Lawrence W. Nichols, ‘The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617: A Monograph and Catalogue Raisonne’

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Lawrence W. Nichols 2013, The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617: A Monograph and Catalogue Raisonne, Davaco Publishers, Doornspijk, 464 pp., with colour plates. ISBN 978-90-7028-828-1.

 

The resurrection of an artistic career can take years, decades, or even longer. An artist lost to history is an artist who therefore may as well have never existed. But what if that artist existed in a limbo, where purposeful acknowledgement and exhibition met with little to no published research? We take for granted the abundance of catalogues, monographs and spotlights cast upon the great and good of art history. In Dutch art history, this inevitably and invariably contains Rembrandt (he is a veritable magnet for art historians seeking to immerse themselves in that enigma), and maybe a handful of other ‘must haves.’ The spotlight has recently, and thankfully, turned to previously neglected artists, of which Hendrick Goltzius was one. Lawrence W. Nichols has exhaustively covered all the ground in Goltzius’ painting career in search of a complete awareness of Goltzius paintings. The result is a book that connoisseurs and collectors can treasure and consume with delight.

To save the reader the next unavoidable question, Goltzius lived and worked in the Netherlands at the dawn of the Golden Age. In a changing world, Goltzius’ own world was not untouched. Injured early in life in an accident that left his right arm severely burnt, Goltzius nevertheless persisted with an art career, establishing himself as an engraver of prints of prime importance and collectable value. His trajectory seemed clear, destiny beckoning him to leave behind an oeuvre consisting of high quality history engravings. But for reasons unknown, Goltzius, at age fourty-two, gave up engraving and took up painting. One reviewer has suggested that his ailing hand found a brush easier to manage and handle,[1] an assertion that is well-founded in documentary evidence of Goltzius’ sketchy history of intermittent illness.

The catalogue proceeds logically but by no means predictably, and with the last known catalogue of the works of Goltzius dating from 1916, there is much ground to cover. Goltzius is given reverent treatment, his life meticulously detailed by Nichols, who makes a strong chapter-long argument fleshing-out the conversion of Goltzius from burin to brush. What the book effectively gives us is a rounded, yet detailed, picture of Goltzius the man and the artist, without leaning too heavily on connoisseurship alone. Naturally, the bulk of the catalogue is dedicated to paintings seen in person by the author, and paintings known from descriptions. Prior to that, however, we are given with a thorough analysis of Goltzius’ life, motivations, and experiences, not omitting a contextualisation of his works in line with the events of his life. What emerges is a blend of narrative and detail, scooped lovingly in small ladlefuls of gorgeous text from Nichols. The narrative and catalogue entries could be aided by the addition of interpretations of pieces such as the marvellous Hercules and Cacus in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, which offer the opportunity for an investigation into what exactly, as Nadine M. Orenstein notes, caused a prominent citizen to have himself depicted fully nude as a mythological figure.[2] Some deeper insights into the links between Goltzius and Rubens, for example, could be added, but these points take away from the glorious detail of Goltzius and his work, provided by Nichols.

The full page, high-resolution colour plates prior to the text, and the well-distributed high-resolution figures following the text are both helpfully and thoughtfully arranged. The catalogue of accepted and rejected works proceeds more or less according to the standard layout for catalogue raisonnés of this type. What art-lovers of all persuasions – collectors, connoisseurs, curators, dealers and in this case, art historians – will find most appealing is the remarkable collection of documents from and relating to Goltzius’ life and beyond, from 1571 to 1855. Scraps of the artist’s life bring him to life, and provide a rich context to his oeuvre. Enticingly, catalogue raisonnés such as this are still finding gaping holes in the literature on these types of artists, and with the ever-changing terrain of attributions shifting with new technologies, they will continue to be required.

This book is essential for any reader hoping to gain an insight not only into Hendrick Goltzius, one of the greatest painters of the early Dutch Golden Age, but also for readers, students and historians hoping to make a valuable contribution to the historiography of this time, and the artists who participated in it. Catalogues such as these bring to life dormant elements of our culture that we take for granted, and for even the novice of art history, using this book as a guide to the discipline will cause no harm.

– David Taylor

 

[1]Christian Tico Seifert, Review of Lawrence W. Nichols 2013, The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617: A Monograph and Catalogue Raisonne, Davaco Publishers, Doornspijk, at http://arthist.net/reviews/6661, accessed 27 May 2014.

[2] Nadine M. Orenstein, Review of Lawrence W. Nichols 2013, The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius, 1558-1617: A Monograph and Catalogue Raisonne, Davaco Publishers, Doornspijk, at http://www.hnanews.org/hna/bookreview/current/nl_goltzius0114.html, accessed 27 May 2014.

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