Boetius à Bolswert

(c. 1585-1633)

Portrait of Adam Sasbout aged 36

Early 17th century

Engraving on paper

93 mm x 78 mm

On the 1st of December 1553 Adam Sasbout, a Franciscan friar and professor of Divinity, died in Louvain at the age of 36. Born to a patrician family from Delft, Sasbout taught and preached in the Spanish Netherlands, where he became fluent in Ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Despite his premature death, he had established himself as a serious theologian and classicist, and his sermons found a large audience. 

Though small, this engraving is considered to be one of the principal works by the eminent Dutch copperplate-engraver Boetius à Bolswert. It memorialises Sasbout as a pious friar. The closed eyes and the steaming goblets in the upper right and left corners symbolise his death and the burning zeal of his faith respectively. The portrait is signed in the plate: “A. Bolsuerd. fecit.”

Other copies of this engraving are held by the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) and the British Museum (London). 

Bibliographic references:

Michael Bryan 1816 /  A Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers (Vol 1), p. 148

Hollstein / Dutch and Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts c. 1450-1700 (387)

Muller II 1853 / Beschrijvende catalogus van 7000 Portretten, van Nederlanders (4701)


Hans Philipp Gutacker (1888-), art dealer in Vienna and Bonn

Private collection Haarlem


Who was the artist Boetius à Bolswert, and where does his unusual name come from?

  • The artist Boetius à Bolswert, also called Boetius Adamsz. Bolswert and Bodius, has his unusual name partially to thank to his place of birth: Bolsward, a city in the Dutch province of Friesland to the south of Franeker. Hence he became known as ‘Boetius from Bolsward’. 
  • For Bolswert did not stay long in his native province: he spent much of his early life in Amsterdam and Utrecht, where he was taught by the master painter and engraver Abraham Bloemaert (1566-1651). Bloemaert, a devout Roman Catholic who made many paintings for Utrecht’s clandestine Catholic churches, had good connections with the Southern Netherlands (what is now Belgium). Bolswert and Bloemaert collaborated on the theme of male and female saints and hermits, which culminated in the publication of a book with such engravings (The Hermit Woodland of Egypt and Palestine) in Antwerp in 1619.
  • Indeed, it was around 1619 that Bolswert abandoned the Protestant North in favour of the southern city of Antwerp, which was at the time a leading centre of Counter-Reformation artistic and literary activity. Here he joined the Jesuit Sodality of Adult Bachelorhood (i.e. a brotherhood for Roman-Catholic single men) as well as the painters’ Guid of St Luke.  
  • In the years that followed, Bolswert wrote and engraved several popular devotional books
Abraham Bloemaert (1566-1651), one of the most celebrated Catholic painters in Dutch art history.

Sasbout was born the sixth and penultimate child of 

 geb. 21 dec 1516, Delft Vindt alle personen met gebeurtenissen op deze locatie,   ovl. 21 mrt 1553, Leuven, Belgie Vindt alle personen met gebeurtenissen op deze locatie  (Leeftijd 36 jaar)

He taught Nicholas Pieck (1534-1572), who would be martyred after the Watergeuzen  captured Den Briel. 

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Text by Shayan Barjesteh van Waalwijk van Doorn