A Rare Suite of Engravings of the Life of Ignatius of Loyola By the Master Engraver Hieronymus Wierix

JESUITS. Wierix, Hieronymus (c. 1553–1619), artist

Vita B. P. Ignatii de Loyola fundatoris Societatis Iesu

Antwerp: n.p., in or after Jan. 1609, before 1620


18 x 12.5 cm. Suite of 13 engraved plates by the Flemish engraver Hieronymus Wierix. Plate size: 10 x 6.5 cm.


A fine, complete set of an engraved cycle of Ignatius’s life, including plates depicting his miracles – a requirement for canonization. It consists of an engraved title page and 12 scenes from Ignatius life, all with engraved captions. Modern half vellum. Fine, rich impressions of the plates. Broad margins.

The suite was published in or after 1609, the year of Ignatius' beatification, and prior to 1620, the year that the artist, Wierix, died. BM gives a date of c. 1613. All plates are signed by Wierix at the foot: “Hieronymus Wierx [sic] fecit et excudit.” They were printed with a privilege from the assistant secretary to the Privy Council of the Archduke of the Netherlands. This privilege also appears in the plate: “Cum gratia et privilegio Piermans.”

The master engraver Hieronymus Wierix was one of three sons of the painter Jan Wierix I. Both of Hieronymus’ brothers were also engravers. Hieronymus also engraved a series of portraits of the first five Generals of the Jesuit Order, also in or after 1609. Such series were part of a program to promote the canonization of Ignatius. By the time this series of engravings was published, the Order had achieved a crucial step in that process: the beatification of Ignatius (in 1609). That new distinction is reflected in the caption on the first plate, in which Ignatius’ name is preceded by a “B” for “beatus” (i.e. “blessed.”)

This series is much less common than the engraved vita by Peter Paul Rubens and the Belgian engraver Cornelis Galle, published at Rome in 1609. It was published in Antwerp, a city that contributed much to the literature and propaganda of the Counter-Reformation.

Among the scenes are: Ignatius lying in ecstasy; Ignatius exorcising the evil spirits; Ignatius healing an epileptic; Ignatius saving a man who has hanged himself; The apparition of Ignatius to three Jesuits; Ignatius surrounded by a divine radiance; Ignatius having a vision of the Holy Trinity. It was in the 1570’s that the Jesuit General Everard Mercurian announced a campaign to promote the canonization of Ignatius. To this end he charged Maffei and Zabadeneira with the task of writing vitae of the founder of their Order. However, Pope Sixtus V was hostile to the idea –and to the Order in general- and the cause of sainthood was not advanced until 1605, when Pope Paul V appointed a commission to consider the case for the canonization of Ignatius. It was in this period that the engraved cycles of Ignatius’ life were produced. Ignatius was beatified in 1609 and was, at last, canonized in 1622.

Maucquoy-Hendrickx 1038-1050