An image of Mars and Venus

Hendrick Goltzius

(Netherlands 1558 – 1617)

after Bartholomaeus Spranger

(Netherlands 1546 – 1611)

Mars and Venus

Not on display
Further information

Goltzius was the central figure in printmaking in the Netherlands at the close of the 16th century. He was based in Haarlem where he established an academy in 1583. During this decade he developed a distinctive and dazzling style of curvilinear engraving based on perfectly even lines that swell in the centre and taper away at the ends, or fade into stippling. His prints are characterised by dense networks of intersecting curves, which create an optical moiré effect and emphasize the evocation of volume and three dimensional form.

Goltzius’s virtuosity is particularly evident in his prints reproducing the drawings of Bartholomeus Spranger, an artist who worked in the hyperelegant style of late Mannerism. Spranger hailed from Antwerp but had travelled over much of Europe before becoming court painter to Rudolph II of Prague. Spranger’s drawings (many now lost) were transmitted to Goltzius by the painter and theorist Carel van Mander in the early 1580s.

‘Mars and Venus’ exemplifies Spranger’s courtly, artificial, style and Goltzius’ technically brilliant means of translating it graphically. Putti have pulled away the bed curtain to reveal Mars, the god of war, unarmed and caught off balance in his embrace of the goddess of love. In the background, Helios is guiding the chariot of the sun above a seascape. As one who reveals all things done on earth, Helios will subsequently tell Venus’s husband, Vulcan, of his wife’s infidelity.

The frontal nudity of Mars and Venus and the coiled energy of their entwined bodies is intensified by Goltzius’ highly detailed definition of body forms which take on the appearance of a highly finished sculpture. These brilliant surfaces enhance the remarkable sexual energy of the image and accentuate Spranger’s self-conscious artificiality of style.

44.2 x 32.7 cm sheet trimmed inside platemark)
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Purchased 2011
Accession number
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