NORTH NEWTON, Kan. — A long-lost copper plate made to illustrate the 1685 edition of Martyrs Mirror has been found.
It is the 31st plate known to exist of the original 104 etched by Dutch artist Jan Luyken.
The Martyrs Mirror Trust is a collaboration between the Mennonite Historical Library in Goshen, Ind., and Kauffman Museum in North Newton. The trust recently announced the latest discovery and purchase — the first since 1988.
The plate illustrates the martyr story of Jacques d’Auchy, a merchant arrested in 1558 in Harlingen, in what is now the Netherlands, and charged with being an Anabaptist.
It depicts d’Auchy in jail, bidding farewell to his grieving, pregnant wife with a prison guard and others in the background.
“Luyken’s detailed etchings vividly capture the drama of the stories contained in the Martyrs Mirror,” said John D. Roth, director of the Mennonite Historical Library. “Seeing the actual plates that he created to print those illustrations gives a new appreciation both for his skill and for the stories themselves.”
D’Auchy’s account, published in Martyrs Mirror, includes his confession of faith and a lengthy transcription of his interrogations. He was killed in his prison cell before the official execution could be carried out.
The newly discovered d’Auchy plate is part of a complicated story, some of which remains shrouded in mystery.
In 1780, a group of Amish and Mennonite leaders in Germany collaborated to produce a German-language edition of Martyrs Mirror. They acquired the complete set of 104 copper plates that Luyken had made a century earlier.
According to some accounts, those plates were still in the German Palatinate in 1880. In 1925, a source reported that 90 of the plates were in Munich. By 1944, those same plates were supposedly stored in three boxes in a private home in Grünstadt, back in the Palatinate.
After the owner’s death, his children discovered one box containing 30 plates. The fate of the other two boxes remains unknown.
In 1977, Old Order Mennonite historian Amos B. Hoover was able to purchase seven of the 30 plates. When the remaining 23 plates became available in 1988, the late John Oyer, then director of the Mennonite Historical Library at Goshen College, together with Robert Kreider, representing Kauffman Museum at Bethel College, formed the Martyrs Mirror Trust to raise funds to purchase the Luyken plates.
The plates became the focus of a book, Mirror of the Martyrs, that Oyer and Kreider co-authored, and the centerpiece of a traveling exhibit of the same name. When not touring, the exhibit — which has been shown in more than 65 locations in North America — has a permanent home at Kauffman Museum.
Oyer and Kreider surmised that the remaining Luyken plates had been destroyed, perhaps melted down as scrap metal in World War II.
So it came as a surprise when Kauffman Museum technician David Kreider received a phone call in October 2011 from an antiquarian dealer in northern Germany. The dealer had found Kauffman Museum on the “Mirror of the Martyrs” website while researching a recently acquired etching plate.
Although unable to determine where, when or how the plate came into the hands of its previous owner, the dealer generously offered the plate for sale with minimal mark-up. After verifying its authenticity, the Martyrs Mirror Trust purchased the plate.
The pilgrimage of the Jacques d’Auchy plate before 2011 remains a mystery. Was it one of the 14 plates whose whereabouts was unknown in 1925? Or perhaps one of the 60 plates that disappeared after 1944?
“We may never learn the answer,” Roth said, “but if one of the missing 74 plates has turned up, might others as well?”
The d’Auchy plate can be viewed at Kauffman Museum through the end of the year, when it will return to the Mennonite Historical Library.