From Rudolf II to Catherine II: Goltzius’ Without Bacchus and Ceres, Venus is Chilled and its Iconography
From Jack Allen on December 18th, 2020
Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617): Without Bacchus and Ceres, Venus is Chilled, c. 1604–6
This superb large drawing, executed in a manner that imitates the technique of engraving on copper, is in pen on a white prepared canvas that measures 219 х 163 cm. Goltzius began work on it soon after he was forced to give up engraving due to paralysis of his right hand. It was clearly intended as a monument to his unsurpassed skills as an engraver.
The first owner of this complex allegory, probably the person who commissioned it, was Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor. Later it belonged to Queen Christina of Sweden, Cardinal Mazarin and the Paris collector Pierre Crozat, and it was as part of the latter’s collection that the drawing was acquired by Catherine the Great for the Hermitage in 1772.
At the heart of the allegory is the union of three Olympian gods, but as Alexey Larionov will show, this drawing also reflects Rudolf’s vision of himself as a connoisseur, as Augustus/Bacchus, divine lover of Venus/Pictura and thus ruler of the empire of the arts.
Alexey Larionov has been curator of Early Netherlandish, Dutch and Flemish drawings at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg since 1985 and is a lecturer in the Department of Art History at the European University at St Petersburg. He has published numerous drawings from the Hermitage collection, including designs for stained glass, a large body of previously unidentified early Netherlandish drawings (shown at a major exhibition and covered in the scholarly catalogue From Gothic to Mannerism: Early Netherlandish Drawings in the State Hermitage Museum, 2010), and unknown drawings by Lucas Cranach (Master Drawings, 2018). Most recently he was joint curator of the large exhibition Jacob Jordaens. Paintings and Drawings in Russian Collections, shown at the Hermitage and at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow in 2019.