From the museum’s press release
A spectacular selection of northern mannerist prints from the Kainen Collection will be showcased at the National Gallery of Art this fall. Northern Mannerist Prints from the Kainen Collection will be on view in the West Building’s Ground Floor galleries from September 1, 2013, to January 5, 2014. In 2012, the Gallery received 781 works as the bequest of Ruth Cole Kainen, including this school as one of its strengths. The exhibition includes every major artist of this extraordinary style and features many of their masterpieces, including Hendrick Goltzius’ early Mars and Venus, Jacob Matham’s monumental Table of Cebes, Jan Muller’s heroic plates of Bellona and the Apotheosis of the Arts, and Aegidius Sadeler’s Portrait of Bartholomaeus Spranger with his deceased wife Christina in both a rare, unfinished state and an impression of the completed print.
“We are honored and delighted to present the first of several exhibitions dedicated to Ruth Cole Kainen’s generous bequest of hundreds of works,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “Jacob and Ruth Cole Kainen were among the Gallery’s most generous benefactors, and we celebrate their achievements with this series of exhibitions.”
This exhibition concerns the incredibly sophisticated and virtuoso style of printmaking that flourished in the northern Netherlands during the last two decades of the 16th century and became an international phenomenon that lingered into the next century. Of nearly 100 northern mannerist prints bequeathed by Ruth Cole Kainen in 2012, the exhibition presents some 50, providing so many fine examples that this celebration of the bequest is equally an excellent introduction to the style.
Hendrick Goltzius, the pioneer of the style, defined this language in works of his own design and in translations of the rarified, often erotically charged subjects of Bartholomaeus Spranger, who served as official painter to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II at Prague. Trained by Goltzius, a circle of engravers featuring Jacob Matham, Jan Saenredam, and Jan Muller developed variations on this style for interpreting their master’s designs, those of other leading Dutch artists, and many more inventions of Spranger. Inspired by this school, Flemish master Aegidius Sadeler went to Prague and collaborated directly with court artists to create some of the most extraordinary works of this style. Together the works of these printmakers constitute the last great expression of mannerism. In turn they expanded both the formal vocabulary of European art and the technical possibilities of the medium of engraving.
Augmenting superb impressions of several of Goltzius’ own engravings— rivaling the excellence of Albrecht Dürer—are two complete sets of Goltzius’ most elegant designs rendered by Saenredam. Also featured are Spranger’s most significant inventions, alternating between sensuous mythologies and complex allegories. As a counterpart to these works of the Prague school is an exceptional group by the principal artists in the northern Netherlands, from Goltzius’ audacious set of four transgressors from ancient mythology, to Saenredam’s exquisitely refined plates after Abraham Bloemaert’s designs.