October 04, 2004


I love the contrast between the following pair of images, two small paintings in oil on copper panels by the German-born painter Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610). They depict, respectively, the realms of Venus and of Minerva, the sensual and intellectual worlds.

'The Two Empires of the World: The Empire of Venus', oil on copper, by Adam Elsheimer, 1607/08 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).


'The Two Empires of the World: The Empire of Minerva', oil on copper, by Adam Elsheimer, 1607/08 (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).

Elsheimer was schooled ‘in the dry manner of Flemish realism’, and his early works display a busy, Mannerist style. In 1598, he moved to Italy, initially to Venice, where ‘he acquired a liberating interest in light, atmosphere, and colour’. In 1600 he settled in Rome. The succeeding years saw his compositions grow simpler, more direct: perhaps influenced by the contemporary successes of Caravaggio. Elsheimer won fame, but not fortune. His work influenced Rembrandt and Claude Lorrain, amongst many others, and Rubens was his friend, but…

Unfortunately, Elsheimer had a “natural inclination for melancholy,” according to his biographer. After making a bad partnership with a rich, vain Dutch etcher, he became overwhelmed and unable to work. The etcher had the unproductive Elsheimer thrown into debtors’ prison, which led to his death - source here.
'The Mocking of Ceres' by Adam Elsheimer, oil on copper, 1608 (Museo del Prado, Madrid).

The painting shown above illustrates an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the Goddess Ceres, searching for her daughter Proserpine, grew thirsty and tired, and, hoping to find refreshment, knocked at a cottage door, where an old woman gave her a sweet drink made from malted barley. As the Goddess gulped down the drink, a small boy came to the door and mocked her, calling her greedy. Offended, Ceres threw the dregs of her drink at him, thereby turning him into a lizard. The following painting’s subject is another classical tale of hospitality and transformation, details here.

'Jupiter and Mercury in the House of Philemon and Baucis' by Adam Elsheimer, oil on copper, 1609 (Dresden Staatliche Kunstsammlungen).


'Tobias and the Angel' by Adam Elsheimer, oil on copper, 1609 (Copenhagen Statens Museum for Kunst).

Elsheimer painted two variations on the theme of ‘Tobias and the Angel’. The one shown (above) is the larger and later of the two. The final image, below, ‘The Flight into Egypt’ is credited with being the earliest painting in which the night sky’s constellations were reproduced with any degree of accuracy. To my discredit, I can’t even recall if I saw this beautiful painting or not during my visit to the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.

'The Flight into Egypt' by Adam Elsheimer, oil on copper, 1609 (Munich, Alte Pinakothek).

My source for these images was a copy of the German edition of Keith Andrews’ monograph on Elsheimer. Note that in scanning the third image above, I lost part of its rightmost edge: the others should be more-or-less complete. Click on the images to see much larger versions of the same.

Posted by misteraitch at October 4, 2004 12:12 PM | TrackBack

I loved those paintings,cause I'm a classic lover,those Paintings above inspire me lots

Posted by: Nomer on March 23, 2007 01:01 PM
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