Spirituality as depicted in Flemish books of the 16th and 17th centuries

photo 7In 1989 Michel Wittock acquired a small collection compiled by Count Willy de Grunne, consisting of illustrated Flemish books on spiritual, mystical and symbolic subjects. In the years that followed, other similar works were acquired by the Wittockiana, which is now the proud owner of a significant body of works of this kind published in the Spanish Netherlands.

These spiritual works, all exquisitely illustrated, are unfortunately still little known nowadays. Almost all the artists who drew or engraved the plates for the illustration of such works came from that thriving, lively Flemish cultural milieu which, in the late 16th and early 17th centuries greatly influenced style and composition and made an important contribution to the development of the art of book illustration in Europe.

Most of these works were disseminated from Antwerp, one of the most active and renowned artistic, religious and intellectual centres in Europe. Artists such as Martin de Vos (1532–1603), Otto van Veen or Vaenius (1556–1629) and Peter Paul Rubens (1557–1640) worked in close collaboration with engravers such as the Wierix brothers, the Galles and the Sadelers.

It is interesting to note the growing existence of a symbiosis between the text, of a deeply mystical nature, and the image, usually emblematic, revised and renewed in the light of the need to “visualise” this mystical source.