The Circumcision, from Meisterstiche
47.7 cm x 35.5 cm (18 3/4 in. x 14 in.)
(Mülbracht, Germany, 1558 - 1617, Haarlem, The Netherlands)
Medium and Support:
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Leo Steinberg Collection, 2002
The great Dutch Mannerist engraver Hendrick Goltzius was one of the most historically aware engravers of the sixteenth century. At the apex of his printmaking career, he conceived a series of six, large-format engravings in the manner of different early masters of the technique. The Circumcision is his audacious homage to Dürer. While the crowded figure group and open architectural setting refers most closely to Dürer’s Circumcision from the Life of the Virgin, the variety of texture and brilliant light effects attempt to match mature engravings such as the Saint Jerome in His Study.
According to Goltzius’s contemporary, Karel van Mander, the artist removed his monogram from several impressions. Thus disguised, the impressions were sent off to Venice, Rome, and Amsterdam, where they were prized by connoisseurs as a previously unknown masterpiece by Dürer. When Goltzius admitted that he was the artist, it was conceded the younger artist had surpassed his predecessor. Despite its apocryphal nature, the anecdote reveals Dürer’s enduring position as figure against whom subsequent generations of printmakers would inevitably be compared.