Bellona Leading the Imperial Armies against the Turks
Bartsch 075; New Hollstein 75 II/III
Platemark: 70.7 x 57 cm (27 13/16 x 22 7/16 in.) Sheet: 77.3 x 53.1 cm (30 7/16 x 20 7/8 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
Engraved on two plates and printed on two sheets
Jan Muller represented the third generation of a family actively engaged in the production and sale of books and prints. He would have learned to engrave as a young boy, but he may have been sent to work for Hendrick Goltzius, the leading engraver of the time, in order to perfect his craft. In 1589, Goltzius published a set of eight prints designed by Goltzius and engraved by the young Muller. After this date, most of Muller’s prints were published by his father, and he never again worked after Goltzius’s designs. Muller’s output, some 90 engravings, was less prolific than that of his peers. He made 22 engravings based on his own designs, but he shown most brightly as an interpreter of the works of others. He engraved after designs by artists ranging from Lucas van Leyden to Peter Paul Rubens. His greatest achievements were his productions based on designs by artists working for Rudolph II in Prague, including the court’s leading painter Bartholomeus Spranger. Even among these, the swaggering “Bellona” stands out.
“Bellona” was the Roman goddess of war. Spranger showed her blowing her trumpet to rally troops also led by Mercury bearing the Imperial standard. In 1600, the Turks posed a serious threat to the eastern reaches of the Holy Roman Empire. “Bellona” is dedicated to Archduke Matthias, the governor of Austria since 1593. Matthias recognized both peril and opportunity in the Turkish advances. He pushed for unity among Hungary, Austria, and Moravia in opposition to the Turks, and a few years later snatched these territories for himself. With the death of Rudolph II, Matthias became Emperor.
Muller used two large copper plates to accommodate his ambitious rendering of Spranger’s design. The large scale and aggressive image allowed him to supercharge the systematic crosshatching techniques perfected by Goltzius. Muller engraved lines that swelled and tapered to unprecedented degree. Moiré patterns, shimmering surfaces, and massive forms run riot through the image. Even areas of empty sky dazzle the eye.
1600 was the year that Goltzius laid down his burin and took up the brush to step up a rung in the hierarchy of the arts. We do not know if Muller was aware of this, but “Bellona” seems to announce his ascendancy in the art of engraving just as much as it trumpets Imperial power. At the very least, Muller would have been aware that his creation was targeted to the most rarified audience. The most important source of information on artists working in the Netherlands during the late 16th century is Karel van Mander’s “Schilderboek” published in 1604 and republished in a revised posthumous edition in 1624. Van Mander noted in passing the “excellent copper engraver Ioan Muller in Amsterdam.” Why did Van Mander give him short shrift? Perhaps it was because Muller’s apparent rivalry with Van Mander’s ally Hendrick Goltzius.
Sold Reiss & Sohn (Königstein im Taunus, Germany), 21 November 2003, lot 109, 20,000 Euros hammer; Lutz Riester (Freiburg, Germany); from whom purchased by MFA, 21 June 2006.
Katherine E. Bullard Fund in memory of Francis Bullard