About the subject of our painting and about astrology and ‘the Seven Planets and their Children’
1. The composition of our painting vaguely reminds of the engraving by Pieter Saenredam of the drawing by Hendrick Goltzius of Jupiter and the Liberal Arts, which is one of a series of seven, representing the Seven Planets (‘Septem Planetae’) and their Children, which we shall discuss later.
We see a classic Italian Renaissance piazza, bordered by palaces. In the background stands a fountain with a statue of Neptune.
The foreground is dominated by a statue of Jupiter, holding the lightning, his eagle at his feet.
The subject of the engraving is Jupiter presiding over the Liberal Arts. Therefore in our painting we have two astronomers with a globe and books, one holding a compass, and two further scholars in conversation.
In the original composition by Goltzius other Liberal Arts have also been represented: an artist making a drawing of the statue of Jupiter, two musicians, and under the Logia a Cardinal and a Bishop conversating.
One can but wonder about the date of our painting, roughly somewhere in the second quarter of the 17th century probably, and about the reasons for the adaptations made by its anonymous painter of the original concept by Goltzius.
2. The origin of this composition: circa 1596 Hendrick Goltzius made seven drawings of ‘The Planets and their Children’, which were engraved by Jan Saenredam in 1596. Jan Saenredam (1565 – 1607) was the father of Pieter, the famous architecture painter. Of the original seven drawings four have survived: two in the Rijksprentenkabinet of the Rijskmuseum in Amsterdam (one of them is Jupiter), two in the Prentenkabinet of the University library of Leiden. The whereabouts of the remaining three is unknown since 1759.
3. The Seven Planets and their children.
The ancient Greek looking at night at the sky could see ‘fixed stars’ and ‘moving planets’.
They counted 7 moving planets, the so-called Seven Classical Planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, plus the Sun and the Moon. According to the philosopher Ptolemy and to the ancient astrologers the position of these planets at the time of a person’s birth dictated his physical and mental characteristics. People born under the dominant influence of one of these seven planets, the so-called children of the planets, were said to share temperament, physical constitution, aptitude for specific occupations and social positions.
It is striking to see the importance of astrology in the Catholic societies of the late Middle Ages and of the Renaissance. Astrologic emblematic series, such as the one by Goltzius, seem to have emerged in the 15th century. By the end of the 15th century Bernardino Pinturicchio even painted a series of seven wall paintings representing the Seven Planets and their Children in the Borgia apartments in the very Catholic Vatican.
Series of copperplate engravings of the Children of the Planets had already been made before Goltzius during the 16th century in the Low Countries : by Maarten van Heemskerck (after 1531) and by Maarten de Vos (after 1588). But while their gods had been portrayed driving chariots, hovering in the air, above their ‘children’, Goltzius reduced them to statues, giving a larger importance to the genre-like scenes populated by their ‘children’.
4. List of the Seven Planets presiding over their Children:
Goltzius ranked his “Planets” from the furthest from Earth to the nearest, at least according to the knowledge of his days.
- Saturn : agriculture
- Jupiter : the liberal arts
- Mars : the arts of war
- the Sun : Apollo : the arts of government
- Venus : the realm of love
- Mercury : the arts
- the Moon : Diana : fishing and navigation
About the Liberal Arts
In front of our statue of Jupiter we see representatives of his ‘Children’, the so-called Liberal Arts: 2 astronomers and 2 scholars.
In classical antiquity and later during the Middle Ages the Seven Liberal Arts (Septem Artes Liberales) formed the basis of a perfect scientific education: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, astronomy, music and geometry.
The Apotheosis of the Liberal Arts on a tapestry made around 1675 in Bruges in the workshop of Charles Janssens after a design by Cornelis Schut, Gruuthusemuseum, Bruges
‘Liberal’ makes reference to free, as in opposition to unfree (slaves) during Antiquity.
Manual dexterity, such as mechanical or artistic skills, do not fall under the Liberal Arts.
About Hendrick Goltzius
Dutch draughtsman, printmaker, print publisher and painter.
Mülbracht 1558 – 1617 Haarlem.
Goltzius was born near Venlo in Bracht or Millebrecht, a village then in the Duchy of Julich, now in the municipality Brüggen in North Rhine-Westphalia. His family moved to Duisburg when he was 3 years old. After studying painting on glass for some years under his father, he learned engraving from the Dutchman Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert, who then lived in Cleves. In 1577 he moved with Coornhert to Haarlem.
Goltzius had a malformed right hand from a fire when he was a baby, which turned out to be especially well-suited to holding the burin. He was internationally well known for his sophisticated technique of engraving and for the exuberance of his compositions.
An interesting detail in our painting is the fact that Jupiter is hiding his right hand. When one turns to the engraving made by Saenredam after Goltzius, one sees that Jupiter holds in his right hand a small scepter as if it were a burin, which Goltzius was holding in his handicapped hand.
Goltzius’ drawing in pen and brown ink of his own right hand, 1588, Haarlem, Teylers Museum and a detail from the statue of Jupiter in the engraving by Jan Saenredam.
In the small town of Haarlem, 15 km W of Amsterdam Goltzius, Karel van Mander and Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem introduced the complex compositions and the exaggerated twisted figures of Mannerism in Dutch art.
At the age of 21 Goltzius had married a rich, elder widow. Their unpleasant relationship forced him in 1590 to travel through Germany to Italy, where he admired Michelangelo. After his return by the end of 1591 he developed a more classicizing style. Still later his art reflected a growing interest in naturalism.
Goltzius began painting around 1600, at the age of 42; he more or less gave up engraving.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because you can not afford an original painting by Giorgio de Cherico. No, seriously: because you love this somewhat naïve mix of Italy seen through the eyes of a Northern artist from the Low Countries.
By the way one last interesting fact about Goltzius and the humanist interest in mythology, astrology … and alchemy: in 1605 Goltzius lost a fair amount of money to an ‘alchemist’ he had taken into his house. The man had claimed he could ‘make gold’…