sehepunkte 4 (2004), Nr. 2

Huigen Leeflang / Ger Luijten / Lawrence W. Nichols et al.: Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617)

Published to accompany the first monographic exhibition of Hendrick Goltzius's dazzling prints, drawings, 'penwercken', and paintings, this catalogue consists of a useful biographical sketch followed by brief essays and entries describing successive phases of the artist's career. The book aims, in the words of the directors of the three host institutions, "to present a comprehensive and balanced picture of Hendrick Goltzius as a draughtsman, printmaker, and painter" (7). Given this stated objective, we might well ask what impression of the artist the visitor to the exhibition and reader of the catalogue are invited to form. Deeply susceptible to artistic influence and driven by rivalrous emulation of selected models, the figure who emerges would seem to be chiefly concerned with the imitation of nature and art, as well as with technical experimentation in all the pictorial media. His eminent portrait subjects - William of Orange and Charlotte de Bourbon, among others - along with his dedication of the "Roman Heroes" of 1586 to Emperor Rudolf II, and his acquisition of the imperial privilege in 1595, would certify the ambition to secure the most prestigious clientele, if not patronage, available at home and abroad. His close observation of classical exempla - Roman statuary, the "facciate" of Polidoro da Caravaggio, and selected effigies by Michelangelo - and also the attention he paid to Renaissance and contemporary masters would indicate a preoccupation with canons and commitment to canon-formation, an abiding concern he shared with his close friend Karel van Mander.

If the catalogue, by turns explicitly and implicitly, encourages us to formulate this image of Goltzius, it yet fails to address crucial questions raised by scholars, whose work the authors either belittle or ignore. How might the master's theory and practice of imitation arise from the nature and functions of reproductive engraving? Rather than simply ascribing Goltzius's variations on "handelinghen" - the several manners after which he drew, painted, and engraved - to an emulative impulse "tout court", is it possible to differentiate between his early prints after Italianate northern masters, his prints of the later 1580s after the pen and wash drawings of Spranger, and his protean prints of the 1590s after northern and Italian masters famed for their mastery of "colorito"? Instead of barely acknowledging the sacred content of many of Goltzius's most ambitious prints and drawings postdating his Italian journey, or merely gesturing toward the religious iconography of his paintings, while scarcely considering their devotional context or function, would it not be more productive to examine how and why he portrays events from the Incarnation and Passion, calculated to appeal to devout beholders and connected in Catholic meditative literature to themes of pious viewing and divine image-making? Regarding his collation of sculptural and pictorial examples, what principles of selection are applied? These and other fundamental questions, by their very absence, operate like a distorting lens, resulting in lacunae on the one hand and some strange conclusions on the other.

Take the "Danaë", for instance, interpreted by Lawrence W. Nichols, author of the entries on Goltzius's paintings, as an allegory of the "power of money" (284). Although he calls attention to the beauty of the nude Danaë, that rivets the gazes of all who surround her, including the viewer, his essay neglects to engage fully with Eric Jan Sluijter's compelling account of the picture [1]. Sluijter expounds the "Danaë" as a "poësia" that celebrates the beauty and seductive properties of painted flesh, further alluding wittily to the currency of desire transacted between painting and viewer. His larger argument situates the painting within Goltzius's conception of the kinship among love, vision, and picturing, embodied allegorically in the compound personification of Venus-Visus-Pictura. Moreover, it is surely worth adding, the "Danaë" operates as a summa of "colorito", whose elements are enumerated by Van Mander in his account of the perfections of Italian painting avidly memorized by Goltzius during his travels in Venice, Bologna, Florence, and Rome. Bound up with the Venetian critical discourse attaching to "colorito", as Van Mander and Goltzius certainly knew, was the neo-Petrarchan assumption that the painter best demonstrates his art by rendering the "venustà" of the female body, the beauty that incites desire and delight, moving the beholder to love what he sees. For Goltzius, the transit of desire is also the circulation of coinage, for wealth is the reward secured by the seductive charm of coloring. Finally, the beauty of Danaë bodying forth the "venustà" of Goltzius's art consists of a syncretic amalgamation of regional styles that suggestively compares with the synthetic ideal fundamental to the Carracci reform of art. Just as Ludovico, Agostino, and Annibale sought to supplant the "maniera statuina" of their predecessors by harmonizing Florentine "disegno", Lombard "carnosità", and Venetian "colorito", so Goltzius brings an ancient statue, the so-called "Cleopatra", to life by leavening the pose of Michelangelo's "Aurora" with the facile grace of Raphael, the tender fleshiness of Correggio, the intense coloring and variegated tonality of Titian, and the descriptive textures of Veronese.

