While Goltzius’s prints and drawings have received a great deal of attention in recent years, his painted oeuvre has more frequently been left out of the conversation. This paucity of discussion may be due in large part to the fact that, since his paintings had never been assembled in a complete and generously illustrated catalogue raisonné, the extent of his work in this medium was not widely known. Otto Hirschmann’s Hendrick Goltzius als Maler, 1600-1617 (1916) was the last monograph on this subject. Lawrence Nichols provided a taste of the paintings in the final section of Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617): Drawings, Prints, and Paintings, the exhibition held in the Rijksmuseum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Toledo Museum of Art in 2003-04, yet the sixteen pieces shown there, though some of the best, did not provide the full picture. Nichols’s splendid, beautifully produced catalogue raisonné on Goltzius’s paintings is thus a welcome and long-awaited contribution, one that delves into the last part of the artist’s career when he gave up printmaking to become a painter. Already internationally famous for his engravings, Goltzius devoted the last seventeen years of his life to painting and during that time he created a surprisingly large number of works. Nichols has now located almost double the number of existing pieces assembled by Hirschmann: 59 extant original paintings, another 148 works known only from written sources or from reproductive prints, and another 21 unspecified pieces mentioned in documents. The corpus of paintings parallels the earlier printed work in subject matter; it is composed of religious, mythological, and genre subjects, as well as portraits. The nude predominates. Yet, stylistically, it is very different; Goltzius left his twisting Mannerist figures behind for large, classically-posed nudes, many seemingly based on live models.
The book is divided into three main parts: the first delves into various aspects of the final seventeen years of Goltzius’s career; the second catalogues the work; and the third transcribes all known documents and references to the artist in pre-1800 publications. Nichols opens by posing the million-dollar question: why did Goltzius give up a successful career as a printmaker and publisher and turn to the art of painting? He views the shift as a result of various experiences and influences: the trip to Italy, the theories of his friend Van Mander about the primacy of painting, local competition, and a long abiding interest in color. Certainly the artist’s trip to Italy taken in 1590-91, which exposed him to Roman sculpture and great works of the High Renaissance, played the most important role in this transition. Van Mander wrote of the lasting impression that paintings by Raphael, Correggio, Titian, and Veronese left on the artist, memories of which are evident in his subsequent painted work. According to Nichols, Goltzius’s preoccupation with other projects accounts for the nine-year lag between the Dutch artist’s inspirational encounter with Italian Renaissance painting and his stylistic and technical transformation. Nichols rejects the interesting suggestion made by Eric Jan Sluijter (Essays for Ernst van de Wetering, 2005) that Goltzius spent that time learning how to paint from his colleague Frans Badens on the grounds that earlier oil sketches and other works created with the brush show the artist to have been long familiar with painting technique. Nichols further argues that Goltzius had a long-standing interest in color, citing as evidence the artist’s earlier drawings, oil sketches, and chiaroscuro woodcuts.
Nichols constructs a biography of Goltzius’s life during the artist’s late period based on documents and other contemporary written evidence. Repeated mentions of his poor health are contrasted with significant productivity and wealth. Goltzius received great praise from contemporaries but his reputation was also tarnished by rumors spread by his enemies and an obsession with alchemy that led to his being taken in by a con man. The author also looks into Goltzius’s creative process, his sources of emulation, and his subject matter. He devotes a chapter to his reputation and, most notably, the high esteem with which Goltzius’s paintings were regarded in his day. Nichols situates Goltzius as the precursor to Haarlem classicism. Indeed, his documented pupils include Salomon de Bray and Pieter de Grebber.
In addition to classical and Renaissance art, and the paintings of Rubens, Nichols identifies the work of Albrecht Dürer, Lucas van Leyden, and Maarten van Heemskerck as Goltzius’s key sources. He might have cast the net a little wider. Goltzius’s classical representation of nudes is mixed with a strong dose of reality, a spot lit fleshiness and lack of idealization that, in some instances, distances the artist’s work from those of the Italians and Rubens and looks more like some of the great sixteenth-century Italianate Northerners such as Jan Gossart and Frans Floris. In fact, The Fall of Man and The Baptism of Christ (A1 and 13, St. Petersburg, Hermitage) which depict in confined vertical spaces pairs of life-size nudes, whose active poses suggest that they are ready to walk right out of their panels, bear a close resemblance to a work by Gossart. Nichols relates The Fall of Man to Dürer’s Adam and Eve but both compositions look even more like Jan Gossart’s large-scale Adam and Eve, with its figures that almost stride out of their tight vertical compositions (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie). Indeed, Gossart’s painting may be the Adam and Eve that Van Mander saw in the collection of Marten van Papenbroeck on the Kalverstraat (Van Mander 1604/1994-99, vol. 1, pp. 160-61, fol. 225 v; vol. 3, p. 150). Goltzius’s large bust-length figures are reminiscent of the large heads by Floris and his Fall of Man in Washington (A2) seems compositionally close to the painting attributed to Vincent Sellaer, Venus and Mars in the Rubenshuis. Nine years following his return from Italy, Goltzius may have needed to refresh his experience and must have looked to other Italianate sources that were close at hand.
Goltzius’s painted oeuvre has numerous high points, most notable among them the early Danäe and Juno Receiving the Eyes of Argus from Mercury (A33 and 56; Los Angeles County Museum and Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen). Also, the two versions of Without Ceres, Bacchus and Venus Would Freeze fabulously hover somewhere between drawing and painting (A31 and 32; Philadelphia Museum of Art, and St. Petersburg, Hermitage). But the oeuvre is a mix of style and quality. One criticism that may be directed towards Nichols’s assessment of Goltzius is that he so emphasizes the artist’s standing as a widely respected painter who, having left behind the extravagances of his mannerist period, follows in the tradition of the great masters of the medium, that he neglects to point out the less conventional aspects of the work. The purposes of some unusual pieces deserve more discussion. The Venus/Pictura (A42; private collection), for example, is discussed in terms of its distinguished provenance (Henry, Prince of Wales, about 1610) and iconography but no mention is made of the fact that Goltzius, who could paint beautiful figures, depicts the goddess of Love like a pudgy, bare-breasted peasant woman. Goltzius’s famous Hercules and Cacus, part of the trio of canvases with Mercury and Minerva (A35, 39 and 40) on loan from the Mauritshuis to the Frans Hals Museum, also deserves some speculation as to what would possess Johann Colterman, father or son, to have himself portrayed as a life-size nude. In fact, this was not the only such portrait that Goltzius created; now lost is a portrait of friend Tobias van Swartsenburgh described by Van Mander as depicting “Swartsenburgh sitting naked large as life, whom he has fitted out as some Indian archer or other” (B79). Were there precedents for this? Despite such minor misgivings, Nichols’s book on Goltzius is a much appreciated addition to the literature on Dutch art. It brings to the fore a little-known body of work, some of it odd and challenging, that demonstrates conclusively Goltzius’s remarkable range and ambition as a painter. Clearly this neglected aspect of Goltzius’s work can no longer be left out of the conversation.
Nadine M. Orenstein
The Metropolitan Museum of Art