GOLTZIUS, Hendrick
(b. 1558, Mühlbrecht, d. 1617, Haarlem)

Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus would Freeze

Ink and oil on canvas, 105 x 80 cm
Museum of Art, Philadelphia

The Goltzius drawings that his contemporaries admired above all were his highly finished pen and inks drawings that simulate the swelling and tapering lines of engravings - they were called 'penwerken' (pen works). Dazzling examples of these virtuoso performances depicting Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus would Freeze are at the British Museum, London, and the Hermitage, St. Petersburg). They illustrate the popular adage that without food (Ceres, the Roman god of agriculture) and wine (Bacchus), love (Venus) is left cold. Venus's need for the assistance of food and drink for invigoration was one of Goltzius's favourite themes, he represented the subject in various ways and media at least ten times. His most stunning illustration of the proverb is now at Philadelphia.

Drawn with elaborate pen lines in ink that give the effect of an engraving, half-nude Venus is seen close-up accompanied by an adoring young satyr bearing fruit and a smiling old one with his hands full of luscious grapes, obvious representatives of Ceres and Bacchus. Handsome Cupid who turns sympathetically to us, holds a large flaming torch that warms as well as illuminates the figures. Unlike most of Goltzius's penworks which are done on paper or parchment, this one is on canvas with a grey-blue oil ground that is an integral part of the scene's nocturnal effect. Unique is the conspicuous addition of flesh tones in brush and oils that are literally and figuratively warmed by the vivid red, orange, and yellow flames of Cupid's torch, also done in oil paint. The mixed media makes the work hard to classify. Is it a pen work or a painting?

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