Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617)

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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.

Goltzius created some of the most spectacular pieces in the history of prints.


Cited Works of Art or Images (5)

  • Hendrick Goltzius: Farnese Hercules, back view
  • Hendrick Goltzius: Farnese Hercules, back view
  • Hendrick Goltzius: Goltzius's Right Hand
  • Hendrick Goltzius: Pietro Francavilla
  • Hendrick Goltzius: Danaë


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[3-5, and 65]). Goltzius’s 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's 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). 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's 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).

Nadine Orenstein
Department of Drawings and Prints, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Farnese Hercules (back view), 1591
Hendrick Goltzius (Netherlandish, 1558–1617)
Black and white chalk on blue paper; contours indented for transfer; 14 1/8 x 8 1/4 in. (36 x 21 cm)
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

This sheet is one of many copies of antique sculpture that Goltzius drew while in Rome, most likely in preparation for a series of engravings. His method appears to have been to first make drawings in black chalk on blue paper, like this one, and then even more finished renderings in red chalk on white paper. Goltzius chose to depict the statue against the light, and to make lavish use of white highlights. As the start for the more detailed drawing in red chalk, he indented the outlines of this sheet.

Farnese Hercules (back view), 1591
Hendrick Goltzius (Netherlandish, 1558–1617)
Red chalk; contours indented for transfer; 15 1/4 x 8 3/8 in. (39 x 21.5 cm)
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Unearthed in the 1540s, the ancient statue referred to as the Farnese Hercules shows the mythological hero leaning against his club. At the time, it stood in the courtyard of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Compared to Goltzius's first version on blue paper, the figure is more tautly drawn and the lines more calculated. With the concentric hatching on the buttock itself, Goltzius seems to have been anticipating the engraving (17.37.59) that he produced upon his return to Haarlem.

Goltzius's Right Hand, 1588
Hendrick Goltzius (Netherlandish, 1558–1617)
Pen and brown ink; 9 x 12 5/8 in. (23 x 32.2 cm)
Teylers Museum, Haarlem

When Goltzius was about a year old, he fell into a fire and burned both his hands on the red-hot coals. As a result, he was never able to fully open his right hand, a trait that became one of the artist's most recognizable features. The anatomical abnormalities displayed in this drawing of a hand are not mannerisms but very accurately rendered deformities caused by burns. With its prominent signature, the sheet can be considered in a way a "self-portrait." The discrepancy between the mutilated hand and the technical perfection with which it was drawn by that same hand makes this sheet one of his most intriguing pen works. Goltzius seems to have made several versions of this image; this sheet appears to have been owned by his great patron, Emperor Rudolf II.

Pietro Francavilla, 1591
Hendrick Goltzius (Netherlandish, 1558–1617)
Black and red chalk, smudged with a stump, heightened with white chalk, brush and gray and brown ink; 16 1/4 x 12 1/8 in. (41.5 x 30.8 cm)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Flemish sculptor Pietro Francavilla (or Pierre Francheville) came from Cambrai (now in northern France). He settled in Florence in the early 1570s and became the right-hand man of the greatest Italian sculptor of his age, Giambologna. Goltzius probably portrayed Pietro while in Rome in the autumn of 1591, shortly before he returned to Haarlem. A later hand added a false monogram and the date 1606.

Danaë, 1603
Hendrick Goltzius (Netherlandish, 1558–1617)
Oil on canvas; 68 1/8 x 78 3/4 in. (173.3 x 200 cm)
Gift of the Ahmanson Foundation
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Danaë is one of the supreme achievements of Goltzius’s career as a painter and he no doubt painted it to proclaim his extraordinary skills with oils. Goltzius looked back to Venus types from sixteenth-century Venetian paintings, particularly those of Titian and Veronese.

In this scene from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Danaë reclines on her bed in all her splendor. She has been sequestered in a tower by her father and is visited in a shower of gold by Jupiter, in the guise of an eagle in the upper left. Goltzius's friend and biographer van Mander associated the theme of Jupiter’s conquest of Danaë with the power of money, which is evoked here not only in the shower of gold but also the money box, coins, and precious metalwork in the foreground, and the money bag held aloft by one of the amoretti hovering on the left.