CAT 154 Abraham Bosse. Winter from Les Quatre Saisons. Nuremberg: Paulus Fürst, c. 1637-40. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.
After the unmitigated misrule of the Autumn scene, Bosse etches a warm cozy Winter (Winter) in which women are roasting beignets over a roaring fire in a relatively orderly scene of indoor contentment. Two young girls (described as “Les enfans de Mardy gras” in the French print) carry a freshly baked plate before a carefully set table while a lady before a mirror is adjusting her lace near a canopied bed similar to that of the Queen in the Song of Solomon prints that von der Heyden engraved to illustrate Sudermann’s emblem book in 1622 (CAT 51). The verses in the French print help to clarify what is going on between the man near the fire and the woman he is reaching his hand around in order to touch: a rhyme between “tetin” and “satin” anchors the verse in which “Monsieur, tells a mistress, / If you touch my nipple / I will pour grease / On your jacket of satin” (Duplessis, no. 1085). The German text engraved by Fürst begins by declaring: “Come let us be happy even in these winter days.” No “Mardy gras” girls or spilled grease appears in this text. The title cartouche in both languages features charming cupids blowing warmth from all four directions in the clouds.
Bosse’s depictions of autumn and winter feature strong contrasts between male and female as well as between the two seasons. Not surprisingly, Georges Duplessis, who published a complete catalog of more than 1500 prints by Bosse in 1859, had high praise for this artist in the copy of his Wonders of Engraving that Melville acquired in 1871. Duplessis declares Bosse to be “one of the most interesting of French artists. His numerous works give most authentic historical information on the costumes and manners of the times of Louis XIII. . . . An historian of the reign of Louis XIII would lose much valuable information if he neglected to look though the numerous works of this engraver” (Wonders, 249, 265).
Bosse’s spirited etching of The Four Seasons as an extended secular pleasure-fest soon became iconic not only in France but also in Germanic areas, as seen by the edition published by Fürst in Nuremberg (see also pp. 298-317 in Join-Lambert and Préaud). Nicolas Poussin would certainly have seen Bosse’s series when residing in Paris in the early 1640s; against it one can measure the unmatched originality and ambition of the Four Seasons that Poussin painted for the “duc de Richelieu” between 1660 and 1664—a sequence whose march from Spring, to Summer, to Autumn, to Winter also moves through Biblical history from Adam and Eve, to Ruth and Boaz, to The Grapes of Eschol, to The Deluge in a more intimate blending of Biblical history and landscape painting than any artist had previously achieved (Rosenberg and Christiansen, Poussin and Nature, cat. nos. 66 and 67).