In addition to three albums of animal studies, an illuminated prayer book, and about one hundred small, independent paintings in opaque and transparent watercolor (see 2001.54, 2004.75), Hans Bol produced 66 autograph etchings and designed 266 compositions engraved by professional printmakers. Of approximately 260 surviving drawings in ink or ink and wash, around a hundred are studies or models for prints.
The Harvard Autumn is a preliminary sketch that preceded, and aided, the execution of the detailed drawing of the composition that Bol furnished to an engraver for reproduction. As such, it is a rare survival in his oeuvre and provides valuable insights into the working method he followed in developing his numerous designs for prints. In this study, Bol summarily described the topography of the landscape, the tree groups, the buildings at lower left and right, and the male personification of Autumn, with the cornucopia, sickle, and some of the figure’s other attributes, in the center foreground. The format of the finished version—that is, the engraver’s model—is more nearly square, and Bol had to compress the oblong composition of the Harvard sketch, narrowing the hillside in the right middle ground and diminishing or eliminating farm buildings at lower right. In place of the low-slung barn in the Harvard drawing, he substituted a large hay wagon drawn by two horses, and he added the signs of the zodiac at the top and elaborated the figures treading grapes at lower left and those cutting grain on the hill at the right. The engraving by Johannes Sadeler (R4854), which reverses the composition of the model drawing and adds a four-line Latin verse below the image, is one of four plates comprising a series that combines the imagery of the seasons with that of the Four Ages of Man. Bol’s finished drawings for all four plates in the set belong to the Hermitage Museum, in Saint Petersburg. While those drawings are all dated 1579, Sadeler’s engravings were published the following year.