26. Hendrick Goltzius

Mulbracht 1558 – 1617 Haarlem

Portrait of Frederik de Vries, 1597

This print owes its existence to an unusual circumstance; as well as a masterpiece it is also a unique document, a token of friendship. While en route to Rome during his trip to Italy in 1590-91, Hendrick Goltzius visited the Netherlandish artist Dirck de Vries, who was living and working in Venice. Almost a year later, on his journey home to Haarlem, he visited him again. De Vries asked Goltzius to take his two sons, Frederik and Pieter Antonij, back with him to the Low Countries and to take care of them. In Venice, Goltzius made small portrait drawings of Frederik, who was then still a toddler.1 Seven years later, he created this impressive engraving which, according to the inscription, was to show his friend in faraway Italy what his son looked like at that time.

However, the print is more than just a likeness of a boy. The large dog plays an important role here as well: he fulfils an emblematic function. In Karel van Mander’s Wtbeeldinge der Figuren, the dog stands for watchfulness and fidelity. According to the inscription by Petrus Scriverius, it was this that the boy – who with his dove symbolizes simplicity – was seeking and would hold dear.2 But Van Mander also emphasizes: ‘The dog represents the honest teacher, who has to bark incessantly and keep watch over mankind.’3 As the young Frederik’s tutor and mentor, Goltzius had charged himself with the task of watching over his spiritual and physical well-being. Following this interpretation, we might say that Goltzius has portrayed himself here in the guise of his own dog (see cat. 25).

The way textures are conveyed in this print is incredibly refined. Goltzius adapted his engraving technique in accordance with the material he was depicting.4 This is why the fabric of Frederik’s coat gleams, the bark of the tree looks rough and the dog’s long-haired coat is almost tangible. The image is very appealing and creates a yearning for the same fantasy as the boy’s – to go ‘hawking like a knight on horseback’.5 Above all, the portrait of a child at play who looks happily at the viewer was refreshing in the rigid tradition of portraying children formally in the art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


1Hans Buijs and Ger Luijten (eds.), Goltzius to Van Gogh: Drawings and Paintings from the P.&N. de Boer Foundation, exh. cat. Paris (Fondation Custodia) 2014-2015, no. 50.

2Exh. cat. Amsterdam/New York/Toledo 2003-04, p. 165.

3‘De Hondt beteyckent den rechten Leeraer, die onbeschroemt moet ghestadich bassen, de wacht houden over ’s Menschen’. Karel van Mander, Wtbeeldinge der figuren, in Van Mander, Schilder-boeck, 1604, fol. 128v.-131v.

4Luijten 1993, p. 234.

5Exh. cat. Amsterdam/New York/Toledo 2003-04, p. 165.