press release

Allegory refers to the technique of combining and presenting motifs or personification of concepts that hold symbolic meaning in order to impart a message to the viewer, akin to solving a mystery. This exhibition presents a selection of allegorical prints created from the end of the 16th century through the beginning of the 17th century by the so-called Northern Mannerists such as Hendrik Goltzius and Jan Saenredam.

The Netherlands was one of the major European printmaking regions in the 16th to 17th centuries, and many of the massive number of prints produced at the time were allegorical in nature. Among those allegorical prints, it seems that images depicting the seven planets that were thought to circle the earth and influence human affairs, the four seasons, the four elements of fire, earth, air and water, the five human senses, and virtues and vices were particularly popular print themes. From such prints we can gain an understanding of the worldviews and moral codes of the people of that period. Subjects such as the four seasons or the seven planets were expressed through images of the labors performed in each season of the year or the actions of people under the influence of a particular planet, and thus provided a good excuse for the genre scene depiction that was then growing in popularity. It also gave artists a chance to experiment with new forms of expression. Thus these types of prints were created in great numbers amidst this mix of interest in the genre from both producers and consumers.

In addition to the standard themes mentioned above, this exhibition also introduces works that take up such rare themes as, “allegories about the evils of worldly assets.” We hope that visitors to the exhibition will enjoy the various ingenious ways that artists expressed their subjects, and from these works, sense the thoughts and interests of the people of the time.