Jacob Hoefnagel

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Unequal couple, Pen, ink and watercolor

Jacob Hoefnagel (also 'Jacobus', 'Jakob' or 'Jakub") (1573 in Antwerp – c.1632 in Dutch Republic or Hamburg), was a Flemish painter, printmaker, miniaturist, draftsman, art dealer, diplomat, merchant and politician. He is noted for his illustrations of natural history subjects as well as his portraits, topographical views, emblems and mythological works.


Jacob Hoefnagel was the oldest son of Susanna van Onsem and Joris Hoefnagel (1545–1600) a Flemish painter and miniaturist employed successively by the dukes of Bavaria and Emperor Rudolph II in Prague. Unlike his father who was not trained professionally as an artist but had started out as a merchant in the family business in diamonds and luxury goods, Jacob was given the opportunity to study art under a master in Antwerp.[1] He became a pupil of Abraham Liesaert in Antwerp. He then started a peripatetic life.

Dodo, possibly based on a stuffed dodo[2]

He was in Frankfurt am Main at the latest in 1592 where he joined his father who had remarried there after the death of Jacob's mother. He was in Regensburg in 1594 and Vienna in 1602. Here he married in 1605 with Anna, the daughter of the Dutch court architect Anthoni Muys (Anton de Mois). This was already his third marriage. Throughout his life Jacob Hoefnagel would marry five times.[1] He also spent time in Prague and was in Rome in 1605. He is recorded in Prague in 1609 and again in Rome in 1610.[3]

He was the court painter to Rudolf II in Prague from 1602 to 1613.[4] In Prague he belonged to a circle of Flemish and Dutch merchants, artists and scholars, some of whom were Reformed, with close ties to the court of Rudolf II. He was a diplomat at the court at a time when Prague played a pivotal role in European affairs. In 1614 he obtained citizenship of Prague and married his fourth wife.

He experienced financial difficulties, which he attributed to the court’s failure to pay his salary as a court painter.[1] During the Thirty Years' War, he took the side of the protestant Winter King Frederick V of the Palatinate against the catholic Habsburg dynasty. He was appointed as the official agent of the Bohemian estates to the Dutch Republic in 1618.[1] He had the right contacts for the position as he was the nephew of the Dutch poet and politician Constantijn Huygens, who had married his aunt Susanna Hoefnagel. Huygens was secretary to the Dutch Stadtholder Maurice, Prince of Orange.[3][5] He was convicted in absentia in a political process of embezzlement of funds. All his goods were confiscated and, according to some sources, he was sentenced to death. He could, however, flee.[1][6]

He spent time in Scandinavia including Stockholm and Göteborg (1622 - 1626). He is recorded on 30 April 1624 as a portrait painter in the Swedish court accounts. He was in Altona (Hamburg) in 1626 where he married for the fifth and last time.[1] He is subsequently present in Holland where he is recorded in Amsterdam and The Hague. Details about his last years are not available. His wife is recorded as a widow in Hamburg in 1633.[1][3]


Arrangement of insects, arachnids, fruit, flowers etc, from the Archetypa studiaque

Jacob Hoefnagel worked in various media and formats and is known for portraits, still lifes, mythological, scientific and topographical works, miniatures and emblems executed in oil, water colour, gouache and as engravings.

Archetypa studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii[edit]

His first important work was the Archetypa studiaque patris Georgii Hoefnagelii, which he published in 1592 in Frankfurt. The book is a collection of 48 engravings of plants, insects and small animals shown ad vivum. It is divided in four parts of twelve plates (each with separate frontispiece), made after designs by his father Joris Hoefnagel and engraved by Jacob who was only 19 years old at the time of publication.[7] The Italian scholar Filippo Buonanni asserted in 1691 that these engravings are the first published instance of the use of the microscope. However, this assertion of Buonanni is still contested.[8] As the quality of the engravings varies, it is assumed that some of the works were made by members of the family De Bry who resided in Frankfurt.[1] The prints in the collections were intended not solely as representations of the real world. They also carried a religious meaning as they encouraged the contemplation of god's plan of creation. Like contemporary emblem books each print carried a motto typically referring to god's interference in the world. The prints of the book were used as models by other artists and the Hoefnagel motifs were copied until the 19th century. It has been argued that the prints stood at the basis of the typical Dutch genre of still lifes with flowers, shells and insects.[9]


Orpheus charming the animals

As a painter Hoefnagel specialized in small format mythological scenes on vellum or copper.[4] During his stay at the court in Prague he produced many paintings of which only a few have survived.[1] The Morgan Library & Museum holds an Orpheus charming the animals dated 1613 in a late Mannerist style and a Winter dated 1618.[10] During his residence in Sweden he painted in 1624-25 a portrait of Queen Maria Eleonore of Sweden. The original of the oil painting is lost and is now known through the engraving made by Hendrik Hondius I in 1629.

