Maida and George Abrams Collection, Boston Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Bloemaert was one of the most prolific Dutch draftsmen of his time, working in a broad range of styles, techniques, and subject matter. In this drawing, he transforms a traditionally reticent devotional subject into a refined and bustling mannerist-style composition. The doughy faces, oversized limbs, contorted poses, and emphatically expressive gestures of the figures, which all converge on the Christ Child, point to Bloemaert’s productive engagement with mannerism in the beginning of his long career. Like many artists working in this style, Bloemaert often collaborated with printmakers, promoting reproductions of his compositions and facilitating the dissemination of his style. This drawing, which served as a model for an engraving by Jacob Matham, is a great example of the intricate and highly polished style of draftsmanship that Bloemaert developed for his studies for prints.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Abraham Bloemaert, Dutch (Gorinchem, Netherlands 1566 - 1651 Utrecht, Netherlands)
Adoration of the Shepherds
Work Type
c. 1595-1598
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Brown ink, brown wash, white opaque watercolor, over black chalk, vertical center line in graphite or black chalk, incised, on cream antique laid paper, mounted down entirely
19.8 x 28.9 cm (7 13/16 x 11 3/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: verso, left center, brown ink, visible in transmitted light: A. Bloemaert
  • watermark: Fleur de lis with 4 over WR below

    The watermark is clearly in the drawing, not the mount. Strong and raking lights were not sufficient to identify the mark against any known references.
  • blind stamp: lower left, on steps: L. 539 (Sir George Clausen)
  • collector's mark: mount, verso, lower left, blue ink stamp: L. 3306 (Maida and George Abrams)
  • inscription: mount, verso, center, graphite: 8 [encircled]
  • inscription: mount, verso, lower center, graphite: A. Bloemaert
  • inscription: mount, verso, lower center, graphite: Bloemart (A.) - The Nativity, bistre heightened, with the / Engraving of it by Matham.
Sir George Clausen, London (L. 539, lower left, on steps). [F. A. Drey Gallery, London, 1943.] [Arcade Gallery, London, 1944.] Einar Perman, Stockholm, sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1990 (L. 3306, mount, verso, lower left), gift; to Harvard Art Museums, 2020
Published Text
Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums
William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016)

Catalogue entry no. 7 by William W. Robinson:

Abraham Bloemaert’s career spanned six decades, and his output was prodigious: although much is lost, about 200 paintings and some 1,600 drawings survive.1

Throughout his career, Bloemaert assiduously promoted the reproduction of his work by printmakers, who turned out more than six hundred engravings, etchings, and woodcuts after his designs.2 Relatively few reproduce paintings. Most were executed from drawings made for translation into prints.3 The model for an engraving by Jacob Matham (Fig. 1), Adoration of the Shepherds exemplifies the type of neatly finished drawing that Bloemaert furnished to the printmakers.4 The sheet is incised for transfer to the copper plate, and its dimensions correspond to those of the image in the engraving, which reproduces the design in reverse with only negligible changes. Although undated, the print must have been completed in 1597 or 1598, the earliest of sixteen plates engraved by Matham after Bloemaert models.5

Like many of the artist’s works of the 1590s, Adoration of the Shepherds reflects the impact on Bloemaert’s early development from the examples of Hendrick Goltzius and his Haarlem circle. The doughy faces, huge hands with splayed fingers, and heavily draped figures striking extravagantly expressive poses, as well as the abrupt changes of scale and other contrived spatial effects, all attest to Bloemaert’s fruitful engagement with Haarlem mannerism.

A drawing dated 1594 by Goltzius, or the anonymous engraving after it, might have influenced Bloemaert’s composition.6 Goltzius depicted the Adoration of the Shepherds in a similar setting with a column on a high plinth at one side and a ruinous, barrel-vaulted chamber that opens onto a landscape at the other. As in Bloemaert’s design, an elevated, stagelike architecture frames the scene, and the viewer, whose eye level is at the height of the Christ Child, looks up at the assembled shepherds and holy family. Details of the setting and the poses and garb of individual figures suggest that Bloemaert also consulted Matham’s 1588 Adoration, an engraving after a design by Karel van Mander.7 For the woman with a basket at the lower left in the print, Bloemaert closely followed his own red-chalk figure study, which is lost but recorded in a counterproof (Fig. 2), and he may have adapted the leaning shepherd with a long beard from an ink-and-wash drawing in Vienna.8 An engraving by Cornelis Cort after Andrea del Sarto might have provided the model for the shepherd with a broad-brimmed hat.9

Engraved in an exquisite calligraphy at the bottom of Matham’s print after the Harvard drawing, a Latin poem by the Haarlem humanist Simon Sovius praises the “felicitous gifts of that virgin birth.”10 The bold signature in the spaces flanking and between the verses identifies the engraving’s publisher—thus in some sense the sponsor of Bloemaert’s design—as Jacques Razet, a renowned collector, art patron, connoisseur of calligraphy, and expert on fencing. From 1593 to 1609, Razet published fourteen engravings, no fewer than nine of them after Bloemaert compositions.11 Trained as a notary, Razet held the lucrative post of secretary of the Convoye (customs office) in Amsterdam. Karel van Mander dedicated part of Het Schilderboeck (The Painter’s Book, 1604) to his “especially good friend,” and we know from its pages that Razet owned at least six paintings by Bloemaert.


