Minerva and Mercury Arming Perseus

Jan Muller Netherlandish
After Bartholomeus Spranger Netherlandish
Publisher Harmen Jansz. Muller Netherlandish

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Between 1597 and 1606, Jan Muller made a number of large-scale engravings after Bartholomeus Spranger, the court painter to Emperor Rudolf II. As in the present work all were mythological subjects with erotic themes or overtones, and Muller used a dynamic swelling and tapering line to capture the mannered poses and exaggerated musculature of subjects.

Perseus was a demi-god, a son of Jupiter, king of the gods, and Danæ, a human. Danæ was kidnapped by King Polydectes of Serifos, a remote island in the Aegean Sea, who refused to free her unless Perseus brought him the head of Medusa. Medusa was a terrifying Gorgon, a creature with snakes for hair and huge claws, and whose direct gaze would turn a man or woman into stone. In order to help him defeat Medusa, Mercury and Minerva give him gifts related to their own special powers. Mercury, the messenger of the gods, provides Perseus with winged sandals, like his own, and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, devises a way that Perseus can see Medusa without actually looking at her – and gives him a highly polished shield that serves as a mirror, so he can see the gorgon’s reflection.

Muller engraved the plate so densely that it could almost be mistaken for a night scene. The three principal figures are set against a shadowed middle ground. Highlights gleam from their armor and from Perseus’s sculpted body, as he turns almost coyly to accept the shield from Minerva. The shield itself is extraordinary. Muller has engraved most of the surface lightly making it appear transparent and then left blank intersecting arcs across the center to create the illusion of reflected light.

Minerva and Mercury Arming Perseus, Jan Muller (Netherlandish, Amsterdam 1571–1628 Amsterdam), Engraving; New Holl.'s third state of three

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