The Jansma Print Collection

  Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, 1727–1804) The Holy Famly Crossing the Lake in the Boat from The Flight into Egypt, 1750–1753. Etchings on off-white laid paper. Jansma Collection, Grand Rapids Art Museum, 2012.36

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, 1727 – 1804) The Holy Famly Crossing the Lake in the Boat from The Flight into Egypt, 1750 – 1753. Etchings on off-white laid paper. Jansma Collection, Grand Rapids Art Museum, 2012.36

Introduction to the Collection

The Jansma Print Collection of the Grand Rapids Art Museum was established in 2005 to bring together prints by art history’s most celebrated artists who have been inspired by Christian faith. The six artists currently included in the growing collection were chosen to represent a span of centuries, from the fifteenth to the twentieth. Diverse in nationality, style and technique, these outstanding works of art speak to the enduring message of faith throughout the ages.

The Jansma Collection is recognized for the superior quality of each impression, constituting a masterpiece collection of prints. The sixteen engravings comprising the Passion of Christ by Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471 – 1528), and Christ Preaching (La Petit Tombe) by Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606 – 1669) are superlative impressions of rare and important Old Master prints. The Jansma Collection also includes the most important print in the Museum’s collection and one of the greatest in the history of art – Rembrandt’s The Three Crosses, fourth state. A rare and early impression, the Jansma Three Crosses is one of the finest known impressions in the world of this outstanding print. The next three centuries are represented by the full series of The Flight into Egypt by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, 1727 – 1804), the rare Dead Christ with Angels by Édouard Manet (French, 1832 – 1883), and the exquisitely preserved The Lord’s Prayer by Max Pechstein (German, 1881 – 1955). 

15th Century


Martin Schongauer was one of the most important printmakers in Western art history. He played a crucial role in the development of engraving by employing techniques he learned in his father’s goldsmithing practice – a delicate skillset that allowed him to create deeply refined works in the medium.

    In addition to his training in goldsmithing, Schongauer’s understanding of draftsmanship and his eye for painterly composition revolutionized how prints were composed and produced.

    Schongauer’s work paved the way for the success of subsequent printmakers and was profoundly influential to the generation of engravers who proceeded him, most notably Albrecht Dürer. He was one of the first printmakers to develop an individual style and his work generated an interest in collection prints never before seen in northern Europe.

    Christ as King, Priest, and Judge was executed when Schongauer was only 22 years old. It depicts Christ in heaven ruling over his earthly and terrestrial realms – one of the most significant and recurrent themes in Western art since the early medieval period. Here, Jesus has triumphed over evil and sits in paradise in his final form: as King, ruler over heaven and earth; as Priest, who speaks the word of God; and as Judge, who judges the deeds of Christians before granting them salvation or damnation. 

    Renaissance-era innovations in printmaking allowed the average person to bring home with them a devotional image that facilitated their worship in the domestic sphere. Schongauer created this thematic imagery to reflect a theme that what was already popular in early modern Netherlandish and German painting.

16th Century

Albrecht Dürer

Central Europe, and Germany in particular, was a center of intellectual activity, technical innovation, and religious upheaval in the sixteenth century. In Wittenberg, Martin Luther set in motion the events leading to the Protestant Reformation, asserting the authority of the Biblical Scriptures over that of the clergy. Throughout Central Europe scholars and leaders embraced the humanist philosophy imported from Italy, ideas that raised to new importance the dignity and talents of individual people, as well as the documentation of human knowledge.

    Within three decades of the 1455 Gutenberg Bible, printing presses throughout Europe made the Bible accessible to the public and a primary narrative source for artists. Albrecht Dürer, the most important artist of the Northern Renaissance, created meticulous woodcuts and engravings of the Old and New Testament that depicted the life of Christ and stories of the prophets and the saints as spiritual dramas set in the physical world. 

    Dürer was the first artist in northern Europe to transform the arts from the product of the medieval workshop to a conscious expression of artistic genius. He understood the rules of perspective underlying Italian Renaissance art and applied them to depictions of individualized people and landscapes. 

    Alongside a number of prints issued individually, Dürer produced multiple series of religious subjects. Four great devotional series were done in woodcut: the Apocalypse, the Large Woodcut Passion, the Small Woodcut Passion and the Life of the Virgin. He produced only one Passion cycle in engravings. Through his woodcuts and engravings he became an international figure, supplying iconographic models to artists throughout Europe and setting new standards of technical mastery.

    The Engraved Passion is Dürer’s earliest work in the medium of engraving, and later influenced Rembrandt’s prints. The prints for The Engraved Passion are somber and restrained in their presentation. The fineness of the engraved lines enabled Dürer to achieve remarkable detail and to suggest in these scenes an almost spiritual light. The same delicacy also made possible a greater exploration of facial expression, thereby expanding psychological dimensions. Despite their miniature size, the prominence of the figures, which occupy the majority of the pictorial space, gives the images a compelling forthrightness and grandeur. 

