It is SO hard to pick a single favorite work of art. I will go through phases of style or medium and pick a new favorite every few months. But still, I think I might have found one of my all-time favorites at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The piece is titled Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus Would Freeze, completed in 1603 by Dutch artist Hendrick Goltzius. It is ink and oil paint on canvas, making a kind of printmaking and painting hybrid.
What drew me to this piece in the first place was the fact that it was so different from anything I had ever seen before. When I looked at the date, I could not believe it was from the beginning of the 1600’s! The colors are gorgeous. The entire painting is soaked in a soothing slate blue midtone, and highlights are caused from a single light source that illuminates the figures in a warm, yellow glow. The indication of shadow and the creation of darker tones is where the printmaking aspect is seen. Goltzius does not use a darker shade of the blue, he uses crosshatching techniques to create the illusion of shades. Looking at a picture of this painting does not do it justice. You cannot fully appreciate the beauty in the colors and the perfection in the line work without seeing it in person.
The narrative and message behind this piece is quite beautiful as well. Cupid’s torch awakens Venus, goddess of love, from a deep slumber. Upon her awakening, two satyrs offer her fruits of the harvest. The title of the piece truly means, “without food and wine, love cannot flourish, ” an ancient Roman theme that was well-known in Holland at the time.
The piece had found its way into many different royal collections over the course of about 150 years including those of the Holy Roman Emperor, Queen Christina of Sweden, and Charles II of England.