German. Seventeenth Century.


Height: 10 1/4" (26 cm); Width: 12" (30.5 cm).

Watercolor on paper.

This pair of carefully observed watercolors follows closely two prints produced by one of the most recognized graphic artists of seventeenth century France, Abraham Bosse.  However, rather than being reproduced many times over like the original work, these watercolors were painted by hand, and are, therefore, unique. They depict two scenes from Bosse’s series of seven prints illustrating the Parable of the Ten Virgins, a moral lesson on spirituality that was especially aimed at women and girls. The remarkable skill in their execution, particularly the rendering of the fabrics of the clothing, and the technically difficult effect of darkness in the night scene, would suggest a professional painter. One might speculate given their subject matter, that the watercolors were commissioned as a gift to a young girl on the occasion of her first communion.  That the text on the present watercolors has been translated from the original French into German, carefully rendered in traditional gothic script, reminds us of the widespread reach and appeal of Bosse’s engravings, which were exported across Europe, becoming as popular in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands as they were in the artist’s native France.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins, which only appears in the gospel of Matthew1 was a popular subject for artists in the renaissance and early modern period. An especially comparable example to the present watercolors is the painting by the Flemish artist Hieronymous Francken the Younger (1578-1623), datable to around 1616 (figure 1). The parable recounts the story of ten virgins selected to take part in a wedding procession. All ten await the arrival of the bridegroom, five bring their lanterns, whilst the other five bring their lanterns but additionally remember to bring oil to use in them. When the bridegroom arrives, the five foolish virgins are unable to light their lanterns and are therefore excluded from the procession whilst the five wise virgins with oil are able to join. It is a parable that has a clear Christian moral message; that one should always be spiritually prepared for the second coming of Christ. It has often been interpreted as having specific relevance to females; it reminds that virtuousness means nothing without contemplation and application.

Full research report available on request.

Full research report available on request.