Traces of the Hand

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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman

The Dutch Golden Age

Anonymous
Probably Dutch, 18th century
After Hendrick Goltzius
Dutch, 1558–1617
After Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem
Dutch, 1562–1638
The Four Disgracers: Icarus, Phaeton, Tantalus, and Ixion, 18th century
Pen, brown ink, and black chalk with wash
15 3/4 x 17 15/16 in, 40.01 x 45.56 cm
Provenance: Acquired from Heiner Henke, Passau, 1978
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.40

This drawing was clearly made as an homage to Hendrick Goltzius, one of the greatest artists of the early Dutch Golden Age. It was also perhaps a response to the challenging virtuosity of his work, for this drawing combines in a single image figures from a set of four engravings that Goltzius made in 1588, based on designs by Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem.1 Goltzius enhanced Cornelis’ paintings by engraving each contorted nude male body, shown plummeting through the air, within a circular field, which highlights their flung-out limbs and the skillful foreshortening of their bodies viewed from unusual angles.2

Our unknown artist aimed to do Goltzius one better by composing these figures within a single coherent composition. Combining the four figures with their lower bodies and legs towards a central fulcrum and with one of each man’s arms at the edges suggesting a pinwheel design, the drawing displays the artist’s skill in composition and mastery of perspective, transforming his models.3 Our artist also succeeded in rendering the exaggerated musculature of Goltzius’ figures, but instead of using Goltzius’ structure of cross-hatched swelling and tapering lines with their characteristic optical rippling effect, this artist for the most part used a regular hatching of parallel pen lines to model form, which is arguably even more difficult than Goltzius’ technique. Our artist’s display of mastery of foreshortening, composition, and pen modeling is thoroughly in the spirit of Goltzius and the other Dutch Late Mannerists, for whom the accomplishment of the difficult, the complex, and the witty with seeming ease was one of their highest aspirations.4 Each viewer can decide the degree to which this artist succeeded in matching or even exceeding the virtuosity of Goltzius himself.

Catherine Mitchell
Katherine Baker

 

1. On Cornelis' designs, see P. J. J. van Thiel, Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, 1562–1638: A Monograph and Catalogue Raisonné, Doornspijk, 1999, 348, no. 139; and for the prints, 420–422, no. P4. On the relation between these works and the intellectual milieu of Haarlem, see Anne W. Lowenthal, "The Disgracers: Four Sinners in One Act," in Essays in Northern European Art Presented to Egbert Haverkamp Begemann on His Sixtieth Birthday, Doornspijk, 1983, 148–153; and Julie L. McGee, Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem (1562–1638): Patrons, Friends and Dutch Humanists, Nieuwkoop, 1991, 117–126.

2. Huigen Leeflang and Ger Luijten, Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617): Drawings, Prints and Paintings, Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2003, no. 33, 98–99.

3. Chappell, Form, Function and Finesse, 76.

4. Leeflang and Luijten, Goltzius, 82–83, 203–215, 235–242, 275–276.

 

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