Goltzius explores sculptural form

“Goltzius and the third dimension,” an exhibit on display at the Clark until Jan. 6, 2002, features the work of the late 16th-century Dutch printmaker and engraver Hendrick Goltzius.

Viewing the exhibit is like plunging into a different world, a world guided by a rich and deep sense of beauty that is alien to the modern eye. Goltzuis’s prints of nude male figures strike the viewer with sensual, aggressive masculinity, a dramatic sense of movement and gesture and a powerful expressiveness of facial features.

Scholarly examinations of Goltzius’s prints propose that the artist was familiar with the works of the Dutch sculptor Willem Danielsz van Tetrade, who visited Florentine and Roman sculpture workshops. The almost sculptural dimensional of Goltzius’s work, labeled as knollenstil (lumpy style), could be seen as a result of this influence.

Tetrade’s sculptures are exhibited along with Goltzius’s prints in order to show the similarities as well as to emphasize Goltzius’s amazing knowledge of human anatomy. The artist has paid attention to every muscle in the human body and outlined every curve in it clearly and distinctively, thus creating very sculptural, powerful figures.

The nude bodies are far from the modern ideal of perfection. They have protruding bellies, large buttocks and chubby legs. Yet these features combine with strong, lumpy muscular shapes that look almost palpable even on paper. The figures stand with legs spread apart and heads bent on one side as if they are about to walk; their arms are raised in an expression of struggle or triumph, and their faces show the pride and the tragic responsibility of the hero. The nude figure in Goltzius’s work is both godlike and real, a moving and living embodiment of power and assertive masculine beauty.

In the series The Roman Heroes, created in 1586 in honor of Emperor Rudolf II, Goldstiuz portrays Tiberius, Horatius and other Roman heroes in aggressive warrior positions that strongly resemble Tetrade’s sculptures of warriors.  The curves in their chests and backs and the emphasized lines of the muscles in their length make them look three-dimensional and almost tangible. The artist created more than one print of each hero, showing the body from a different angle, allowing the viewer to perceive the figures in all of their dimensionality.

Goldstiuz’s depictions of Hercules are also as impressive. The print, Hercules Pomarius, inspired by Tetrade’s sculpture with the same name, presents a male nude figure. The figure possesses strongly outlined, knobby, bulging muscles that seem tense with the anticipation of an upcoming struggle. The legs are spread far apart in an assertive, powerfully masculine posture, and the face of Hercules framed by his long, wavy hair expresses severe determination. The aggressiveness of the image is tempered by the sensuous curves of the body and the slightly protruding belly.

Hercules Farnese shows a rear view of a statue of the Greek hero, the large, muscular buttocks, which seem to be a recurring motif in Goltzius’s pieces, especially strongly delineated. The hand is twisted behind the back, creating a sumptuous curve that makes the back muscles stand out. In the lower left hand corner, two men are looking at the statue in awe. The print thus reveals two perspectives: a sculptor’s vision of the heroic figure of Hercules and the effect this vision has on the ordinary viewer.

The print Apollo presents the blend of the spiritual and the corporeal. The faintly sketched halo around the head of Apollo seems almost out of place when one views the curves of his stout, muscular body. At the same time, his raised eyes seem to peer into immortality, and the lifted arms make him appear angel-like, almost as if he was floating in space.Â

Goltzius has portrayed aesthetic dimensions of the human body that transcend the physical – a combination of heroic and human, a blend of aggression with sensuality, an encounter of the corporeal and the divine.

He has done so with virtuosity and with admiration for the ambivalence of ideas and emotions a human body can convey. While modern standards of beauty rely on “correct” proportions and aesthetically pleasing shapes, this artist of the 16th century has shown deeper dimensions of corporeal beauty – its ability to express a powerful character, and to provide a harbor for the spiritual in the realm of the corporeal.