Created in c. 1560-63, this original engraving by Philip Galle is after an original drawing by Pieter Bruegel. Published by Hieronymus Cock, the work has the inscriptions, ‘BRVEGEL. INV.’ in blank cartouche in the lower right; ‘H. Cock excu.’ in the lower left. Engraved from the only state on SB watermarked paper.
The original parable from which this work is based is one of biblical morale and curious interest. Its main message includes Christian undertones, using five wise virgins and five foolish virgins as its heroines. Taken from the Gospel of Matthew (25:1-13), each of the ten virgins were supplied with oil lamps, but only five took extra oil with them to light their way. The five “foolish” virgins without the extra oil, were out and left in the dark while the blushing bridegroom received the five virgins ready “well-lit” for his visit.
The angel in the center of the composition holds a banner that reads: “Ecce sponsus eunit exit obuiam ei [Behold, the bridegroom comes; She goes out to meet him].” On the stairway with the foolish virgins in the upper right, the doors to heaven remain closed; beneath it reads, “Non noui uos [I do not know you].” The inscription along the lower margin is in Latin, which reads: “DATE NOBIS DE OLEO VESTRO, QVIA LAMPADES NOSTRAE EXTINGVNTVR. NEQVAQVAM, NEQVANDO NO SUFFICIAT NOBIS ET VOBIS. [Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. Certainly not, lest there not be enough for us and you. Matthew 25].”
According to M. Sellink (2007), “The moral of the story is plain: we must live our lives in readiness of the Second Coming of Christ and the Judgment of our souls after the Resurrection…Whereas the device of dividing the print into four quarters and the distinctly Gothic architecture echo the visual idiom of the Middle Ages, in the realistic, non-biblical scenes in the lower half Bruegel emerges as a representative of his own time and of the urban mercantile class for whom the work ethic and a spirit of enterprise were increasingly important values” (159).