    The Passion is the Christian theological term used for the events and suffering of Jesus in the hours before and during his trial and crucifixion. The accounts of the Passion are found in the four canonical gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The first three of these books give very similar accounts, while the Gospel of John provides additional details. 

    The subject of Dürer’s final print of the series, St. Peter and St. John Healing a Cripple, told in Acts 3:1 – 10, has no direct relationship to the Passion. It was likely the beginning of a new series representing the Acts of the Apostles that Dürer began but abandoned, but has been included in the Passion sets due to its cohesiveness of style and format. 

    A contemporary bound copy of the Engraved Passion, held at Princeton University Museum, provides an example as to how educated people of Dürer’s time viewed the series as an aid to prayer. It is bound in a leather binding and the engravings are printed on sheets with wide margins. On the facing page of each image is a handwritten prayer in Latin.

17th Century

Rembrandt van Rijin

The seventeenth century is considered the Golden Age of Dutch art. Wealthy merchants became key patrons of the arts in the newly independent Dutch Republic. Schools of painting in a variety of genres arose in cities such as Amsterdam, Delft, Haarlem, Utrecht, and Dordrecht. While European art was generally Baroque in style during this period, most art in the Netherlands continued the tradition of detailed realism.

    Rembrandt was the most important and influential artist of a classic moment in history known as the Golden Age of Dutch art. He also transcends that moment as one of the greatest artists who ever lived.

    Of particular significance is his work as a printmaker. Almost all of Rembrandt’s etchings were made as independent works of art; only a handful served as book illustrations. In his prints he was influenced by the work of earlier artists such as Albrecht Dürer, whom he deeply admired, but he advanced further in both his technique and his vision. In his paintings, drawings, and etchings Rembrandt depicted human situations that revealed a deeper internal drama. In biblical subjects he conveyed a deep human compassion and a profound spirituality. 

    Rembrandt’s earliest prints are executed in the highly theatrical Baroque style. During the 1640s he was increasingly influenced by the classical compositions of Leonardo da Vinci, Mantegna, and Raphael. From the 1650s forward, his mature work moved to greater simplicity in composition and greater innovation in technique. The Three Crosses embodies his highest achievement in printmaking for its strikingly modern ambiguity of space and time as well as its grand vision of human redemption in the intimate art form of a print.

18th Century

Giovanni Domenico Tiepelo

Northern Italy continued to serve as a thriving artistic center during the eighteenth century, despite the gradual decline of its political and economic stature. Venice was a cultural capital of Europe, home to great masters of painting such as Canaletto and the Tiepolos. The Rococo style, with its dynamic and asymmetrical swirls and flourishes, was prominent in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and theater.

    Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo was one of the most important Italian artists of the eighteenth century. Primarily a painter, he quickly excelled at the technique of etching and completed over 175 etchings during his career. 

    Domenico was the eldest surviving son of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696 – 1770), the most renowned painter of 18th-century Italy. He entered his father’s studio in the early 1740s, where he learned to draw and paint. From the age of twenty, he began to complete major paintings, such as the Stations of the Cross for the Church of San Polo in Venice. From 1750 to 1770 Domenico served as his father’s assistant, while at the same time working as an independent artist. From 1750 to 1753 while father and son were painting the fresco decorations in the Würzburg Residenz, Domenico was also producing a large number of his own works. Tiepolo appears to have stopped creating art for a period of about fifteen years, after which he began drawing and painting in a distinctly different manner. In the 1790s he produced a sequence of frescoes of Punchinello, a clown from the Italian comic theater tradition, combining comedy and realism in a manner that poked fun at art’s classical tradition.

    The Flight Into Egypt etchings are Domenico Tiepolo’s masterpiece, created during a formative period of his career. By 1750 Tiepolo was a newly established artist, having trained under his father Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in Venice. At the time he was creating The Flight Into Egypt etchings, he was assisting his father with the frescoes for the palace of Carl Philipp von Greiffenklau, prince-bishop of Würzburg. Before leaving Germany in 1753 Domenico completed and published the twenty-four etchings and published them as Idee pittoresche sopra la fugga in Egitto (Picturesque Ideas on the Flight Into Egypt), dedicated to the prince-bishop. 

    The story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus’ flight into Egypt is told in the Bible: When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up,’ he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: Out of Egypt I called my son.’ ” (Matthew 2: 13 – 15) A more detailed description of the Flight is provided in the apocryphal gospels, the texts of which had been used by artists as source material for centuries. 

    Preceding Domenico, only one artist had executed an extended pictorial series of this subject. In the mid-seventeenth century Charles Massé etched twelve Flight into Egypt plates after paintings by Annibale Carracci. Domenico may have sought to honor his family’s patron Carl Philipp with a print series that far exceeded the scope of all previous versions. 

    The series reflects Joseph’s changing role in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Previously his role as a member of the Holy family was consigned to the background, but the ideas of the Counter Reformation raised Joseph to a new prominence. Most notably in two of his plates Domenico shows Joseph holding the Christ child in his arms, a meaningful sign of his increased status. 

