Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Adriaen van de Venne was one of the most talented book illustrators working in the Dutch Republic. This smallscale, jewel-like drawing served as a preliminary study for an illustration to Jacob Cats’s sensationally popular poem Houwelick (Marriage). Published in 1625, Cats’s volume was a kind of domestic treatise, outlining the principles of appropriate female behavior, from courtship to widowhood. In the text and the illustrations, both Cats and Van de Venne drew analogies between different stages of a woman’s life and the seasons of the year. Entitled Spring, this drawing depicts an elegant young lady presenting her companion with a fragrant bloom during a walk in the Dutch countryside. While on the one hand the sheet celebrates female powers of seduction and the enchantments of young love, the inclusion in the foreground of symbols of fidelity—a pair of dogs and a thistle plant—underscores the more didactic aspects of Cats’s poem.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Adriaen van de Venne, Dutch (Delft 1589 - 1662 The Hague)
Work Type
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Brown ink, gray wash, and white opaque watercolor, incised, on off-white antique laid paper, framing line in black ink
10.5 x 14 cm (4 1/8 x 5 1/2 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: Lower left, brown ink: Av [in ligature] venne 1622.
  • inscription: upper center, brown ink, in artist's hand: Ver.
  • inscription: verso, lower left, brown ink: No 417
  • inscription: verso, lower left, graphite: 4 stuks N 2130.-.-,
  • inscription: verso, lower left, brown ink: Adrian van der Venne / geb: 1589. zu Delft / gest: 1662 im Haag
  • inscription: verso, lower center, graphite: L / a: 15307
  • inscription: verso, lower right, graphite: Veiling Lanna / 574 / f [or 4?] junij
  • collector's mark: verso, lower center, blue ink stamp: L. 3306 (Maida and George Abrams)
  • watermark: none
  • collector's mark: verso, lower left, blue ink, stamp: L. 1659 (Adalbert van Lanna)
  • collector's mark: verso, lower right, black ink stamp with accompanying graphite inscription: L. 2773 (Adalbert van Lanna) / 564
  • inscription: verso, lower center, brown ink stamp: L. 561 (Cornelis Hofstede de Groot)
Probably J. F. van Oordt, probably sold; [Rotterdam, Lamme, 11 December 1856 and following days, omslag 2, lot 62.] Jacob de Vos, Amsterdam (L. 1450, without his mark, according to Von Lanna and Hofstede de Groot sales and Hannema 1955). Adalbert, Freiherr von Lanna, Prague (L. 1659, verso, lower left and L. 2773, verso, lower right, with accompanying graphite inscription, 564), sold; [Gutekunst, Stuttgart, 11-16 May 1910, lot 574.] Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, The Hague (L. 561, verso, lower center), sold; [Boerner, Leipzig, 4 November 1931, lot 260]; to Elte. Hubertus Egbertus ten Cate, Oldenzaal. [C.G. Boerner, Düsseldorf.] Adolph Schwarz, Amsterdam and Amstelveen. [R.M. Light & Co., Santa Barbara], sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1990 (L. 3306, verso, lower center); The Maida and George Abrams Collection, 1999.178

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. 92 by William W. Robinson:

Poet, propagandist, and painter in oil and watercolor, Adriaen van de Venne was also seventeenth-century Holland’s outstanding designer of book illustrations. His inexhaustible talent for presenting original, vernacular imagery in a compact, vivid composition distinguishes both his illustrations and the satirical grisaille paintings in which he also specialized. His most successful and enduring illustrations were those for Jacob Cats’s sensationally popular Houwelick (Marriage), a long, didactic poem, published in 1625 in Middelburg by Adriaen’s brother Jan, that prescribes a code of behavior for women in courtship, marriage, and family life.1 In a foreword to the first edition of Houwelick, “Adriaen van de Venne, Painter and Draftsman,” explained “to the art-loving reader” that he drew the illustrations “from the author’s mouth,” and was “completely informed of the author’s intentions.”2 Most of Van de Venne’s designs are dated 1622, so their discussions must have occurred before Cats left Middelburg in 1623.3

Cats initially organized the text of Houwelick in four sections: “Bruyt” (Bride), “Vrouwe” (Wife), “Moeder” (Mother), and “Weduwe” (Widow). In these he analogized the stages of a woman’s married life to the seasons of the year, with spring corresponding to the bride, summer to the wife, autumn to the mother, and winter to the widow. Following Cats’s original scheme, in 1622 Van de Venne designed engravings to head these sections. Each shows a couple at one of the four stages of life, standing before a seasonal landscape. His meticulously finished drawings for all four plates have survived. The studies for Winter (Fig. 1),4 Summer, and Autumn belong to the Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and the Harvard work served as the model for the print representing Spring. All are signed and dated 1622, are identical in size, and are executed in the same media, and all correspond precisely to engravings by an unidentified printmaker that reproduce the compositions in reverse. Prior to the 1625 publication of Houwelick, Cats augmented the four-part text with two more chapters, one devoted to the conduct of the “Maeght” (Maiden) and one to the “Vryster” (Sweetheart). Van de Venne’s illustrations that introduce those sections differ in conception and format from the four discussed above.5

In the Harvard drawing, a young couple strolls in a vernal landscape. The woman holds an aromatic bloom—probably a rose, a symbol of love—beneath her companion’s nose.6 Van de Venne adapted the figures and one of the dogs, changing only the decoration of the woman’s skirt, from a painting dated 1620 that depicts the Five Senses, personified by servants and celebrants at an outdoor banquet (Fig. 2).7 Planted conspicuously in the right foreground of the drawing is a thistle, which, like the dogs, stands for fidelity. In the distance, fishermen and a boating party ply the moat of a castle, identifiable as Kasteel Ter Hooge, near Koudekerke, Zeeland.8 The similarly composed design for Winter features, in the place of Spring’s flirting lovers, an elderly couple warming their hands over a brazier in an icy landscape. In poignant ruins, the castle Honingen looms in the distance, while skaters, sleighs, and ice fishermen make their way across its frozen moat (see Fig. 1).9


1 Jacob Cats, Houwelick, dat is het gansch beleyt des echten-staets, Middelburg, 1625. On the popularity of Cats’s book, see E. de Jongh, “Grape Symbolism in Paintings of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” Simiolus, vol. 7, no. 4 (1974): 166–91, p. 173, and Wayne E. Franits, Paragons of Virtue: Women and Domesticity in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art (Cambridge, UK, and New York, 1993), pp. 5–6.

