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Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn - The Three Crosses
Jonas Suyderhoef
Dutch, ca. 1610-1686
Hendrik Goltzius
Engraving and etching on paper
Purchased

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The history of this particular print is somewhat confusing. The engraver in this case was Jonas Suyderhoef and while his work was quite renowned, little of his life is known. We do know that he was born around 1610, and that he worked exclusively in Haarlem, becoming one of the city's most esteemed printmakers. It is believed that he received his training from, and ultimately surpassed, the Dutch painter and engraver Pieter Soutman. He collaborated with his master on a number of plates, later reproducing many of Soutman’s paintings, and making fine engravings as this portrait of Goltzius.

Suyderhoef may have based this portrait of the renowned Haarlem artist Hendrik Goltzius, who had died in 1617, on the artist’s unfinished self-portrait, but it is more likely he followed the posthumous 1617 interpretation of the original self-portrait by Jan Muller (Goltzius’ stepson). Suyderhoef’s version stands out, however, for its delicate touch and superior crosshatching technique seen in the face, the detail in the beard, and the elaborate emblematic border. These mannerist ornamental borders were common in commemorative portraits of important historical figures. The complex border allows for a demonstration of artistic skill and creativity while adding as well a descriptive ornamental element to the often quite sober portrait.

The border here reveals interesting information regarding Hendrik Goltzius. At the top center above the phoenix head—his coat of arms—we read Goltzius’ personal motto: eer boven golt, “honor above gold.” In addition to the usual angelic putti, the roman laurels, and the cornucopia that adorn the portrait, his personal emblem, a winged caduceus flanks his coat of arms at the top of the print. While the caduceus, the symbol of Mercury, has been interpreted as representing his own spiritual accomplishments, its alchemical significance should also be recognized. Various sources confirm Goltzius’s involvement with “the dark arts.” Moreover, in the array of typical artists’ tools that flank the portrait, we find the alchemist’s alembic (distillation beaker). Such interest in alchemy was not unusual for artists as its principles were used to extract pigments for painting. Finally, the mannerist base of the border with its chimerical grotesque creatures demonstrates a certain artistic playfulness; however, in contrast to the upper part of the border, it also reminds the viewer of the looming infernal threat.

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