Sacred/Supernatural: Religion, Myth, and Magic in European Prints, 1450-1900


black and white print that shows an old man with a beard and glasses seated and writing next to a tree with a large, gnarled, scarred trunk and only one or two live upper branches. A lion scowls on the opposite side. Background is only lightly sketched.
Rembrandt van Rijn, Saint Jerome Beside a Pollard Willow, 1648. Engraving on paper. Museum Purchase through the Iver M. Nelson Jr. Purchase Fund. 2021-9-1

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Black and white print by Albrech Durer of Christ carrying the cross. He is surrounded by soldiers that resemble monsters or ogres carrying spears and clubs.
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Christ Carrying the Cross, from the Engraved Passion series, 1512. Engraving on paper. Museum purchase through the Champion & Partners Acquisition Prize in Honour of Richard Hamilton. 2017-28-1


Black and white engraving of Adam and Eve at center near a tree. Adam is standing, Eve kneeling at his side. Both have fig leaves. A goat and bear are at right, two clothed figures are at left. There are large sunbursts at center with Hebrew characters.
Jan Sadeler I, The Fall, 1643. Engraving. Museum Purchase through the Robert and Sonia Carringer Art Acquisitions Fund. 2016-5-2


Black and white etching with a woman in a turban and robes lounging amid vine-covered ruins, with a stick in her hand and open books at her feet. At right goats, sheep, and a single peacock stand confused.
Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Circe with the Companions of Odysseus Transformed into Animals, 1650–1651. Etching. Bequest of George W. Sanford. 1963-4-103


Intaglio print of a scene depicting angels attending the bedside of a man in a cave or stone building. The Divine is represented with clouds, light, and winged figures. Text outlining the story is beneath the etched image.
Abraham Bosse, Plate 3 from The Parable of Dives and Lazarus, 1621-1676. Etching and engraving. Gift of Frank and Carolyn Gunter. 1978-4-1.


Etching in which a naked Venus gazes into a mirror held by a cherub while St. Luke paints her as the Virgin. A cat in the foreground rests while a bird takes flight at the upper right. A pollard willow can be seen at the upper left.
Jan Saenredam after Hendrick Goltzius, Allegory of Sight, 1616. Engraving on paper. Museum purchase through the Art Aquisition Fund. 1996-2-2.


On view
Jan 27, 2022 to May 15, 2022
Main Level, West Gallery

Sacred/Supernatural explores some of the methods European printmakers—including Rembrandt van Rijn and Albrecht Dürer—used to convey extraordinary events and individuals in intaglio and relief prints from 1450 to 1900. The exhibition includes works by Dutch, English, Flemish, French, German, Italian, and Scottish printmakers.

Many of the prints in the exhibition relate to Judeo-Christian theology: such as how and whether to portray God, Christ, the Passion, saints, prophets, the devil, witches, and demons. The exhibition also includes mythological and pagan subjects, including Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, sacrifices, and beings such as satyrs.

While the themes may be otherworldly, these prints had a real-world impact. Many are devotional, helping the faithful strengthen their piety. Others guided the viewer toward a good life through example or counterexample, showing moral exemplars or the consequences of bad behavior. However, even if some works had a devotional or didactic purpose, they were nonetheless intended to entertain and delight.

Artists of the period devoted significant creative energy to representing otherworldly subjects. They invented creative solutions to convey to viewers that something or someone in their images was not part of our day-to-day reality, portraying everything from divine beings and miracles to witches and demons.

Printmakers were also eager to demonstrate their abilities as designers and draftsmen. For many, the variety, beauty, and skill of the marks they made was as much a subject of their prints as whatever they were representing. For instance, the quick, gestural marks in the top third of Rembrandt’s etching of Saint Jerome might look like squiggles and scratches at first glance, but upon closer inspection they evoke a rocky landscape dotted with vegetation. This print, like others in Sacred/Supernatural, exploits this duality of the mark as index and icon, offering persuasive images that are obviously the product of an accomplished hand.

Curated by Maureen Warren, Curator of European and American Art

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