The frontispiece for Crispijn de Passe’s five volume manual for painters depicts Minerva as the patroness of the arts.
She is holding a torch to symbolize the light mentioned in the title of this volume. In her lap is an open book with the artist’s motto: Nulla dies sine linea (Never a day without a line). Behind her are eight Utrecht painters: Abraham Bloemaert, Gerard van Honthorst, two unidentified, Jan van Bronckhorst, Roelandt Saverij, Joachim Wtewael, and Paulus Moreelse. Apprentices sit at Minerva’s feet drawing.
The manual was meant for a wide audience and so, the text is printed in Italian, Dutch, French, and German. Part one is devoted to proportions; part two to drawing from the male nude; part three drawing from the female nude; part four to figure studies by famous contemporary master including Guercino, Jan Cousin, Abraham Bloemaert, and Roelandt Saverij; and part five focuses on the study of mammals, birds, fish, and insects.
There are only four other copies of this book in the United States. One is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., one at the Getty Research Institute, and two at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Each copy is slightly different in the plates included, their sequence, and the altering of dates. The title pages of part 1-2 in Princeton’s copy have imprint: t’Amsterdam : By Crispijn de Pas, M.D.C.XLIV (altered with pen to M.D.C.LXIV), while the National Gallery of Art’s copy is altered similarly for parts 2-3. Princeton’s copy also has plate dates altered to reflect the addition of a number of prints.
Each of the five parts has its own title page, hence the combined title: La prima-[quinta] parte della luce del dipingere et disegnare, used for the single bound volume. The polyglot book is also known as Van ‘t Licht der teken en schilderkonst and Luce del dipingere et disegnare.
Most of the 225 plates in these volumes were engraved by Crispijn the Younger himself, although the years following the publication of this opus were troublesome for the artist. He had more and more trouble keeping up with demand for his work and in 1645, the artist was admitted to an asylum to be “cured of his insanity of mind.” Although he returned to work, this manual remains his most ambitious project.
The book is dedicated to the city of Utrecht, where his father Crispijn de Passe the elder, had moved for religious reasons. The entire family, father and four children, worked together as artists and print publishers. When the family estate was settled near the end of the 18th century, their work totaled more than 14,000 prints and around 50 print books or illustrated volumes. Princeton is fortunate to now hold 5 rare volumes with prints by Crispijn the younger, and 6 illustrated by Crispijn the elder.
The honour is immortal that remains
Of virtuous artists whose name shall never wither.
Just so with De Passe, the praise the Muses sing
In the vale of Pegasus, of all the wondrous marvels
That he disclosed with his needle,
By etching on the plate, of which Belgica boasts.
So skillfully done, stippled and boldly cut,
As can still be seen up to this very day.
The proof demonstrates the work’s deed to the master’s honour,
Aye, the hand may perish, but the spirit never dies.