Goltzius’ Man Wearing a Tasseled Cap (1587)

Hendrick Goltzius, not as well known in the English-speaking world as he should be, was a phenomenal artist whose vast oeuvre mainly consists of drawings and engravings. The latter were eagerly collected by other artists thereby spreading his influence far and wide. A generation later Rembrandt, a Dutchman like Goltzius, was a great admirer.

This magnificent pen-and-ink drawing of a man with an enormous face looks like an etching because Goltzius' extraordinary penmanship allowed him to mimic the continuous circular lines of an engraving. The technique is a deception like the image itself. "Art deceives" is a common saying that those who cannot see the real art usually interpret the same way: that naturalistic art fools the eye by looking life-like. That's simplistic. This drawing like all art has far more content than a reproduction of the world. Art deceives, not by looking like external nature, but by being something totally different inside. There is no object in art: it is the artist himself.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Goltzius, A Man Wearing a Tasseled Cap (1587) Pen and ink on paper. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

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If you consider his face carefully (top L) you will see what Goltzius has done. He has enlarged, fattened up and aged his own likeness (top R) less the distinctive beard and moustache. The colors below show just some of the respective similarities. The nose (red) is the most obvious followed by the curls of hair (orange and purple). His jawbone (yellow) follows the same curve, just merged into the neck. Both frown (green). Most deceptively, the eyebrow's curve (black) is replicated as a depression in the skin a similar distance from the eye. Even the proportions between the thickness of the lower and upper lip are the same.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Detail of Goltzius' A Man Wearing a Tasseled Cap
Top R: Detail of Goltzius' Self-portrait (c.1593-1600) Albertina, Vienna
Below: Two diagrams of images above

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I have already shown in Rembrandt's Beggar with a High Cap (left) how the beggar's hat is shaped like a Greek torso (right) to represent a mental image in the mind of the beggar-artist.1

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Rembrandt's Beggar with a High Cap (c.1629) Etching
R: Greek, Torso of Aphrodite, a detail (c.60 BC) North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh

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Something similar but of greater interest is happening here, 40 years earlier. The folds and shading of the hat create a greatly distorted version of the man's own face below. It wears a "hat" as well. I have tried to indicate this in the diagram (below) using a circle to pinpoint the eye's location. The most distinctive similarity, though, is the slight smile with a vertical line of shading on both sides. The view in the hat is from below looking upwards. We see, for instance, the underside of his nose.

I have shown repeatedly since 2008 how an artist's representation of a mental image is distorted and fragmented like a Cubist picture which also represents a mental image. Mental images in life and art are distorted as described in "Cubism Explained" and they are represented in hundreds of Old Master paintings. Picasso extended an age-old idea; he did not originate it. The representation of a mental image is always the artist's conception in his mind, literally depicted here as being in the mind of the conceiving artist. The "real" face below is the artwork; the face in the hat the conceptual image that preceded it. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Detail of Goltzius' A Man Wearing a Tasseled Cap
Bottom: Diagram of above

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A cardinal error is to assume the presence of a viewer; that the image presupposes a viewer in front of it. That's partly why so little art makes sense in conventional accounts. Here in Goltzius' drawing, as in virtually all art, the artist and artwork are one, subject and object united like artist and model. If there ever is the hint of a spectator in front of the image, it is not you or I but the artist. In a further twist, Goltzius' engraving-like draughtmanship is itself the "conception" of an engraving making not just the hat but the whole composition, a mental image at the moment of its own creation.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Goltzius, A Man Wearing a Tasseled Cap (1587) 

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Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 10 Nov 2014. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.