Netherlandish artist Jan Muller (1571–1628) was among the most imaginative and refined of a group of engravers that flourished between Haarlem and the imperial court at Prague around the turn of the sixteenth century. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Muller’s Mercury Abducting Psyche (ca. 1597), a series of three engravings based on a 1593 sculpture of the same name by Adriaen de Vries (ca. 1556–1626), the artist’s brother-in-law. The monumental bronze is one of the 100 masterpieces in the CODART Canon.
In these prints, Muller rendered the statue from three different points of view. By translating a life-size sculpture of erotic subject and complicated torsion into black-and-white line work of remarkably abstract organization and exhaustive execution, the series demonstrates his extraordinary virtuosity. The series is a late and exceptional example in the paragone—the Renaissance argument about the relative merits of artistic media (usually sculpture and painting) and resulting attempts to demonstrate the superiority of one over another. Not only does this series epitomize the last flourishing of mannerism, but it also asserts the representational potential and high status of engraving.