Artibus et Historiae no. 86 (XLIII)

2022, ISSN 0391-9064

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ROMAIN THOMAS - Artists and Publishers Facing the Success of a Seventeenth-century Dutch Bestseller: The Frontispieces of the Successive Editions of Jacob Cats’s Houwelick (pp. 121–144)

Probably the most frequently reprinted and republished book during the Dutch Golden Age, Houwelick (‘Marriage’, 1625) by Jacob Cats (1577–1660) – a hefty treatise on matrimony, loaded with moral thoughts and richly illustrated – is outstanding also for the evolving series of frontispieces for these successive editions. Indeed, it exhibits changes in relationship with the evolving status of the author, and of the book itself, as well as with the varied goals of its editors and their socially- and time-differentiated audiences in the rapidly evolving Dutch social system.

The editio princeps and the first ones that followed are provided with frontispieces, each redesigned according to the new format. Borrowing the codes of Dutch love and moral emblems of the seventeenth century, these images play the role of a summary by visually alluding to the intellectual content of the six chapters of the book. The book is also a collective editorial project carefully worked up by the author, the artist who designed the frontispiece as well as the entire rich corpus of illustrations and book ornaments, and the publisher. Above all, the numerous editions up to the beginning of the eighteenth century, almost always provided with a frontispiece, are interesting from a sociology of texts perspective. During the fifteen-year patent period, both official and pirate editions exhibit material and iconographic attributes socially adapted to the intended audiences. Subsequently, the book as an object is appropriated by the world of editors, printers and booksellers. The frontispieces they use show a range of attitudes. Sometimes they reuse the former iconography – probably with a bibliophile aim towards what was by then considered a monument of illustrated literature. They also use a new iconography that seeks, in the spirit of the original edition, to impress the readership by showing contemporary-looking paragons.

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