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Hendrick Goltzius

Dutch (active Haarlem), 1558 - 1617

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Hendrick Goltzius was born in January or February 1558 in Mühlbracht, probably the present-day village of Bracht, located in the lower Rhine region of Germany. Called "a fat, wild, and lively child" by Van Mander, the primary source for the artist's biography, Goltzius fell into a fire when he was about a year old, after which he was never able to open fully his right hand, the one he would nevertheless use to draw, engrave, and paint. Van Mander relates that as a boy of seven or eight Goltzius covered the walls of his family's house with drawings. Although certainly a topos for the precocious artist endowed by nature, there may well be a grain of truth to this story with respect to Goltzius's early display of graphic talent. Recognizing his son's interest and ability, his father took him out of school and allowed him to study drawing and glass painting, his own profession. About 1575 Goltzius was apprenticed to learn the art of engraving from the exiled polemicist and engraver Dirck Volckertsz. Coornhert, and returned to Haarlem with him in 1576-77. Shortly after, in 1579, at the age of twenty-one, Goltzius married Margaretha Jansdr., a widow, and became the stepfather to her eight-year-old son, Jacob Matham, who would follow in Goltzius's footsteps as a printmaker. After working for the Antwerp-based publisher Philips Galle for a few years, in 1582 Goltzius began to publish his own engravings, many of which were meticulous portraits.

By 1585 Goltzius was working in the international style now known as Mannerism, which had been introduced to Haarlem in 1583 when Van Mander settled there and brought with him drawings by the Flemish artist Bartholomius Spranger (1546 - 1611), whom he had met and worked with in Italy and Vienna in the mid-1570s. Goltzius engraved a number of Spranger's compositions, and his own designs also began to derive inspiration from Spranger's flamboyant style, the earliest of which is Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan (see The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu 84.GG.810) , a modello for his engraving dated 1585. 1 In characteristic fashion for this Spranger-induced style, the figures are elongated and assume contorted poses with exaggerated musculature. Gesticulating hands, splayed toes, flamelike hair--every detail is called upon to convey tension and pent-up energy. With its calculated extremes of anatomical excess and distortion, its intentionally ambiguous definition of space, and its all-encompassing devotion to surface ornamentation, Goltzius's composition epitomizes the conscious avoidance of naturalism and the deliberate over-refinement of this anti-classical approach. His engravings of these years show him to have been a major exponent of the Mannerist style.

By the end of the decade a lessening of his "Sprangerism" is evident in certain of Goltzius's engravings and drawings, a tendency that was reinforced by the next significant event in his life, his journey to Italy. Van Mander writes that for a long period Goltzius experienced poor health, the symptoms of which suggest that he suffered from consumption. With melancholy and sickness overwhelming him, he resolved to travel south, "hoping to improve [his health], and at least before his dying day to see the fineness and beauty of the arts of Italy." In January 1591 he arrived in Rome, where he sketched assiduously after compositions by Raphael, Michelangelo, and Polidoro da Caravaggio, and to an even greater degree after antiquities, almost certainly with an eye to publishing a series on the wonders of Rome. 2 Goltzius drew both the front and back of Glycon's copy of Lysippus' famous sculpture of Hercules, unearthed in 1540 and installed after restoration in the courtyard of the Palazzo Farnese. His engraving of the Farnese Hercules (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1985-52-520) captures and accentuates the monumentality of the ten-foot-high sculpture by adopting an angle of view that is in close proximity to the statue as well as at the height of the dwarfed onlookers.3 It exhibits to perfection Goltzius's skillful manipulation of the engraver's tool to convey the dappling effect of light and the illusion of sculptural relief. A system of concentric swelling and tapering lines creates a complicated but highly legible matrix of cross-hatchings, the interstices of which are often punctuated with tiny dots, forming a scintillating array of decorative patterns.

In addition to his studies of antique Roman sculpture, the glory of what has come down to us from Goltzius's travels are the portraits of artists he made on his way to and from Italy. These drawings, which may well owe their origin to an unfulfilled plan to publish a series of engraved portraits of famous artists, are worked in colored chalks and lightly brushed washes. 4 Goltzius's Self-Portrait (Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna Inv. no. 17.638) is comparable in many respects to this group, although his reliance on the brush now is even greater. The artist portrays himself in profile within an oval frame, his head abruptly turned outward. His flaring collar sets off the finely rendered features of his head, including his blue eyes, parted red lips, and neatly manicured moustache and beard. Here Goltzius makes every effort to project himself as a cultivated gentleman of means. The undated sheet probably dates to the years shortly after his return from Italy in 1591. A comparison with the self-portrait included in The Circumcision of 1594 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1985-52-393) supports this contention. 5 This engraving is one of six prints that together illustrate the Life of the Virgin, referred to as Goltzius's Meisterstiche (master prints). Each is engraved in the manner of a different Italian or Northern sixteenth-century artist, which provoked Van Mander to call Goltzius "a rare Proteus or Vertumnus of Art." 6 Goltzius's own artistic conception is nonetheless maintained throughout the series. Here it is the style of Albrecht Dürer that Goltzius seeks to emulate, if not also to surpass. Using the Brewer's Chapel in the church of St. Bavo in Haarlem as the setting, the artist successfully integrates himself into the background of his composition, where he gazes out from beside a pier. 7

By the end of the century Goltzius enjoyed a far-reaching reputation as Europe's preeminent graphic artist, which had earned him gold chains of honor from Wilhelm V, duke of Bavaria, and Cardinal Federigo Borromeo of Milan, in addition to an imperial privilege granted by Rudolf II, which rendered it illegal to copy his engravings. 8 It was under these circumstances that Goltzius in the year 1600 exchanged burin for brush and became a painter, a career he followed until his death on New Year's Day 1617.

