The classical story depicted here from book
five of Ovid’ s Metamorphoses illustrates
a scene from the myth of the Earth goddess Ceres whose daughter Persephone
was abducted by Pluto to become his queen in the underworld. When Ceres
learned that Persephone was missing, she searched everywhere for traces
of her daughter. As she wandered the earth, she came to a small cottage
and asked for a drink of water. An old woman appeared at the doorway,
offering the goddess a sweet brew garnished with toasted barley. Ceres
drank readily, and when a little boy appeared and saw a strange
woman at the cottage door, he mocked her for drinking so greedily.
Incensed at this insult, the goddess tossed her drink at the boy,
turning him into a lizard.
This engraving, created when Goudt was living in
Rome, was dedicated to the Cardinale Scipione Borghese, an avid collector
of Northern European artists. It is evident that it became quite popular
in its time since many copies were made and it is documented in the
collections of major contemporary artists like Rubens and Gerard Dou.
Like Van de Velde, Goudt used tenebrism (a strong contrast of
light and dark created by centralized sources of light) to establish
a mysterious atmosphere. This was the second of only seven prints engraved
by Hendrik Goudt. All of Goudt’s prints were copies after paintings
by the German artist Adam Elsheimer with whom he lived in Rome. Since
the story of The
Mocking of Ceres was never specifically defined as a night scene,
the choice to turn it into one created a way for Elsheimer, who must
have been influenced by Caravaggio, to implement tenebristic effects
to make the scene more ominous and mysterious. The encroaching vines
that envelop the torch-lit scene make it very intimate if not almost
claustrophobic. Nature’s, and thus Ceres; power seems further
emphasized by the diagonal composition in the central portion of the
print, defined by a line from the broken branch looming over Ceres
to the boy’s tilted head.