1 Marcel Roethlisberger and Marten Jan Bok, Abraham Bloemaert and His Sons: Paintings and Prints (Doornspijk, 1993), vol. 1, pp. 15 and 26. Bolten’s catalogue raisonné of the drawings comprises more than 1,600 entries, although sheets with drawings on both recto and verso are assigned two separate numbers. Jaap Bolton, Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1565–1651: The Drawings (Oegstgeest, Netherlands, 2007), vol. 1, p. 12.

2 Roethlisberger and Bok, vol. 1, p. 15.

3 Ibid., pp. 25–27.

4 Matham’s engraving (Fig. 1) is Hollstein, vol. 11, no. 34, p. 217; 228 × 292 mm (including text space). London, British Museum, 1856,0209.272. Inscribed Abrahamus Blommaert Inventor / J Matham Sculp. / Jacques Razet Divulg. See also Roethlisberger and Bok, vol. 1, cat. 48, repr. vol. 2, pl. 88.

5 Roethlisberger and Bok, vol. 1, p. 94; Bolten, vol. 1, cat. 99, p. 51, dates the drawing to 1597–98.

6 Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, S II.1131157. Brown ink, brown wash, 135 × 275 mm; Emil Karel Josef Reznicek, Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius. (Utrecht, 1961), vol. 1, cat. K 25, repr. vol. 2, fig. 236; Hollstein, vol. 8, no. 478, p. 137.

7 Roethlisberger and Bok, vol. 1, p. 94; Marjolein Leesberg in New Hollstein, Karel van Mander, no. 45, p. 42.

8 The counterproof (Fig. 2) of Bloemaert’s lost study for Woman Holding a Basket is in Würzburg, Martin von Wagner Museum, 9334. Red chalk counterproof; 200 × 160 mm. Bolten, vol. 1, p. 51, repr. vol. 2, p. 57, fig. 99b. For the study of the bearded old man, see idem, vol. 1, cat. 888, p. 297, repr. vol. 2, p. 347, fig. 888.

9 Bolten, vol. 1, p. 51. For the engraving, see TIB, vol. 52, no. 68 (85), p. 81.

10 An English translation of the verses is provided by Roethlisberger and Bok, vol. 1, p. 93.

11 For Razet, see Jan Piet Filedt Kok, “Jacques de Gheyn II: Engraver, Designer, and Publisher,” Print Quarterly, vol. 7, no. 3 (Sept. 1990): pp. 256–59; Amy Namowitz Worthen, “Calligraphic Inscriptions on Dutch Mannerist Prints” in Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, vols. 42/3 (1991–92): pp. 288–97; Marjolein Leesberg, “Karel van Mander as a Painter” in Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, vol. 22, no. 1/2 (1993–94): pp. 40–41; and Karel van Mander, ed. Hessel Miedema, The Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters, from the First Edition of the Schilder-boeck (1603–04) (Doornspijk, Netherlands 199–99), vol. 2, pp. 89–93.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Gift of George Abrams in memory of Konrad Oberhuber, Professor of Fine Arts and Curator of Drawings (1975-87)
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

[Reproduction only], Reproduction only, The Burlington Magazine, (London, March 1944)., repr. p. ii

Einar Perman, Oude Tekeningen uit de Nederlanden. Verzameling Prof. E. Perman, Stockholm, exh. cat., Singer Museum (Laren, The Netherlands, 1962), cat. no. 8, p. 8, repr. pl. 26

William W. Robinson, Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., H. O. Zimman, Inc. (Lynn, MA, 1991), cat. no. 1, pp. 20-21, repr.

Marcel Roethlisberger and Marten Jan Bok, Abraham Bloemaert and his Sons, Paintings and Prints, Davaco Publishers (Doornspijk, 1993), vol. 1, under cat. no. 48, p. 94

Ger Luijten, ed., Dawn of the golden age: northern Netherlandish art, 1580-1620, exh. cat., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and Waanders Uitgevers (Amsterdam and Zwolle, 1993), under cat. no. 34, p. 377

William W. Robinson, Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2002), cat. no. 26, pp. 76-77 and 251, repr.

Michiel C. Plomp, "[Review] Bruegel to Rembrandt. Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection.", Oud Holland (2004), vol. 117, no. 1/2, pp. 99-102, p. 101 (n. 3)

Jaap Bolten, Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1565-1651: The Drawings (Netherlands, 2007), vol. 1, cat. no. 99, p. 51, under cat. no. 145, p. 67, and under cat. no. 888, p. 297, repr. vol. 2, p. 57, fig. 99

William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), p. 19; cat. no. 7, pp. 46-48, repr. p. 47

Jaap Bolten, The Drawings of Abraham Bloemaert: A Supplement, Master Drawings (New York, 2017), vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 3-120, cat. no. 99, pp. 14-15, fig. 32

Exhibition History

Oude Tekeningen uit de Nederlanden: Verzameling Prof. E. Perman, Stockholm, Singer Museum, Laren, 06/09/1962 - 09/16/1962

Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, Rijksprentenkabinet, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 02/23/1991 - 04/18/1991; Albertina Gallery, Vienna, 05/16/1991 - 06/30/1991; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 01/22/1992 - 04/22/1992; Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 10/10/1992 - 12/06/1992

Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, British Museum, London, 06/13/2002 - 09/22/2002; Institut Néerlandais, Paris, 10/10/2002 - 12/08/2002; Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/22/2003 - 07/06/2003

The Art of Drawing in the Early Dutch Golden Age, 1590–1630: Selected Works from the Abrams Collection, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/09/2017 - 01/14/2018

Subjects and Contexts

Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

Related Works

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