Sensual Allegories of the Baroque Artist Hendrick Goltzius
11 min

Sensual Allegories of the Dutch Baroque Artist Hendrick Goltzius

11 min

Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) was a notable representative of baroque art combining masterful techniques with sophisticated yet sensual content. During his lifetime, Goltzius produced over 300 engravings and over 400 drawings obtained by collectors all over Europe.

Hendrick Goltzius self portrait

Fig. 1. Self-Portrait, 1593 (

the dragon who devours the companions of Cadmus

Fig. 2. Stunning brutal print depicting the dragon who devours the companions of Cadmus [from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses‘ (III: 1-151)],

Hendrick Goltzius Antiope and Jupiter disguised as a satyr

Fig. 3. Antiope and Jupiter disguised as a satyr, 1612 ( Jupiter looks at Antiope’s genitalia, at the same time our attention is drawn to Antiope’s breasts as a satyr-kid holds a nipple.

Hendrick Goltzius painting baroque

Fig. 4. Another painting on the plot of fig. 2. (1616), The accent now is put on Antiope’s breast only, representating both female sexuality and motherhood.

The Last Professional Engraver

Hedrick Goltz (later his name was latinized as Goltzius), defined by art historians as the last professional engraver, was born in Brüggen into an artistic family. As his grandfather was a painter, his granduncle was a sculptor, and his father was a glass-painter, it comes as no surprise that the son followed in their footsteps. The remarkable detail of Goltzius’s biography is the accident that happened to him as an infant. Being one year old, the future artist fell in hot coals. The fall resulted in paralysis and deformity of his right hand, which later the artist himself depicted (fig. 5). One would think such a misfortune must make impossible any career in fine arts, but this was not the case. Whether because of extraordinary luck and perseverance or because of the family background, Goltzius showed an outstanding talent for drawing and, at the age of 17, became an apprentice of the engraver Dirck Volkertszoon Coornhert, a Dutch refugee. Working on transposing different paintings and drawings into engravings, Goltzius learned to imitate various art styles.

Hendrick Goltzius artist

Fig. 5. Goltzius’s right hand, 1588 (

Married by Satan

To solve his financial problems, 21-year-old Hendrick married a wealthy widow and adopted her son Jacob Matham, who later became an engraver and produced many pieces after his stepfather. This mésalliance allowed the artist to buy a house and open his own engraving workshop. Nevertheless, he sustained the marriage for ten years and then fled to Italy. It seems that his matrimonial situation got its’ clear manifestation in the series “Three Kinds of Marriages,” where the money marriage is officiated by Satan (fig. 7). Considering Goltzius’s tendency to emphasize sensuality in paintings and engravings, it seems that he was personally attracted to marriages of the first kind (fig. 6). In Italy, Goltzius traveled incognito and tried to find out what people thought about his work. After a year of traveling, the artist returned to the Dutch city Haarlem, where he initially moved to in the 1570s, and stayed there until his death of tuberculosis in 1617.

Hendrick Goltzius Three Kinds of Marriages

Fig. 6. “Three Kinds of Marriages” (c. 1595), the first marriage is officiated by Cupid (Lust). The lust is represented by two men and two women in the background at right. The Latin inscription reads as “the marriage caused by lust doesn’t last long” (

Hendrick Goltzius Dutch artist

Fig. 7. The second kind of marriages, caused by wealth and officiated by Satan, with a man at the stuffed table in the background (

Hendrick Goltzius engraver

Fig. 8. The third kind of marriages, officiated by God ( Here we see a woman dressed in semi-transparent cloth (which would be more expected in fig. 5) with a palm branch symbolizing her chastity. The wife is crowning her husband in the background, the reference to the biblical statement that the chaste wife is a crown of her husband.

Eer Boven Golt

Ironically enough, Goltzius had chosen the words “Eer Boven Golt” (“honor is above gold”) as his motto in the 1600s, when he gained prominence, and his works were sought after. Another translation of this slogan is “the honor is on Golt[z].”

Hendrick Goltzius Jupiter and Juno

Fig. 9. “The Three Kingdoms of the World”, c. 1594. Jupiter and Juno reclining on the clouds (

Hendrick Goltzius Neptune and Amphitrite

Fig. 10. “The Three Kingdoms of the World”, Neptune and Amphitrite (

Hendrick Goltzius Pluto and Proserpine

Fig. 11. “The Three Kingdoms of the World,” Pluto and Proserpine (

Hendrick Goltzius Heracles and Deianira

Fig. 12. Heracles and Deianira, 1590 (

Mars and Venus with Cupid trying to wear a helmet

Fig. 13. Mars and Venus with Cupid trying to wear a helmet, 1590 (

Apollo and Coronis

Fig. 14. Apollo and Coronis (a Thessalian princess,gave birth to the god of medicine Asclepius), 1590 (

