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.