Mars and Venus

Hendrick Goltzius Netherlandish
after Bartholomeus Spranger Netherlandish

Not on view

In this imposing, erotically charged engraving, Goltzius presents the adulterous liaison between Venus and Mars. They are embracing on a canopied bed, aided and attended by Cupid and three winged putti. Visible through the window at the left is Apollo, the all-seeing sun god, racing in his chariot to warn Venus’s husband Vulcan of her infidelity. According to the inscription in the lower center, the print is based on a design, now lost, by Bartholomeus Spranger, court artist to Rudolf II of Prague.

Goltzius was first introduced to Spranger’s works in 1583, and by 1588, the date of this engraving, had fully absorbed his style, not only in the extravagant poses and exaggerated musculature, but in his very handling of the print medium. Goltzius uses the diamond-shaped head of the burin (the engraver’s tool) to create lines that swell and taper, curving around and defining the figures. In some places, they seem to take on a life of their own, as in the patterning on Cupid’s thighs and buttocks. Goltzius sets the pale bodies of the lovers against the dark, tented background of their bed so they shine out at us. The overall effect is of a glittering display of light and shade that flickers across the surface of the print.

Mars and Venus, Hendrick Goltzius (Netherlandish, Mühlbracht 1558–1617 Haarlem), Engraving

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