In fact, Goltzius had already displayed his command of "colorito" in prints and drawings of the 1590s, chief among them the "Pygmalion and the Ivory Statue" of 1593, as I have argued elsewhere [2]. Although Nichols notes in his essay on the paintings "the degree to which [Goltzius] manipulated the burin in startlingly new ways with the aim of achieving surprising colouristic effects" (266), he still characterizes the artist's move from engraving to painting as the climactic step in a teleological narrative leading from the burin to the greater prestige of the brush, from the limited tonality and coloring of prints to the spectral and tonal richness of painting. I think a different case can be made: the transition from one medium to another would better be seen as a negotiation between the "tanto artificio" of the burin and the "facilità" of the brush (these terms come from Ludovico Dolce's "Aretino" of 1557, the foremost theoretical text on "colorito"). Whereas Goltzius had achieved stunning coloristic effects in prints and "penwercken", such as the "Pygmalion" and the "Venus, Bacchus, and Ceres" of 1593, these earlier "dimostrazioni", precisely because they display the mastery of difficulty, describing polychrome effects in a monochrome medium, pliable textures and lustrous surfaces with mere hatches, must always be perceived as an artifice of coloring. On the contrary, the highest standard of true facility in "colorito", as Dolce had argued, was the art that concealed art. Goltzius's reform of his burin-hand in the "Judgment of Midas" of 1590, a manifesto affirming that true art is modest and silent ("vera verecunda est ars, et taciturna"), and his distillation of Italian "colorito" in the "Life of the Virgin" series that imitates (in the manner of Proteus-Vertumnus), rather than emulating, masters such as Parmigianino, Jacopo Bassano, and Federico Barocci, attest his implementation of the paradigm of the art that conceals art. On this account, the shift to painting can best be construed as complementary to ideals already espoused in the 1590s. This view accords with the argument of Jacob Matham's engraved "Epitaph of Hendrick Goltzius", issued to mark the master's death in 1617: Matham embellishes the pediment enframing his stepfather's portrait with reclining personifications of painting and drawing, whose hands are joined by the linking figure of engraving that stands between and towers above them. The elegant text by Theodorus Schrevelius emphasizes the sisterhood of these arts, stating that the "Graces", by the favorable linking of their hands ("manuumque nexu gratioso vinculo"), conspire with Mercury and Minerva to ensure the artist's eternal fame. The conviction of complementarity would serve as well to explain why the greatest of Goltzius's "penwercken", the "Venus, Bacchus, and Ceres" of 1606, executed six years after his move to painting, depicts Goltzius offering not brushes but paired burins at the altar of Venus, where the seductive power of his tines are compared to the ineluctable power of Cupid's golden arrowhead.

The theme of the kinship between burin and brush brings me to the very strange analysis of the "Life of the Virgin" proffered by Huigen Leeflang in his entry on this series. Although he states in his essay on the virtuoso engravings of 1592-1600, accurately in my view, that the series constitutes a "commentary on the history and status of printmaking" (208), and also notes that Goltzius was following in the footsteps of forebears like Lucas van Leyden, praised by Vasari and Van Mander for his skillful rendition of optical effects more commonly associated with painting, Leeflang's entry then concludes that Goltzius, notwithstanding Van Mander's assertion that the master returned from Italy with a mnemonic fund of Italian paintings, worked exclusively from reproductive engravings after masters such as Barocci. He further argues that Goltzius's primary model was Johannes Sadeler's "Early Life of Christ" of 1579-1582 after Maarten de Vos, likewise dedicated to Wilhelm V, and finally, that the series aims primarily to emulate, and therefore surpass, the reproductive prints of Cort, Sadeler, and Gijsbert van Veen. But reproductive engraving, as perfected by its foremost practitioners - Cort, Enea Vico, and Agostino Carracci, for example - involved the translation of painterly effects, and especially of "colorito". The letter written by Aretino to the painter Francesco Salviati in August 1545, thanking him for the gift of Vico's "figure stampate" after Salviati's "Conversion of St. Paul", acclaims the engraver's ability to transmit the painter's effects of light and "morbidezza". In his letter of 1567 to Titian, the humanist Domenicus Lampsonius sings the praises of Cort's prints after the master, especially lauding the engraver's rendition of Venetian "colorito", while in the letter of 1570 to Giulio Clovio, he insists that Cort's prints derive from first-hand study of the paintings after which he engraves. So too, Agostino's prints after Venetian masters canonized the paintings of Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese within the Carracci Academy and the "studioso corso". It is within this lineage that Goltzius's epitomes of Italian "handelinghen" can be most productively situated.

Let me hasten to state in closing that the catalogue has its virtues, though these are to be found in the details, rather than any overarching interpretative program. The authors have enlarged the documentary record, citing two previously unstudied publications - Arnoldus Buchelius's "Vitae eruditorum Belgicorum" of c. 1630 (?) and Matthias Quadt von Kinkelbach's "Die Jahr Blum" of 1605. It is fascinating to learn, with regard to "The Creation" series of c. 1589, that Goltzius consulted a collection of prints, perhaps organized by subject, as part of the process of invention. In addition, Leeflang's discussion of some of the later prints provides further evidence of the artist's interest in manipulating a canon of regional styles.


[1] Eric Jan Sluijter: Venus, Visus en Pictura, in: Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 42-43 (1991/92), 376-78.

[2] Walter S. Melion: 'Vivae dixisses virginis ora': The Discourse of Color in Hendrick Goltzius's 'Pygmalion and the Ivory Statue', in: Word & Image 17 (2001), 153-76.

Rezension über:

Huigen Leeflang / Ger Luijten / Lawrence W. Nichols et al.: Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617). Tekeningen, Prenten en Schilderijen. Ausstellungskatalog Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 2003 / Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2003 / The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo 2003/04, Zwolle: Waanders Uitgevers 2003, 352 S., 190 Farb-, 160 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-90-400-8793-6, EUR 49,95

Rezension von:
Walter Melion
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
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Walter Melion: Rezension von: Huigen Leeflang / Ger Luijten / Lawrence W. Nichols et al.: Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617). Tekeningen, Prenten en Schilderijen. Ausstellungskatalog Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 2003 / Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2003 / The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo 2003/04, Zwolle: Waanders Uitgevers 2003, in: sehepunkte 4 (2004), Nr. 2 [15.02.2004], URL:

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