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Hendrick Goltzius

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Hendrick Goltzius
(Muhlbrecht, Netherlands, 1558 - 1617, Haarlem, Netherlands)

As the most accomplished and admired designer/engraver/publisher of the late sixteenth century in Northern Europe, Hendrick Goltzius and his workshop played a decisive role in the history of printmaking. Working in the generation between the great German master printmaker Albrecht Durer and the even more renowned Dutchman Rembrandt Van Rijn, Goltzius was heir to a flourishing German tradition of engraving and woodcut, and a transmitter of that tradition to his successors throughout Western Europe. Like Durer, he embraced the classical influences of the Italian Renaissance, and he expanded the range of printmaking by manipulating the techniques of linear engraving, creating images that were richer and more graphically powerful than ever before. In addition, he adopted and refined the concept of the print atelier as a business venture, assembling artists into a “workshop” style environment in which prints were designed, printed, published and marketed.

Goltzius was a native of the Lower Rhine Valley, born in Mulbracht, in February of 1558. He was raised in Duisburg, but relocated to Xanten near Cologne where, in about 1574, he began an apprenticeship with Dirck Volckertsz. Coornhert (1522-1590). Coornhert was Dutch, a native of Haarlem, and was known primarily as an engraver. The conflict created by Catholic Spain’s occupation of the Protestant Netherlands had resulted in years of revolt and unrest in the region, and Coorhert fled to Cologne after he was arrested in 1567. When Coorhert elected to return in 1577,the nineteen-year-old Goltzius accompanied him to Haarlem and began a career in earnest as an engraver. (1)

The Antwerp-based printing firm of Philips Galle was the first publisher of Goltzius’s engravings but by 1582 he was publishing prints on his own. A circle of artists and writers associated with Goltzius (sometimes referred to as the Haarlem Academy) formed around the engraver and his workshop. (2) This circle included the painter Cornelis Cornelisz. Van Haarlem (1562-1638) and the painter/writer Karel van Mander (1548-1606), who had traveled in Italy and brought a first-hand knowledge of Italian art when he arrived in Haarlem in 1583. Van Mander introduced Goltizus and other Haarlem artists to the drawings of Bartholomeus Spranger (1546-1611), whom van Mander had met in Rome. Spranger was an artist at the court of Rudolph II in Prague, and his drawings disseminated the classicizing style of the Italian Renaissance throughout Northern Europe. Goltzius himself made a trip to Italy beginning in October of 1590. He traveled through Munich, before visiting Rome, Naples, Venice and Florence. While in Italy he sought out the art of his contemporaries, and made many drawings after antique sculpture that inspired the figural style of his later prints. When he returned to Haarlem in late 1591 his style became more naturalistic and he created some of his greatest works before he retired from printmaking altogether in 1600. For the last seventeen years of his life he pursued a career as a painter, however these paintings do not command the attention that his outstanding print oeuvre has garnered from generations of scholars.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of Goltzius’s career is the fact that he engraved compositions after his own designs. In his era, the printing of images (like the printing of books) was still generally looked upon as a craft and it was the standard practice of printmaking workshops to engrave images after designs by painters or draughtsmen whose works were adopted for that purpose. These images, known as reproductive engravings, were standard fare for engravers of the sixteenth century. (3) Rather than being denigrated as copies, these prints were widely admired as “transformations” of the original sources that ranged from paintings to drawings, to works of sculpture and even other prints. Goltzius’s great talent was in capturing the individual styles of artists and character of the art itself as he translated these works into engraved prints. Spranger’s drawings were an important source, but he utilized many others including works by contemporary Flemish and Italian painters, and the printed works of Durer and Van Leyden. Goltzius achieved such acclaim as an engraver that he could also showcase his design skills, particularly in engravings after drawings of antique sculpture that he made in Italy. (4) These engravings included the Farnese Hercules, The Apollo Belvedere, and the Hercules and Telephos, executed around 1592 and published in 1597, which are considered among his finest works.

Goltzius’s print oeuvre is traditionally divided into three periods of production: “the beginning of his career in 1576 up to 1585; his “high mannerist,” Sprangeresque period from 1585 to his departure for Italy in 1590; and the retreat from mannerism after his return from Italy in 1591 up to his retirement as a printmaker in 1600.” (5) The earliest works were created in series, most depicting traditional religious subjects. In these engravings emphasis is placed on purely graphic linear qualities with less concentration on modeling or tonal values. In the late 1580s, Goltzius’s engraving style evolved as he was influenced by Italian styles through the drawings of Spranger, the Roman Sketchbooks of Dutch painter Maarten van Heemskerck (1458-1574) and the prints of Cornelis Cort (1533-1578), an engraver who was influenced by contemporary Italian painting. These works are exemplary of what is termed late mannerism (in some texts literally referred to as Goltziusstil), characterized by dramatic, contorted figures with highly exaggerated, muscular physiques. The last ten years of his printmaking career demonstrated the impact of his visit to Italy between 1590 and 1591. While in Italy he made many drawings of antique sculpture that may have prompted a greater sense of classical balance and a retreat from the mannerist approach.

The role of the workshop in the practice of designing and engraving prints was significantly advanced by Goltzius, who established one of the most active printmaking workshops in Northern Europe. The workshop model originated in Italy where Raphael engaged the engraver Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1480-c. 1534) to engrave his compositions beginning around 1513. Other prominent painters embraced the concept of using prints to circulate their designs more widely, and the practice of employing a workshop to do so spread to Northern Europe by the 1540s. Goltzius’s workshop in Haarlem employed a number of very talented artist/draughtsmen who went on to independent careers as engravers, including his stepson Jacob Matham (1571-1631), Jacques de Gheyn II (1565-1629), Jan Saendredam (1565-1607) and Jan Muller (1571-1628). In 1595, Goltzius received the Imperial Privilege, which granted him a copyright, and prints from his workshop were available in the great urban centers of Western Europe. (6)

(1) Glenn Harcourt, ed., Hendrick Goltzius and the Classical Tradition, “Haarlem and the Netherlands in the Late Sixteenth Century,” Essay by Judy Anderson. Long Beach, CA: Greens Incorporated and the University of Southern California and the Fisher Gallery, pp. 14-19.
(2) Stephen H. Goddard and James A. Ganz, Goltzius and the Third Dimension (Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2002), p. 20.
(3) “Reproductive printmaking—prints executed after the designs of other masters—formed a large part of the output of any professional printmaker in the late sixteenth century, a time when the practice was not tainted with the pejorative connotations that today might be ascribed to ‘copying.’’ Goddard and Ganz, p. 29.
(4) Goddard and Ganz, p. 35.
(5) Horcourt, ed., p. 20.
(6) Horcourt, ed., p. 27.

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