Jan Harmensz Muller after Adriaen de Vries

Mercury and Psyche

copper engravings, ca. 1597

ed. by Danckert Danckerts, Amsterdam, mid 17th cent.

51.2 cm x 26.4 cm, 50.4 cm x 26.7 cm, 50.7 cm x 26.6 cm


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This set of three engravings shows three different views (1, 2, 3) of the bronze sculpture Mercury and Psyche by Adriaen de Vries (1545/46 or 1556-1626/27). The motif for the group of figures is taken from a scene in the story of Cupid and Psyche from Apuleius' Metamorphoses (2nd cent. AD). The beautiful princess Psyche has incurred the wrath of Venus and is to be taken to Olympus by Mercury. Intertwined bodies, entangled limbs and exalted tension make this work of art an all-round experience. In order to understand the couple's positions and movements, the spectator has to move around the work. The sculptor Adriaen de Vries created this figura serpentinata for Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612, reigned 1576) and the Prague court in 1593, following all the rules of Mannerist art. Trained in the Italian works of Michelangelo and Giambologna, the Dutchman Adriaen de Vries became a master of the Mannerist style and was later appointed Rudolf's court sculptor.

When Jan Harmensz Muller (1571-1628) transferred the sculpture into engraving around 1597, he chose three different angles in order to do justice to the multi-perspective nature of the sculpture in the two-dimensional reproduction. In addition, Muller succeeds in visualising not only the movement of the group, but in particular the rotation of the couple and the upward spiral through the gradual elevation of the pedestal.

Jan Muller, who came from a family of woodcutters, engravers, printers and publishers from Amsterdam, was a pupil of Hendrick Goltzius in Haarlem. He developed a masterly command of the swelling line and, in addition to his prints, drawings and numerous proofs are preserved documenting the otherwise rarely recorded intermediate steps in the production of engravings, such as for the series of Mercury and Psyche (vgl. RM, Amsterdam, inv. RP-P-OB-32.231, RP-P-OB-32.229, RP-P-OB-32.227).

The present sheets have several publisher's addresses and thus document the history of the copper plates, which were inherited and traded as valuable business assets. The chronologically most recent address comes from Danckert Danckerts. The fact that the three plates had been in his possession could be established from an inventory (cf. J. P. F. Kok 1995, p. 22, B. 82-84); prints with his address were still unknown at the time. It can be assumed that the three present prints were produced as a set by Danckerts in Amsterdam and have remained together ever since. Paper, production characteristics, collector's marks and mounting residues on the backs indicate a common provenance.

Birte Rubach