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.