Hendrick Goltzius's 'Life of the Virgin': Surpassing Tradition

March 17 - October  11, 2009

Hendrick Goltzius (Mülbracht 1558 – 1617 Haarlem) excelled at engraving, drawing, and painting, marking him as one of the most versatile artists of his time.  He spent his younger years in Haarlem, The Netherlands, as a reproductive engraver working at the behest of the major publishing houses in Antwerp, opening his own printing business in Haarlem in 1582.  From October 1590 through the end of 1591, poor health prompted a journey to Italy, including Rome, Naples, Venice and Florence.  After returning in improved constitution and stimulated by the wealth of masterful artwork that surrounded him, Goltzius turned away from his youthful, Mannerist style towards a classicizing approach to composition and the human figure.

Over the course of 1593 and 1594, Goltzius produced a series of six prints depicting moments in the life of the Virgin Mary.  Monumental in size, each print takes stylistic and compositional cues from an amalgam of works by past great masters, including Raphael, Federico Barocci, Jacopo Bassano, Albrecht Dürer, and Lucas van Leyden.  Rather than slavishly reproduce the work of others, Goltzius instead alluded to his forebears in both composition and style through a careful and deliberate fusion of sources and linear approach.  The sweet figural types of Barocci permeate his Holy Family with St. Elizabeth and St. John, and the heavenly beams illuminating the Adoration of the Shepherds reference similar scenes by Bassano.  With the Circumcision and Adoration of the Magi, Goltzius drew compositional elements from known prints by Dürer and Lucas, respectively, while imitating the engraved quality of line that was a hallmark of each.  These resulting two engravings fooled even some contemporary connoisseurs into proclaiming them lost originals.  Through this series, Goltzius purposefully inserted himself into the canon of great masters – and even surpassed them in his ability to excel at all of their styles.

This exhibition is supported by the Amherst Art Series, Hall and Kate Peterson Fund and the Collins Print Fund. 

The Circumcision, from the 'Life of the Virgin' series
The Adoratin of the Magi, from the 'Life of the Virgin' series
The Holy Family with John the Baptist as a Child, from the 'Life of the Virgin' series