Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617), engraver, print publisher, draftsman, and painter, was one of the outstanding figures in Dutch art during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Goltzius was internationally acclaimed in his day; his enthusiastic patrons included sovereigns from all parts of Europe, most notably the art-loving Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. One of the most important engravers and print publishers of his time, he is most widely known today for the Mannerist engravings that he and his workshop produced during the period between 1585 and 1589. This work represents, however, only a fraction of his entire oeuvre, which includes some 500 drawings and about 50 paintings, in addition to some 160 individual prints and series of prints that he and his workshop produced.
Born in Germany near the border of the Netherlands, Goltzius was burned in a fire as a child, an accident that permanently damaged his right hand. He moved to Haarlem in 1577 and established his own print publishing business there around 1578. Ambitious throughout his career, as a publisher he intended from the beginning to produce engravings of high artistic and technical quality for an international public of connoisseurs and art lovers and to break the monopoly on print publishing that had been held since the mid-sixteenth century by print producers in Antwerp. He trained a number of engravers to work in his style and a large part of their production was centered around prints after the master’s designs and in his distinctive engraving style, for example, The Fall of Phaeton (1992.376; 49.97.662). In the late 1580s, Goltzius was at the height of his success and created some of the most spectacular pieces in the history of prints, most notably The Feast of the Gods at the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche (2000.113), The Great Hercules (46.140.28), and the series The Four Disgracers (53.601.338). Goltzius’ designs in this period were influenced by Bartholomeus Spranger, court painter to Rudolf II. The artifice of Spranger’s Mannerist figure style appears for instance in Apollo (51.501.3).
By 1590, Goltzius had achieved great success throughout Europe. He made a long-awaited journey to Italy in that year and such was his fame that he was said to have traveled incognito, covering his recognizable burned hand. In Rome, he appears to have wanted to create a series of engravings of famous works of art like his Farnese Hercules (17.37.59), in particular classical statues, based on new and reliable drawings made on the spot; in this case, the Farnese Hercules (back view) in red chalk, and the Farnese Hercules (back view) in black and white chalk (both in the collection of the Teylers Museum, Haarlem). He also created extraordinary colored chalk portraits of contemporary artists such as Pietro Francavilla (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). Upon his return from Italy, Goltzius concentrated on engraving a smaller number of showpieces. His versatility, passion for experimentation, and love of showmanship are fully revealed in his late drawings and prints. The most astounding sheets are the so-called pen works, tour-de-force conflations of media in which Goltzius reproduced his own forceful swelling and tapering engraving lines in pen and ink, for example, Goltzius’ Right Hand (Teylers Museum, Haarlem), and in brush and oils in Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus (Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus Would Freeze) (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Karel van Mander, his biographer, described Goltzius as a rare Proteus who could assume all possible guises in his art, as he did in The Circumcision in his series The Early Life of the Virgin (17.37.36), known more familiarly as his Meisterstiche. Van Mander was referring to Goltzius’ chameleon-like ability to create original works in the styles of earlier masters. In later drawings and prints, Goltzius repeatedly tried to outdo earlier masters like Albrecht Dürer by creating new works in their techniques and styles.
In 1600, at the age of forty-two, Goltzius gave up printmaking and began to paint. A significant factor in his decision must have been the theoretical tenets espoused by Van Mander. Painting was viewed by him and others at the time as the summit of achievement in the arts and much more prestigious than engraving. Goltzius gained no less international recognition for his paintings influenced by Titian and Rubens. His masterpiece in painting was the Danaë (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).