    With The Flight into Egypt series Domenico Tiepolo applies masterful etching technique and careful observations of human expression and gesture to a biblical narrative, drawing out subtle nuances from the traditional story.

19th Century

Édouard Manet

Impressionists and Realists who sought to document the everyday world around them characterized that art of the second half of the nineteenth century in France. A great revival of the art of etching occurred at this time as well, and many painters in England and France took up the technique in the 1860s, inspired in part by a renewed appreciation of the art of Rembrandt.

    Édouard Manet was the most important figure in the emergence of French modernism. His early masterworks from the 1860s caused great controversy and served as important precedents during the development of Impressionist painting. Although associated with the Impressionists, he was never part of the movement. 

    Trained in the traditional studio of history painter Thomas Couture, and inspired by the paintings of the Italian and Spanish Old Masters, Manet soon broke from his conventional training. He created large paintings of contemporary subjects, answering the poet Charles Baudelaire’s call for a new type of art that captured the unique qualities of modern life. Manet was equally avant-garde in his stylistic approach to painting, creating dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and powerful patterns of flat color laid down with bold brushstrokes.

    The masterful print The Dead Christ with Angels, was created from the largest copper plate Manet ever etched. Two elegantly rendered angels attend to Christ as he reveals the wounds of his Crucifixion. The intimate, atmospheric quality of the print, created by washes of aquatint, softens the lifeless physicality of Christ. The somber and elegiac tone of the scene anticipates the miracle of the Resurrection, a triumph over death and Satan referenced by the slithering serpent in the foreground. 

    This etching is directly related to Manet’s painting of the same title which he showed in the Paris Salon exhibition of 1864. Rather than serving as a reproduction of the painting, the print was conceived as a new interpretation of the painting. Unlike his contemporaries Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, who were prolific printmakers, Manet seldom executed prints, making the occasion of this print even more significant. Fewer than a dozen impressions of The Dead Christ with Angels exist. Exceedingly rare, this etching was privately published and never exhibited, only later claiming a distinguished place in the history of the western print. 

20th Century

Max Pechstein

Expressionism developed as an avant-garde style in the first decades of the twentieth century, and was especially popular during the Weimar Republic in Berlin. Responding to a general anxiety about inhumanity and the loss of spirituality and authenticity in the modern world, Expressionist artists sought to convey meaning or emotional experience rather than physical reality. The style extended to a wide range of the arts, including painting, literature, theatre, dance, film, architecture and music.

    Max Pechstein was a German Expressionist painter and printmaker. His early contact with the art of Vincent Van Gogh encouraged his development of an expressionist style marked by bold color and angular form. Pechstein was a member of Brücke, a group of artists who worked and exhibited together in Dresden and Berlin from 1905 to 1913. As the first modern art movement of the twentieth century, Brücke placed special importance on prints. The woodcuts, lithographs, and etchings produced by its artists, including Ernst Kirchner, Emil Nolde, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, are a major contribution to the history of the modern print. 

    Although committed to urban subjects and landscape, Brücke artists also had a profound interest in Christian themes. In this regard, they distinguish themselves in the history of modern art, which has primarily addressed secular life. Pechstein was one of the most important Brücke artists who incorporated Christian subjects into his art.

    In the wake of the devastations of World War I, Max Pechstein left Berlin in 1921 to settle in the northern fishing village of Nidden. Here he turned almost exclusively to landscape and religious subjects, producing Das Vater Unser, one of his most celebrated works and a landmark in the history of twentieth-century religious art. 

    For the twelve woodcuts that compose Das Vater Unser, Pechstein turned to the archetypal prayer of Christianity drawn from the Books of Matthew and Luke. He selected Martin Luther’s German translation rather than the Latin. Pechstein’s choice of this Biblical version stresses the popular or private devotions of Protestantism rather than the organized religious rites of Roman Catholicism. The artist’s everyday imagery of humble and pious North Sea fishermen and their families caught in prayer reflects his choice of text. 

    Stylistically, Das Vater Unser  is marked by a graphic vocabulary of flattened shapes and broad black planes, with regularly patterned incisions and manipulations of forms derived from medieval and South Seas sculpture. Pechstein’s choice of strong color with which to embellish the black-ink woodcuts further emotionalizes the artist’s fervent and deeply felt illustrations of the Lord’s Prayer. 

    Das Vater Unser was published in an edition of 250: the first 50 prints were hand colored and individually signed and the remaining 200 were black and white.

A Message from the Jansma Family

Our family has experienced God’s love as expressed in the Torah and the Bible: I have loved you with an everlasting love.”
- Jeremiah 31:3

In our desire to reflect God’s love to others and to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us, we wish to support the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s acquisition of important woodcuts, engravings, etchings, and lithographs that reflect the Christian faith from the fifteenth century to the present. We give these prints with joy and gratitude for the divine gift of art that enriches our culture – and especially for the gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who is the subject of most of these beautiful works of art. 

Cate and Sid Jansma, Jr.
& Joanne R. Jansma (1943 – 2007)