the bears precedes Gheeraerts' illustrations to Aesop's fables, which contains a memorable image of the fable of the bear and the bees, featuring a maddened bear being stung by myriad bees, paying the price for having upset their hives.
The prints in Te Papa's set were made just over a century after Gheeraerts by the Dutch printmaker Marcus de Bye (1639-1688), who also made etchings after his compatriot and near contemporary Paulus Potter of cows, goats and lions, all represented in Te Papa's collection. He either had access to Gheeraerts's drawings of bears, as one account claims or, more likely, made a fresh set of plates. In this etching, the fifteenth in the set, a crouching bear is depicted in a landscape setting, facing left and looking as if they are licking the ground. A figure with animals, probably goats, is in the distance at left.
All but one of the set of 16 prints are in Te Papa's collection.
Dr Mark Stocker Curator, Historical International Art March 2017
Now viewing The set of the bears. Untitled plate 15