Eugen(?) Ullrich, Prinzregentenplatz 23Il, Munich (according to information provided by Nichols, see Literature);
Barnes Collection, Ipswich, Suffolk;
Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby's, 4 April 1984, lot 241, (as Circle of Hendrik Goltzius) for £400;
Anonymous sale, Paris, Nouveau Drouot, 14 October 1984, lot 20 (as attributed to Hendrik Goltzius);
With Lodewijck Houthakker, Amsterdam;
With Harari & Johns Ltd., London, October 1986;
By whom offered, London, Christie's, 8 December 1989, lot 42;
With Harari & Johns Ltd., London;
From whom purchased by Bernard Solomon, Los Angeles, in 1994;
Victoria Solomon Trust.
L. Nichols, The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), Doctorial Dissertation, Columbia University, New York 1990, cat. A-36, p. 213 and pp. 84, 99, 112;
L. Nichols, 'The Pen Works of Hendrick Goltzius' in Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 88, 1991-92, p. 49 no. 86;
L. Nichols in Dutch Classicism in Seventeenth-Century Painting, by A. Blankert et al., Rotterdam 1999, no. 2, p. 70 and p. 71, note 6;
To be included in L. Nichols' forthcoming monograph on the paintings of Hendrick Goltzius, as A-42.
In the year 1600, Hendrick Goltzius abandoned printmaking to begin a new career as a painter.1 As Larry Nichols has shown, the reasons behind Goltzius's decision were complex. He was motivated both by the prevailing art theory - a belief that painting was the most important of all the arts and therefore the most worthy to practice - as well as personal factors - a desire to work in colour. It is likely that Venus and Adonis is his first extant painting.2
The subject derives from Ovid's Metamorphoses, chapter X, verses 529-59. Goltzius used the poem as an inspiration for many compositions throughout his career, including an entire series of 52 engravings that he designed in the late 1580s. Venus and Adonis is, however, quite different from these earlier compositions. The figures themselves reflect the impact of Italian art, which had an increasingly strong influence on Goltzius, following his return from Italy in 1591. Gone are the contorted poses and elongated proportions of Haarlem mannerism, and in their place is a new classicism. Venus and Adonis, while still elegant, are stronger and sturdier figures than their predecessors. Even Cupid is transformed from a chubby, playful infant to a more subdued older child.
Venus and Adonis is Goltzius's only painting for which there is a fully realized compositional drawing. Perhaps because it was one of his first paintings, he felt the need for establishing all the elements of the composition in a more familiar medium before he began painting. Unfortunately only a fragment of the drawing was known in modern times, and it has subsequently disappeared. However, a photograph preserved in the Kunsthistorisch Instituut, Amsterdam, shows how closely it relates to the painting (see fig. 1). All the major elements of the lower half of the composition are indicated, apart from Adonis's weapons and horn. It seems at first that the dogs at the left are missing, but Goltzius has indicated their poisition with a few bold lines.
While Goltzius's greater classicism can be seen as part of a larger movement in the Netherlands in the early seventeenth century,3 his turning toward colour is a much more personal choice. Over the course of the first part of his career, Goltzius used coloured chalks and washes in his drawings and in his pen paintings. His engravings were, of course, black and white, but in the mid-1580s he introduced colour into his prints and his chiaroscuro woodcuts. However, drawings and prints used only a narrow range of colors, while oil paint allowed him to exploit the full spectrum. In Venus and Adonis Goltzius rejoices in the freedom of the medium. He paints the background in relatively broad strokes, while treating the figures quite differently. In the latter he uses a much finer stroke, blending the transitions so that the flesh appears soft and pliable, quite different from the wildly muscled figures of the late 1580s.
1 See L. Nichols 1990, Op. cit., p. 80 and passim.
2 Ibid., p. 83.
3 Ibid., p. 80 and passim.
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