He made in 1609 a topographically useful and at the same time artistically valuable view of the city of Vienna. Around the same time, he was in Vienna one of the contributors to a painted scientific work known as the "Museum or bestiary (Tierbuch) of Emperor Rudolf II", which consists of 180 parchment leaves and is kept in the Austrian National Library as cod. min. 129-130.[6][11]

Civitates orbis terrarum[edit]

Jacob's father Joris had provided designs for the fifth volume of Civitates orbis terrarum, which consisted of prints of bird's-eye views and maps of cities from all around the world. The work was edited by Braun and largely engraved by Frans Hogenberg.[12] Jacob reworked in 1617 designs of his father for the sixth volume of Civitates Orbis Terrarum, which was published in Cologne in 1618. Volume 6 contains a homogeneous series of images of cities in Central Europe (in Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary and Transylvania), which are very consistent in their graphics.

Vienna austriae

The views are in perspective, and only in a few cases, isometric and stand out through the accuracy of the information, the particular attention to the faithful representation of the territory, the landscape, the road conditions and the power of observation and refinement of interpretation.[13]

Diversae insectarum volatilium icones[edit]

His Diversae insectarum volatilium icones ad vivum accuratissime depictae per celeberrimum pictorem, published by Claes Jansz. Visscher in Amsterdam in 1630 is one of the earliest works dealing exclusively with insects. The book consists of 16 prints engraved by Jacob after designs by his father. A single convex lens was used in the preparation of some of the drawings for this book. As far as known, the pictures of Hoefnagel are the earliest printed figures of magnified objects (Locy, The Story of Biology, p. 199). The 16 beautiful engravings depict 302 insects, in order: 37 Coleoptera, 22 Orthoptera, 14 Odonata, 16 Neuroptera, 72 Lepidoptera, 35 Hymenoptera, 78 Diptera, 21 Hemiptera, and 7 larvae; from central and northern Germany. Jacob Hoefnagels described the engraved copies of his father's designs as "A pattern or copy-book for artists, displaying on sixteen plates about 340 insects, mostly larger than life".

The work was used by many artists as models and as such helped spread Joris Hoefnagel's fame.[14] The Dutch biologist Jan Swammerdam mentioned that the insects were drawn from life. The publication of this book has sometimes been credited to a hypothetical brother of Jacob called Jan as the book was published in the year Jacob died and was published in the name of I. Hoefnagel. However, it is unlikely that the publication was a product of a brother of Jacob.[15]

Gloria Crocodilus[edit]

Oculata fides, from Gloria Crocodilus

An album of emblematic drawings entitled Gloria Crocodilus kept at the British Museum has been attributed to Jacob Hoefnagel. The album consists of 82 leaves, 63 of which bear miniature emblematic roundels in bodycolour, each inscribed with a title above in Latin. It was made in the Dutch Republic in 1634 and bound at an early date in Dutch red morocco leather with elegant gilt tooling. The dedicatee is Godefridus Crell of Prussia, who may have been a member of the distinguished German Crell family. The attribution to Jacob Hoefnagel is based on the drawings' resemblance to his series of emblematic roundels now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Thea Vignau-Wilberg, Neues zu Jacob Hoefnagel, in: Studia Rudolphina no. 10, 2010, p. 196-211 (in German)
  2. ^ Julian P. Hume, The history of the Dodo Raphus cucullatus and the penguin of Mauritius
  3. ^ a b c Jacob Hoefnagel at the Netherlands Institute for Art History (in Dutch)
  4. ^ a b Jacob Hoefnagel (1575–ca. 1630), Orpheus Charming the Animals at the Morgan Library & Museum
  5. ^ Constantijn Huygens, Briefwisseling. Deel 1: 1608-1634 (ed. J.A. Worp). Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag 1911
  6. ^ a b Hoefnagel, Jakob on Austria-Forum
  7. ^ Frontispiece at The British Museum
  8. ^ Edward G. Ruestow, The Microscope in the Dutch Republic: The Shaping of Discovery, Cambridge University Press, 22 Jan, 2004, p. 70
  9. ^ Karel A. E. Enenkel, Paulus Johannes Smith, Early Modern Zoology: The Construction of Animals in Science, Literature and the Visual Arts, Volume 7, Issue 1, BRILL, 2007, p. 151
  10. ^ Jacob Hoefnagel, Orpheus and the Animals at the Morgan Library & Museum
  11. ^ Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, Arcimboldo: Visual Jokes, Natural History, and Still-Life Painting, University of Chicago Press, 2009, p. 125
  12. ^ Civitates orbis terrarum by Braun and Hogenberg", at: Historic-cities.huji.ac.il
  13. ^ Irina Baldescu, Joris e Jacob Hoefnagel - Artisti e Viaggiatori: Territorio e vedute di città in Civitates Orbis Terrarum, Liber Sextus, (Köln 1617-1618), in: Studia Patzinika, 6, 2008, p. 7-35 (in Italian)
  14. ^ Susan Dackerman, Painted Prints: The Revelation of Color in Northern Renaissance & Baroque Engravings, Etchings, & Woodcuts, Penn State Press, 2002, p. 228
  15. ^ Edward G. Ruestow, The Microscope in the Dutch Republic: The Shaping of Discovery, Cambridge University Press, 22 Jan, 2004, p. 52
  16. ^ Gloria Crocodilus at The British Museum


  • Gilbert, P. 2000: Butterfly Collectors and Painters. Four centuries of colour plates from The Library Collections of The Natural History Museum, London. Singapore, Beaumont Publishing Pte Ltd; x, 166 p.

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