Published as volume 8 in the Humboldt-Schriften zur Kunst- und Bildgeschichte, this instructive volume on Maarten van Heemkerck’s Roman drawings is a welcome addition to Van Heemskerck scholarship. The volume (consisting of 6 essays) presents the proceedings of a small conference on Van Heemskerck’s so-called Roman Sketchbook, held in Berlin in December 2008 as part of a larger research project entitled ‘Transformationen der Antike’.
The core of this nice and meticulously edited book in German and English is Maarten van Heemskerck’s two ‘Roman sketchbooks’ preserved in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin. The volume sets out to reassess them fundamentally, a welcome effort after a century of rather static adherence to findings of Hülsen/Egger in their famous (and rare) facsimile edition of 1913-1916, republished in a limited edition by Davaco in 1975. By close reading of the different drawings in the complicated ‘sketchbooks’, the authors set out to rephrase the importance of these sketches.
Ilja M. Veldman, the acknowledged Van Heemskerck authority, sets the agenda. After a sharp analysis of the history and the historiography of both codices, she turns to the attributions of the sketches, explaining that the commonly used denominator Van Heemskerck’s Roman Sketchbooks (after the title of the original facsimile) is misleading. Not all the drawings are by Van Heemskerck, and the more recent identifications of the other hands (as Hermanus Posthumus and Michiel Gast) are highly problematic, as she observes. Veldman’s article in sum presents an excellent status quaestionis and thus the perfect introduction to the volume.
In a second chapter, Tatjana Bartsch gives an analysis of the practice of drawing she observes in Van Heemskerck’s sketchbook. Building on the concept of Bewegungsraum (‘spatial turn’), she conceives Van Heemskerck’s drawings as the residue of his mental maps and thus the result of both unconscious routines and artistic choices. This essay is fascinating and challenging as it introduces an interesting approach to reading sketchbooks. At the same time, it is highly tricky because – as Veldman notes – Van Heemskerck’s sketchbook is an extremely rare example of such an object. To give the theory more empirical grounding, a comparable analysis of comparative material would be most welcome, but it offers a challenging hypothesis.
Fritz-Eugen Keller, using a different methodology, presents a close analysis of Van Heemkerck’s dealing with one particular sculpture. Concentrating on his sketches after the Hercules Commodus, a sculpture preserved at the Vatican Belvedere at the time, Keller neatly demonstrates how much of the artist’s particular “research” interests these drawings actually reveal – in this case anatomy as represented on antique sculpture. His meticulous stylistic analysis supports some earlier iconological findings by Veldman (Maarten van Heemskerck and Dutch Humanism, 1977).
Kathleen Wren Christian, author of the recently published Empire without End. Antiquities Collections in Renaissance Rome, c. 1350-1527 (Yale University Press 2010), addresses yet another aspect of Van Heemskerck’s drawings. She stresses the strong focus on collections and reads the ‘sketchbooks’ as a marker of Rome’s emerging “collecting rhetoric” (152). She points to the fact that Van Heemskerck must have had a good network to gain access to all these private collections. Dismissing Willem van Enckevoirt as the usual suspect, she makes a case for Rodolfo Pio da Carpi, a Roman collector who owned four Van Heemskerck paintings. Moreover, Wren Christian emphasizes the fact that Van Heemskerck’s drawings are actually “constructions,” instead of pure observations.
On this notion, namely that Van Heemskerck used “conspicuous pictorial strategies” (158), Arthur DiFuria builds his case. Linking the “capriccios” of Roman ruins to contemporary discussions on memory and mnemonics, DiFuria also pleads for a topographical reading of the many drawings in the album, not only for Van Heemskerck himself but also for whoever the beholder was. In so doing, DiFuria smartly maneuvers between an interpretation of the drawings as “portraits of loci” and as “fantasia.”
As mentioned, the volume makes a welcome addition to Van Heemskerck scholarship. However, all the essays are surprisingly – or not? – Van Heemskerck-centered. Certainly, one could wish for a more contextual approach to the draughtsmanship of the northern master. Michiel Coxcie, for instance, was exceptionally successful in Rome and also patronized by Van Enckevoirt; additionally, some of his drawings (e.g. a signed Jupiter series in the British Museum) are technically extraordinarily close to Van Heemskerck’s sketches. Moreover, Coxcie’s knowledge of antiquity was extraordinary, and his approaches to art certainly show some overlap with Van Heemskerck’s ideas. Jacques Dubroeucq was in Rome at the same time as Van Heemskerck too, as were several others. While Kathleen Wren Christian indeed makes a good start with a reconstruction of Van Heemskerck’s social network in the Eternal City, it would have been worthwhile to thoroughly examine the social network of all Netherlandish painters working in Rome at the time to see how Van Heemskerck’s drawings fit in. In this respect, it is surprising to see that this volume focuses solely on the attributable drawings, skipping the Anonymous A and B completely.
But then, this volume has successfully revitalized discussion on the sketchbooks and has duly shifted the paradigms for interpreting the work of this fabulous draughtsman. What more can one expect? Another, affordable reprint of the sketchbooks?
University of Ghent