Dutch, 17th–18th century?
Published by Pieter Schenck
Dutch, b. Germany, 1660–1719
Born in Germany, Pieter Schenck moved to Amsterdam in 1683 to study engraving with Gerard Valck, an early proponent of the recently invented mezzotint technique. Three years later, Schenck partnered with Valck in a publishing venture that, beginning in c. 1695 and extending well into the eighteenth century, was known throughout Europe for its suberb cartographic production.The etching on view here, which bears Schenck’s address as publisher, comes from an unrecorded series of birds, perhaps of the New World, by an unknown hand. (Schenck himself is a feasible but unlikely candidate. The overwhelming majority of the prints ascribed to him are mezzotints.) We thus can only guess why an image of the king vulture, indigenous to Central and South America, is matched with a text on the natural history of the Phoenix by Claudian, a poet who flourished in Rome around the turn of the fifth century A.D. A clue may reside in the translation of the accompanying stanza, which seems to resonate with the famously brilliant coloration of the vulture’s head:
A mysterious fire flashes from its eye,
and a flaming aureole enriches its head.
Its crest shines with the sun’s own light
and shatters the darkness with its calm brilliance.