CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Gespierd brons: beelden van Willem van Tetrode (ca. 1525-1580) (Muscular bronze: sculptures by Willem van Tetrode)

Exhibition: 7 March - 25 May 2003

Museum press release

From 7 March to 25 May 2003 the Rijksmuseum will be organising an exhibition about one of the most gifted and innovative sculptors in the history of Dutch art. Around forty, mainly bronze, works by Willem Danielsz. van Tetrode provide an impressive overview for the first time in the Netherlands of the development of this 16th-century artist from Delft. His work is characterised by highly three-dimensional compositions, athletic poses and tremendous, bulging muscles. The statuettes in the exhibition come from several leading museums and from private collections all over the world. A small number are from the Rijksmuseum’s own collection. Later in the year the sculptures will travel to New York, where the exhibition will be seen at the Frick Collection.

In recent decades increasing attention has been paid to the life and work of the Delft sculptor Willem Danielszn. van Tetrode (1525-1580). Research has shown that Van Tetrode was among the most important sculptors in the history of Dutch art. Mythological themes, in which heroes and gods have a leading role, are central to his work. His sculptures are often attempts to outdo great works from classical antiquity in composition and modelling.

In his day the master greatly influenced his colleagues, such as Hendrick de Keyser and Hendrick Goltzius. Even Rubens did drawings after models by Van Tetrode. He probably also taught Adriaen de Vries. Van Tetrode was one of the first Dutch sculptors to find his way to Italy, where he achieved great success and was widely known. On his return he introduced a type of sculpture that was entirely new in the north, namely the small bronze figure intended for private collectors.

Florence and Rome

Under the name Guglielmo Fiammingho, the still young Van Tetrode began working for the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini in Florence in about 1548. Together they restored an antique sculpture, and Van Tetrode was also put in charge of the richly decorated marble pedestal of Cellini’s famous Perseus. After this period in Florence, during which Van Tetrode gained great respect, he left for Rome, where he was given a place in Guglielmo della Porta’s large and well-known studio. Della Porta taught him the tricks of the trade, so that Van Tetrode was ready to set up shop as an independent sculptor. His first commission came from the Count of Pitigliano. Around 1560 Van Tetrode produced the ‘scrittoio signorile’, the earliest known example of a collector’s cabinet decorated entirely with bronze figures. The bronzes that stood on the cabinet, which was lost in the 18th century, are small replicas of the most famous sculptures of antiquity. In the exhibition a reconstruction of this splendid cabinet can be seen for the first time, and the bronzes will be shown in their original arrangement.

Delft and Cologne

After working in Italy for over twenty years, Van Tetrode returned to his native city of Delft shortly after the outbreak of iconoclasm in 1567-68. There he was a great success, becoming known as the “Delft Praxiteles”. He worked on the new high altar and on a smaller one in the Oude Kerk, for which he was highly praised. Besides this work, Van Tetrode continued, just as in Italy, to make statuettes, small bronze figures, for collectors. Many of them can be seen at the exhibition. The altars were destroyed during a second wave of image-breaking in 1573. This led Van Tetrode to try his luck in Catholic Cologne. There he made several sculptures for the furnishing of the kunstkammer in the burgomaster’s residence.

In 1575 Van Tetrode entered the service of Salentin van Isenburg, elector and archbishop in Cologne. On 14 November 1580 Van Tetrode died in Germany of the plague. After 1600 his name was gradually forgotten. This presentation at the Rjksmuseum restores him to the place he deserves, as the first modern sculptor in the Netherlands.


Frits Scholten, Willem van Tetrode, sculptor (c.1525-1580): Guglielmo Fiammingo scultore, with contributions by Emile van Binnebeke Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum), New York (Frick Collection) and Zwolle (Waanders) 2003.

Other venue

New York, Frick Collection (23 June 2003).