Hendrick Goltzius  

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The Dragon Slaying the Companions of Cadmus (1588) by Hendrik Goltzius, after a painting by Cornelis van Haarlem
The Dragon Slaying the Companions of Cadmus (1588) by Hendrik Goltzius, after a painting by Cornelis van Haarlem

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Hendrik Goltzius (1558 - January 1, 1617), Dutch printmaker, draftsman, and painter, was born at Millebrecht, in the duchy of Julich. He was a leading engraver of the early Baroque and Northern Mannerism, noted for the grotesqueness and extravagance of his homoerotic prints as the Farnese Hercules, The Dragon Slaying the Companions of Cadmus and the The Four Disgracers, all showing a remarkably pronounced musculature.

Personal history

Goltzius was born near Venlo in Bracht or Millebrecht, a village then in the Duchy of Julich, now in the municipality Brüggen in North Rhine-Westphalia. His family moved to Duisburg when he was 3 years old. After studying painting on glass for some years under his father, he learned engraving from the Dutch polymath Dirck Volkertszoon Coornhert, who then lived in Cleves. In 1577 he moved with Coornhert to Haarlem. In the same town, he was also employed by Philip Galle to engrave a set of prints of the history of Lucretia.

Goltzius had a malformed right hand from a fire when he was a baby (of which he made a drawing), which turned out to be especially well-suited to holding the burin.

At the age of 21 he married a widow somewhat advanced in years, whose money enabled him to establish at Haarlem an independent business; but his unpleasant relations with her so affected his health that he found it advisable in 1590 to make the Grand Tour through Germany to Italy, where he acquired an intense admiration for the works of Michelangelo, which led him to emulate that master in the grotesqueness and extravagance of his designs. He returned to Haarlem in August 1591, considerably improved in health, and laboured there at his art till his death.

His portraits, though mostly miniatures, are masterpieces of their kind, both on account of their exquisite finish, and as fine studies of individual character. Of his larger heads, the life-size portrait of himself is probably the most striking example. His masterpieces, so called from their being attempts to imitate the style of the old masters, have perhaps been overpraised.

Goltzius brought to an unprecedented level the use of the "swelling line", where the burin is manipulated to make lines thicker or thinner to create a tonal effect from a distance. He also was a pioneer of "dot and lozenge" technique, where dots are placed in the middle of lozenge shaped spaces created by cross-hatching to further refine tonal shading.

In his command of the burin Goltzius is said to rival that of Dürer's. He made engravings of Bartholomeus Spranger's paintings, thus increasing the fame of the latter - and his own. Goltzius began painting at the age of forty-two; some of his paintings can be found in Vienna. He also executed a few chiaroscuro woodcuts. He was the stepfather of engraver Jacob Matham.

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