Lawrence W. Nichols, from The "Pen Works" of Hendrick Goltzius, Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin (1992), pp. 7-9.

1. See George R. Goldner, European Drawings, I: Catalogue of the Collections (Malibu, 1988), p. 242.

2. Carel van Mander. Het Schilder-boeck. Haarlem, 1604. Facsimile. Utrecht, 1969. Levens Nederlandtsche fol. 282[v]. For the sheets from Goltzius's so-called Roman Sketchbook preserved in the Teyler Museum in Haarlem, see E.K.J. Reznicek. Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius. 2 vols. Utrecht, 1961, pp. 89-94, 201-2, nos. 200-253. Upon his return to Haarlem, Goltzius engraved three of the antiquities he had drawn, although they were not published until after his death: Emperor Commodus as Hercules (Otto Hirschmann. Verzeichnis des graphischen Werks von Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617. Leipzig, 1921, no. 146), Apollo Belvedere (ibid., no. 147), and The Farnese Hercules (ibid., no. 145).

3. Reznicek (Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius. 2 vols. Utrecht, 1961, p. 337) and Ackley (Clifford S. Ackley. Printmaking in the Age of Rembrandt. Boston, 1981, p. 12) have noted that this may reflect Goltzius's actual experience of the marble positioned in the arcade of the courtyard of the Palazzo Farnese; see the drawing attributed to Annibale Carracci in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt (John Oliver Hand et al. The Age of Bruegel: Netlierlandish Drawings in the Sixteenth Century. Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 165, fig. 1). For Goltzius's drawings after the Farnese Hercules, see E.K.J. Reznicek. Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius. 2 vols. Utrecht, 1961, nos. 225-27.

4. For the suggestion that Goltzius perhaps intended to engrave these heads, see Martha Wolff on what is certainly the highlight of this group, the portrait of Giovanni Bologna (E.K.J. Reznicek. Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius. 2 vols. Utrecht, 1961, no. 263), in John Oliver Hand et al. The Age of Bruegel: Netherlandish Drawings in the Sixteenth Century. Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 163.

5. Goltzius's Self-Portrait in Stockholm (E.K.J. Reznicek. Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius. 2 vols. Utrecht, 1961, no. 255), presumably from the period of his Italian trip, precedes the one under consideration. Marian Bisanz-Prakken (in Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Old Master Drawings from the Albertina [Oct. 28, 1984 - Jan. 13, 1985], p. 209, no. 26) cogently outlines the argument for dating the sheet in Vienna to the early 1590s, which has been supported by Robinson (William W. Robinson. Seventeenth-Century Dutch Drawings: A Selection from the Maida and George Abrams Collection. Lynn, Mass., 1991, p. 24), who suggests a date of c. 1594. Reznicek (Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius. 2 vols. Utrecht, 1961, p. 350) had maintained a date for it of c. 1600.

6. Carel van Mander. Het Schilder-boeck. Haarlem, 1604. Facsimile. Utrecht, 1969. Levens Nederlandtsche, fol. 285[r]; Otto Hirschmann. Verzeichnis des graphischen Werks von Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617. Leipzig, 1921, nos. 9-14. Melion (Walter S. Melion. "Karel van Mander's 'Life of Goltzius': Defining the Paradigm of Protean Virtuosity in Haarlem around 1600." In Susan J. Barnes and Walter S. Melion, eds. Cultural Differentiation and Cultural Identity in tile Visual Arts. Washington, D.C., 1989, p. 128 n. 7) has observed that the word Meisterstiche probably owes its origin to Bartsch, who called them "Les Chefs-d'oeuvre" in his catalogue (vol. 3, p. 15). For this series, see also Walter Melion. "Hendrick Goltzius's Project of Reproductive Engraving." Art History, vol. 13, no. 4 (Dec. 1990), pp. 458-87.

7. According to Van Mander, Goltzius at one point had his portrait and monogram removed from the engraved plate and circulated impressions of the altered print among artists and connoisseurs, who were convinced it was in fact a previously unknown work from the hand of Dürer; see Carel van Mander. Het Schilder-boeck. Haarlem, 1604. Facsimile. Utrecht, 1969, Levens Nederlandtsche, fol. 284[v].

8. Goltzius had dedicated his "Life of the Virgin" series to Duke Wilhelm, and his "Passion" series (Otto Hirschmann. Verzeichnis des graphischen Werks von Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617. Leipzig, 1921, nos. 21-32) to Cardinal Borromeo. For the imperial privilege granted Goltzius, see Franz Kreyczi, ed., "Urkunden und Regesten aus dem k. und k. Reichs-Finanz-Archiv," Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Allerhichsten Kaiserhauses, vol. 15 (1894), part 2, p. cxxxv, no. 12227; O. Hirschmann. Hendrick Goltzius als Maler, 1600-1617. Quellenstudien zur holländischen Kunstgeschichte, no. 9. The Hague, 1916., p. 19; and E.K.J. Reznicek. Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius. 2 vols. Utrecht, 1961, p. 94 n. 18.

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