Jupiter and Europe

Fig. 15. Jupiter and Europe, c. 1590 (

Nymphs of Diana/Artemis

Fig. 16. Nymphs of Diana/Artemis, 1616 (

Hendrick Goltzius Nymphs of Diana

Fig. 17. Nymphs of Diana, 1616 (

Everything as a Woman

The motif that catches our attention when we look at the oeuvres by Goltzius is the persistent presence of a naked or covered in transparent clothes female body. The most unexpected figures represented by females are angels of the Old and New Testament (fig. 18, 19). To look at their obviously female appearance with see-through clothes and breasts is a pretty remarkable experience considering the paternalistic nature of the Bible. Another striking feature is the usage of traditional pagan images in a biblical context. Thus, Goltzius depicted the third day of creation, when God created the sea and the land, with the widespread personification of the water and the ground as a pair of female and male characters, implying a certain degree of eroticism (fig. 21).

Hendrick Goltzius The Last Judgment

Fig. 18. The Last Judgment, c. 1577, Christ sits in glory above; below an angel raises her arms and segregates the good (at left) from the evil (at right),

Hendrick Goltzius The annunciation to Joseph

Fig. 19. The annunciation to Joseph. An angel surrounded by cherubs in a cloud at top, St Joseph sleeping on a bed at bottom, carpentry tools in the foreground; the print made after Goltzius (

Hendrick Goltzius The annunciation of Isaac's birth to Abraham

Fig. 20. The annunciation of Isaac’s birth to Abraham. Three angels at a table with Abraham at right, a servant coming through a door at left, a dog in the foreground, 1586 (

The third day of creation with the androgyne-looking god

Fig. 21. The third day of creation with the androgyne-looking god (

The Lost Art of Elegant Allegories

In our modern cultural environment, we all got used to porno-versions of famous books, movies, cartoons, fairytales, etc. Meanwhile, the baroque sensuality seems now to be far more elegant in its’ manifestations. Can you imagine erotic relations existing between Labor and Industry, Honor and Wealth, or even lesbian ones between Fortitude and

Patience? Can you suppose that five senses can be depicted as a series of graded erotic prints? This sophisticated sensuality, implying that, as Dante said, love moves the sun and other stars, is hardly possible in today’s cultural field. Sex became an instrument for sales a long time ago, but explicit sensuality was far more gracefully served to a customer and met not only his primary instincts but also (and it was way more significant) his aesthetic needs.

Hendrick Goltzius The Ways of Fortune

Fig. 22. “The Ways of Fortune, ” Labor (man) and Industry (woman), she holds a whip and a spur while he holds a flail; a spade, anvil and hammer lie on the ground. 1582 (

The Ways of Fortune Goltzius

Fig. 23. “The Ways of Fortune,” Honor (man) and Wealth (woman), Honour rests his hand on a laurel, crown and sceptre as she holds up a vessel containing coins and has an elaborate bracelet / collar around her wrist; 1582 (

Hendrick Goltzius United Virtues

Fig. 24. “United Virtues,” Fortitude and Patience, the naked personification of Fortitude holding a column embraces the personification of Patience holding a press (

Hendrick Goltzius Five Senses

Fig. 25. “Five Senses,” Hearing, the additional symbol is a deer (

Five Senses Hendrick Goltzius

Fig. 26. “Five Senses,” Smell, the additional symbol is a dog; text reads: “Although a flower-filled garden is pleasing to the nose, bitterness is often hidden beneath the sweet fragrance.” (

Hendrick Goltzius Five Senses,” Sight

Fig. 27. “Five Senses,” Sight, a man presents jewelry to a woman, the additional symbol is the sun (

Five Senses Hendrick Goltzius art

Fig. 28. “Five Senses,” Taste; a woman feeds her partner a fruit, he fondles her breast, the additional symbol is a monkey, which also often represents the sin. The text reads “Sweet things are often harmful when tasted with a greedy palate and with the wanton pleasures of damnable gluttony” (

Hendrick Goltzius Five Senses,” Taste

Fig. 29. “Five Senses,” Touch, additional symbol is a tortoise (maybe, as a sign of deliberation), 1595. The inscription reads “Do not grasp in your hands those things which are harmful, once you have seen them, in case you are soon seized by a worse evil” ( Goltzius Five Senses,” Touch

Fig. 30. “Seven Planetary Gods,” Venus and Cupid preside over playful people. Man caresses woman’s breast in the foreground, 1596 (

Hendrick Goltzius Seven Planetary Gods,

Fig. 31. The Moon /Diana with a young man playing a lute, 1615 (

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