View of Over Muelen is one of eight drawings and ninety-seven prints preserved in an album in a plain vellum binding of the sixteenth or seventeenth century. The sheets with printed images were trimmed to a uniform size and bound directly into the album, while the drawings were mounted to blank leaves of the same trim size. The prints comprise five complete sets (published 1562–c. 1600) that depict landscapes, birds, Old Testament scenes, mythological subjects, and architectural perspectives. Drawings in the album include Christ Calling Saint Peter, dated 1576, by Hans Bol (1999.165), and two studies by unidentified hands: a village landscape and an allegorical composition of two nude female figures representing Peace restraining War. The other five drawings, including View of Over Muelen, served as models for engravings in a series of twenty-four plates by Hans Collaert I— Views of the Environs of Brussels —a complete set of which is bound in the volume.
Like the two suites of 1559 and 1561 known as the “Small Landscapes” (see 1994.137), which depict sites in the countryside outside Antwerp, the Views of the Environs of Brussels represent suburban villages, castles, and abbeys in an intimate, naturalistic manner based on studies from life. Printed within the images are titles identifying the locales depicted on the respective plates, underscoring the topographical purpose of the prints, which might have been marketed to city dwellers as mementos of agreeable places for leisure and recreation. Of the five models for engravings preserved in the album, only that for View of Over Muelen is reproduced in reverse in Collaert’s print (Fig. 1). The verso of the drawing was rubbed with black chalk and the outlines of the composition were incised to copy them onto the copper plate. Collaert cropped the image, as indicated by the framing lines in black chalk near the top and right side of the drawing. Since the design was transferred to the plate in the same orientation as the drawing, it printed in reverse. The engravings after the other four drawings do not reverse their models. In order to print them in the same direction as the drawings, the engraver had to transfer their compositions to the plates in mirror images. He did so by indenting the outlines of the recto with a stylus so that they showed on the verso, then drawing over those contours on the verso with black chalk. Afterward, he laid the drawing recto-side down on the plate and incised the black-chalk lines, transferring the reversed design to the copper surface.
In the first edition of Views of the Environs of Brussels, published in Antwerp circa 1575–80 by Hans van Luyck, the draftsman who furnished the models for the twenty-four engravings was not identified. When the Amsterdam printmaker and publisher Claes Jansz. Visscher reissued the series at the beginning of the seventeenth century, he added an inscription attributing the designs to Hans Bol. While the five Harvard landscapes are neither by Bol nor by Jacob Grimmer, to whom they have also been ascribed, Stefaan Hautekeete has discovered that a drawing by Bol might have served as the model for one plate in the set. Hautekeete proposes that Bol likely produced designs for some of the twenty-four plates, while others were executed by the unidentified draftsman of the Harvard views, who was Bol’s follower or collaborator.
A few other works by the same draftsman are known, although none of them provided a direct model for a print in Views of the Environs of Brussels. Three landscape drawings that first appeared on the art market in 1985 are securely attributable to the hand that designed the compositions engraved by Collaert. Hautekeete recognized another in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in a study from life of a mill that appears, with its surroundings altered and elaborated, in the print Achter Schaerbeecke. Finally, a work last recorded on the art market in 1954 might offer a clue to the identity of the artist. It depicts a secluded clearing with a Gothic church and the buildings of an abbey or country estate (Fig. 2). Executed in brown ink and brown wash with touches of rose-colored wash, this drawing is almost certainly by the same hand as the Harvard landscapes, three of which include passages of rose wash. It was inscribed B de . . . by an early hand, but it is uncertain whether this partially illegible inscription is the signature of our unidentified artist or a topographical identification.