Gerson Digital : Denmark


7.4 Claes Jansz. Visscher’s Theatrum Biblicum and its Use

In the years following the publication of the Dutch State Bible in 1637, Claes Jansz. Visscher published a handful of illustrated Bibles, of which the most important was Theatrum Biblicum (1639, 1643, 1650 and 1674) [1].1 The core of the book consisted of the majority of the plates for Gerard de Jode’s seminal illustrated bible Thesaurus Sacrarum Historiarum (1579, 1585), which included hundreds of prints after masters such as Gerard van Groeningen, Ambrosius Francken and Maerten de Vos,2 to which Claes Jansz. added another c. 150 prints, primarily the work of Antwerp 16th century masters. Thus the publications of illustrated bibles and in particular Theatrum Biblicum made Visscher an important publisher of religious prints around the middle of the 17th century as well as a key figure in the refashioning of 16th-century prints from Antwerp.3

Erik Moltke raised the question of Theatrum Biblicum’s importance for Danish religious art in 1956, but he did not attempt an answer.4 That the book was indeed known in Denmark was subsequently shown in Georg Garde’s study of Danish 16th- and 17th-century silk-embroidered linen cloths in which he identified several instances where the decoration of linen cloths were based on prints from Visscher’s Bible and was furthermore able to point to a number of preserved copies in Denmark.5 Only a very limited number of religious works have been identified in Denmark’s Churches as being modelled on Theatrum Biblicum6 most likely because of the established praxis of identifying prints by means of the inventor and possibly the engraver, but very rarely the publisher. That Theatrum Biblicum was indeed much more frequently copied than is indicated in Denmark’s Churches is confirmed by the present study, which revealed that many of the most popular Southern Netherlandish prints were indeed included in Claes Jansz. Visscher’s illustrated Bible. These include series such as Antonius Wierix’ The Passion of Christ originally published by Eduard Hoeswinckel (Holl. 186-206 edition 3), Hieronymus Wierix’ Evangelists (Holl. 1103-1106, state IV) and his engravings after Maerten de Vos’ Passion of Christ originally published before 1586 by Hans van Luyck (Holl. 482-503, edition 2). As the two Passion series were apparently not copied,7 and as all three series were only copied in Denmark from around the middle of the 17th century, Danish artists must have known the series from Visscher’s republications , and most likely from Theatrum Biblicum. Furthermore, by analyzing the models for religious art, it is evident that several major workshops of the mid-17th century had access to the prints of Theatrum Biblicum. These include Abel Schrøder in Næstved, Lorentz Jørgensen in Holbæk, Anders Mortensen in Odense [2-4], Hans Nielsen Bang in Middelfart and Peder Jensen Kolding in Horsens.8

published by Claes Jansz. Visscher
Titlepage of Theatrum Biblicum, dated 1639
paper, copper engraving 229/290 x 265/380 mm
upper center : Jahwe (in Hebreeuws)
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-1904-3412

Anders Mortensen after Hans Sadeler after Gerard van Groeningen
The Magi on the way to Bethlehem, detail of the pulpit of Asperup Church (Denmark), c. 1650
wood, polychromed ? x ? cm
Asperup, Asperup Kirke

Anders Mortensen after Hans Sadeler after Gerard van Groeningen
The Magi visiting King Herod, detail of the pulpit of Asperup Church (Denmark), c. 1650
wood, polychromed ? x ? cm
Asperup, Asperup Kirke

Anders Mortensen after Hans Sadeler after Gerard van Groeningen
The magi warned in a dream, detail of the pulpit of Asperup Church (Denmark), c. 1650
wood, polychromed ? x ? cm
Asperup, Asperup Kirke


1 Van der Coelen 1994-1995, pp. 107-112.

2 Mielke 1975.

3 Herrin 2014, pp. 202-204.

4 Moltke 1956, p. 110.

5 Garde 1961, pp. 241-243.

6 Namely the altarpiece of ca. 1700 in Lomborg Church (Danmarks Kirker. Ringkøbing Amt, Copenhagen 2008, no. 743), a painting of the Road to Calvary on the altarpiece fom Kristkirken in Tønder of 1695 (Danmarks Kirker, Sønderjyllands amter, Copenhagen 1957, no. 954) a painting of 1733 in Kattrup Church (Danmarks Kirker. Aarhus Amt  9, Copenhagen 1996-2002, no. 4714) and, mistakenly, the Evangelists on the pulpit in Skjern Church (Danmarks Kirker. Ringkøbing Amt, Copenhagen 2000, no. 555).

7 Hieronymus Wierix’ Apostles were, however, copied in woodcuts with Italian inscriptions.

8 On Abel Schrøder, see De la Fuente Pedersen 1998, pp. 80-89. Anders Mortensen copied Hans van Luyck’s print The Last Supper after Crispijn van den Broeck for Nyborg Church’s pulpit as well as four of Johann Sadeler’s engravings after Gerard van Groeningen for a pulpit in Asperup Church, Funen (New Holl., Van Groeningen, nos. 59, 60-61 and 63). Hans Nielsen Bang based the reliefs for his pulpit in Assens of ca. 1670 losely on Theatrum Biblicum, see Bertelsen/Burmeister Kaaring 2012, p. 2530. The printed models for Peder Jensen Kolding’s pulpit in Horsens Klosterkirke of 1670 were identified in Jönsson 1987, pp. 62-88.

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