Strauss 261/I (of IV); The New Hollstein, Part II, 329/I (of IV)
252 x 315 mm. Sheet 255 x 319 mm.
A superb, brilliant impression in the first state, of one of the masterpieces of Goltzius as a printmaker. The exceptional richness of our impression makes visible the extraordinarily subtle, infinite gradations from light to deepest black. This effects are particularly visible in the dragon’s wings and tail. The print also shows some plate tone at the bottom left corner. With small, even margins, in fine condition.
This awful scene was inspired by the story of Cadmus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Cadmus was sent by the Delphic Oracle to follow a cow and build a city at the first place it decided to lie down. The cow eventually collapsed at the future site of Thebes. When Cadmus sent his men to fetch water, they were killed by a dragon guarding the spring. Cadmus then slew the dragon. On the advice of the Athena he sowed the dragon’s teeth in the soil, from which armed men sprung up. Five of them became the ancestors of the Thebans. Goltzius derived the left arm and hand of the foreground figure from Michelangelo’s sculpture of il Giorno on Giuliano de’ Medici’s tomb. His back is an adaptation of another famous sculpture, the Belvedere Torso, in Rome. Here Goltzius relied on models, sketches or plaster casts made by other artists. He first beheld the actual sculptures with his own eyes during his trip to Italy in 1590-1591.
Goltzius was the greatest exponent of Dutch Mannerism, renowned in the Netherlands and elsewhere for his technical skill and virtuosity. He was one of the last great masters of copperplate engraving before this printing method took second place to the more flexible and personal etching technique in the seventeenth century. After being trained as a copperplate engraver, Goltzius worked for renowned publishers of prints in Antwerp before he founded his own publishing house in Haarlem in 1582.
Goltzius was in close contact with the most important Dutch artists and particularly with the chief art theorist of his day, Karel van Mander; he got also in touch with Bartholomeus Spranger, the influential court painter of the Holy Roman Emperor in Prague. Goltzius developed a copperplate technique suited to translate Spranger’s elegant, affected, and figure-oriented mannerism into the medium of printing. His graphic means consist in virtuoso, elaborately swelling and subsiding lines and flexible hatchings that emphasize the plasticity of forms and unfold a calligraphic quality of their own. Though Goltzius gave up Spranger’s style after only a few years, his pupil Jan Harmensz. Muller continued to work in this elegant mannerist mode. Goltzius, who always experimented with new techniques and forms like with the chiaroscuro woodcut, came to prefer a calmer and clearer language of forms informed by Antiquity and the Italian Renaissance under the influence of a tour through Italy in 1590 and 1591. Around 1600, he entrusted his stepson Jacob Matham with the management of his publishing house, gave up his work as a printmaker, and committed himself to painting until his death.
Goltzius, Hendrik, and Walter L. Strauss. Hendrik Goltzius, 1558-1617: The Complete Engravings and Woodcuts. New York, 1977; no. 261.