2 “Nadien ick, gunstige Leser, den Titel hier voren gestelt, mitsgaders oock de andere Printen door het werck verdeelt, uyt den mont des Auteurs, selfs hebbe geteyckent, ende mitsdien ten vollen ben onderrecht wat hy daer mede voor heeft. . . .” “Adriaen van de Venne Schilder en Teyckenaer Aenden Kunst-lievenden Leser,” in J. Cats, Houwelick, n.p.

3 Laurens J. Bol, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne: Painter and Draughtsman (Doornspijk, Netherlands, 1989), pp. 122–24.

4 Adriaen van de Venne, Winter (Fig. 1), 1622. Brown and gray ink, with brown and gray wash, 104 × 138 mm. Inscribed hijems. Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, KdZ 2675. For the studies of Autumn and Summer, see Elfried Bock and Jakob Rosenberg, Die niederländische meister: Beschreibendes verzeichnis sämtlicher Zeichnungen (Berlin, 1930), KdZ 2670 and 4510.

5 Bol, p. 123.

6 Laurens J. Bol, “Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, Schilder en Teyckenaer,” Tableau, vol. 6, no. 4 (Feb. 1984): 49–57, p. 54, identifies the flower as a rose. In the 1620 painting, the flower the woman holds is clearly a rose; see note 7 below.

7 Adriaen van de Venne, The Five Senses (Fig. 2), 1620. Oil on panel, 40 × 60.3 cm. Signed Av [in ligature] Venne F. and dated 1620. With Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna, 1991.

8 T. Stenger, formerly of the Topographical Department, Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, identified this as Kasteel Ter Hoge, near Koudekerke on the erstwhile island (now peninsula) of Walcheren, Zeeland. See Peter Schatborn, with intro. by Karel G. Boon, Dutch Genre Drawings of the Seventeenth Century: A loan exhibition from Dutch museums, foundations, and private collections (International Exhibitions Foundation; Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet; New York: Pierpont Morgan Library; Boston: Museum of Fine Arts; Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1972), cat. 102, p. 62. A painting by Van de Venne of circa 1615–20 includes the same elements as the drawing—castle, moat, “May boat,” and a fashionably dressed couple on the bank—in a very different composition. It is likely that this painting, too, once represented Spring in a series of Seasons. Bol (1989), p. 25, fig. 12.

9 For the identification of the castle as Honingen, see Ariane van Suchtelen, “New Evidence on a series of Landscape Paintings by Adrian van de Venne,” The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, vol. 18 (1990): 99–112, p. 107.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Tentoonstelling van Teekeningen van Oud-Hollandsche Meesters Uit de Verzameling van Dr. C. Hofstede de Groot, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal (Leiden, 8 March - 7 April 1916), cat. no. 96, n.p.

Verzameling Dr. C. Hofstede de Groot, exh. cat., Gemeentemuseum (The Hague, 16 August - 16 September 1930), cat. no. 131, p. 20

D. Hannema, Catalogue of the H.E. ten Cate Collection, A. Donker (Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 1955), vol. 1, cat. no. 305, p. 170, repr. vol. 2, pl. 90

Ausgewählte Handzeichnungen aus vier Jahrhunderten, auct. cat., C. G. Boerner (Düsseldorf, 1964), cat. no. 104, n.p., repr. fig. 104

J. W. Niemeijer, De Verzameling van A. Schwarz, exh. cat., Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1968), cat. no. 103, pp. 33-34, repr. fig. 6

Peter Schatborn and Karel G. Boon, Dutch Genre Drawings of the Seventeenth Century, exh. cat., Meriden Gravure Co. (Meriden, CT, 1972), cat. no. 102, p. 62, repr.

Laurens Bol, "Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, Schilder en Teyckenaer", Tableau (February 1984), vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 49-57, pp. 54 and 56, repr. p. 55, fig. 115

Laurens Bol, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne Painter and Draughtsman, Davaco Publishers (Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1989), p. 125, repr. p. 123, fig. 112

A. van Suchtelen, "New Evidence on a series of Landscape Paintings by Adrian van de Venne", The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal (1990), vol. 18, pp. 99-112, p. 107; repr. p. 108, fig. 12

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. 17, pp. 52-53, repr.

Yvette Bruijnen and Paul Huys Janssen, De Vier Jaargetijden in de kunst van de Nederlanden 1500-1750, exh. cat., Waanders Uitgevers, Noordbrabants Museum, and Stedelijk Museum Vander Kelen-Mertens (Zwolle, 2002), under cat. nos. 79-82, p. 154

Michael Kammen, A Time to Every Purpose: the Four Seasons in American Culture, The University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill and London, 2004), pp. 54 and 290 (n. 43), repr. p. 56, fig. 20

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), cat. no. 92, pp. 304-306, repr. p. 305

Exhibition History

De Verzameling van A. Schwarz, Rijksprentenkabinet, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 09/01/1968 - 12/31/1968

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

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

Crossroads: Drawing the Dutch Landscape, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2022 - 08/14/2022

Subjects and Contexts

Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

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