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Stern über Bethlehem. Neutestamentliche Bilderzählungen bei Hendrick Goltzius und seinen Zeitgenossen

The virtuosic works of the engraver Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617) represent a highpoint in sixteenth-century Netherlandish printmaking. As a peintre-graveur, Goltzius elevated the copperplate to new heights as an independent artistic medium. His works fascinate viewers with their masterly linework. To achieve this, he deployed the taille – a line typical of copperplate engraving which begins extremely fine, becomes heavier and then trails off – as an accentuated compositional technique. He depicted volume by way of intricate hatching, lending his figures a striking, sculptural quality. His skill was also highly respected by artists of later generations, including Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669).

For a long time though, Hendrick Goltzius received little attention in art-historical research, being written off as a mere imitator of the styles of others. But the works he created were no copies, but rather independent compositions which consciously referenced the characteristics of well-known artists. In doing so, he put the knowledge of his audience to the test. The art of his students was also often positioned on the margins between reproductions and original graphic works.

460 years after his birth, the Kupferstichkabinett is dedicating an exhibition to the artist from Haarlem and the students who issued from his workshop, held in the cabinet itself and in the Gemäldgalerie. Four large-format sheets from 1593/94 featuring scenes from the life of the Virgin – considered Goltzius’s Meisterstiche (master prints) – form the focus of the display: the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Magi, and The Holy Family with the Infant John the Baptist. Gathered around them are works by his students Jakob Matham (1571–1631), Jan Saenredam (1565–1607) and Jan Muller (1571–1628), depicting scenes related to the Nativity.

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