Hendrik Goltzius, Venus, Bacchus and Ceres, a drawing

The Netherlands, dated AD 1593

This dazzlingly beautiful drawing is one of Goltzius' finest drawings in pen and brown ink on parchment (animal skin). It illustrates a quotation from the Latin poet, Terence (around 185 - after 160 BC): 'Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus would freeze'. In other words, without food and wine, love grows cold.

An elegant and exquisite Venus, goddess of love, leans against a tree. Above her are her symbols, the white doves and below is her son, Cupid, who heats the fire by blowing on it. To the left is Bacchus, god of wine, with a little satyr (half-man, half-goat), both with bunches of grapes and vine leaves. Ceres, the goddess of food on the right, holds a sickle and cornucopia full of fruit in her hands. In the background are mountains, dotted with towers, while birds fly in a distant cloudy sky.

Goltzius was in complete control of his pen as he consciously imitated an engraving. He even appears to create contours not with line but with lines and dots. There is a refinement and complexity to his hatching in the shadows, that matches the best of his engravings. Karel van Mander, Goltzius' biographer, praised the way in which he captured the effects of firelight on these figures, using barely visible parallel lines and stippling flecks. These contrast with the complex hatching on the shaded areas.

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More information


J. Rowlands, Master drawings and watercolou (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)

L.W. Nichols, 'The "pen works" of Hendrik Goltzius', Bulletin of the Philadelphia M, 88 (1991)


Height: 629.000 mm
Width: 494.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1861-6-8-174



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