17. Cornelis Cort (after Frans Floris)

Hoorn 1533 – 1578 Rome

Pastoral Goddesses and Nymphs, 1564

The Pastoral Goddesses and Nymphs print series is the fruit of an exceptional collaboration between two talented sixteenth-century artists: the printmaker Cornelis Cort of Hoorn and the Antwerp painter Frans Floris (1519/20-1570). The two were brought together around 1560 by Hieronymus Cock (1518-1570), the Antwerp publisher with whom Floris had a long-lasting business relationship.1 Between them they produced some of the most innovative prints to appear in Antwerp at the time, including this eight-part suite of goddesses and nymphs, with accompanying quotations from the writings of Ovid and Virgil. It was above all the way in which Floris designed the various personifications, inspired by classical sculptures and accompanied by their figures’ attributes, that had a lasting influence on subsequent generations of European printmakers.2

One of the most spectacular prints in the series is that of the nymph Daphne, a character from the first book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. She is imploring the river god Peneus to save her from Apollo, who has become a slave to his passion after being struck by an arrow fired by Eros. Her pleas are heard, and she is turned into a laurel tree just as Apollo is on the point of seizing her. Floris depicted the moment when her body is beginning to change. The first leaves are sprouting from her head, and her fingers have already been transformed into branches. Like the other goddesses and nymphs in the suite, the elegant figure of Daphne seems to be based on the studies of classical statues that Floris made in Rome around 1541/42.3 In addition, the complex poses, the twisted bodies and the muscular shoulders recall Michelangelo’s figures in the Sistine Chapel, which Floris also studied during his time in the Eternal City.4

As far as is known, Floris’s drawn designs that were Cort’s models have not survived. He probably worked them up with the brush, washes and white heightening, as he did with the design for Touch in the print series of The Five Senses that was published in 1561.5 Cort was second to none in his ability to transfer this painterly manner of drawing to the copperplate. In this print series he depicted the scenes with swelling lines positioned beside each other at different intervals with extreme precision. In this way he translated into print the graceful handling of line, the modelling of the figures and the effect of light and shade that are so typical of Floris’s work.

In contrast to the highly detailed, linear print designs by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1526/30-1569) and Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574), Floris’s drawings gave the printmaker the freedom to make his own artistic embellishments. For example, Cort added a few details of his own to the drawn Budapest design mentioned above while tracing its contours onto the copperplate with a stylus.6 Cort may also be the author of the small landscapes in the background of these prints of goddesses and nymphs. As far as is known, Floris delegated the execution of the landscapes in his paintings to his assistants.7 Cort, who was a very accomplished landscape draughtsman, was probably given a free hand here too. MR

1Edward H. Wouk, Frans Floris (The New Hollstein Dutch and Flemish Etchings Engravings and Woodcuts, 1450-1700), 2 vols., Ouderkerk aan den IJssel 2011, vol. 1, pp. lviii.

2Ibid., vol. 1, pp. lviii.

3A dismembered album containing drawings after antique sculptures, some of them done by Floris, is in Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, Kupferstichkabinett, Amerbach-Kabinett, inv. nos. U.IV.6 – U.IV. 29 (pen and brown ink, with brown wash; approx. 210 × 300 mm); see Carl van de Velde, Frans Floris (1519/20-1570). Leven en werken, 2 vols., Brussels 1975, vol. 1, pp. 92, 335-364, nos. 1-25, 28, vol. 2, figs. 106-121, 127; and http://sammlungonline.kunstmuseumbasel.ch/eMuseumPlus.

4Carl van de Velde also compares the cycle with etchings by Léon Davent after designs by Primaticcio; see ibid., vol. 1, pp. 82-83.

5Budapest, Szépművészeti Múzeum, inv. no. 1333 (brush and greyish-brown ink, heightened with white gouache, on blue paper; contours incised with a stylus; 204 × 268 mm); see ibid., vol. 1, pp. 378-379, no. 46, vol. 2, fig. 145; and http://www.szepmuveszeti.hu/collection_browser_eng.

6Edward H. Wouk in Joris van Grieken, Ger Luijten and Jan van der Stock (eds.), Hieronymus Cock. The Renaissance in Print, exh. cat., Leuven (M – Museum Leuven) and Paris (Fondation Custodia) 2013, pp. 172-173, cat. no. 39.

7Karel van Mander mentioned that Hendrick van Cleve (c. 1525-1590/95), an assistant of Floris, often painted the ‘achteruyten’ (backgrounds) in his paintings; see Hessel Miedema (ed.), Karel van Mander. The Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters, from the First Edition of the Schilder-boeck (1603-04), 6 vols., Doornspijk 1994-1999, vol. 1, p. 181; and Wouk 2011, op. cit. (note 1), p. lix. On this subject see also Edward H. Wouk, ‘Standing before Rome. Frans Floris’s Liberal Arts with Apollo, Minerva and Industry (1550-1551)’, Archives et Bibliothèques de Belgique, special no. 89 (2010), pp. 129-159.