Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Unidentified Artist
After Jan Harmensz. Muller, Dutch (Amsterdam 1571 - 1628 Amsterdam)
After Bartholomeus Spranger, Netherlandish (1546 - 1611)
Previously attributed to Jacob Matham, Dutch (Haarlem, Netherlands 1571 - 1631 Haarlem, Netherlands)
Head of Bacchus
Work Type
after c. 1597
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Brown ink over black chalk, squared in black chalk, on off-white antique laid paper
15 × 10.4 cm (5 7/8 × 4 1/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • watermark: none
  • inscription: verso, traces of text in letterpress from previous mount: [in reverse] [illegible] Sangre por / [illegible] Corazon
Jan Gerrit van Gelder (or his heirs), Utrecht, sold; [Bernard Houthakker Gallery, Amsterdam], sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1983 (without their mark, L. 3306); Gift of Maida and George S. Abrams, 1986.638

Published Text
Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: The Complete Collection Online
Multiple authors
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2017–)

Entry by Austeja Mackelaite, completed November 01, 2017:

This drawing is an accomplished partial copy of Jan Harmensz. Muller’s engraving Bacchus, Ceres, and Venus, after a painting by Bartholomeus Spranger (M26103) .1 Working in the virtuoso mannerist style of engraving developed by Hendrick Goltzius, Muller was one of the most important printmakers of Spranger’s compositions. Muller’s engravings after Spranger’s designs, characterized by their broad swelling lines, were frequently copied in drawings, paintings, and prints.2

In this sheet, the anonymous draftsman significantly enlarged the head of Bacchus, transforming it into an autonomous motif reminiscent of “imaginary portraits” (portraits that are not based on an actual person) produced by Hendrick Goltzius and Jacob Matham at the turn of the 17th century.3 While the draftsman carefully follows the playful swirls of hair and foliage adorning Bacchus’s head, his modeling of the figure’s face does not replicate Muller’s burin manner, which is characterized by regular, widely spaced lines. Instead, the copyist alters it by adding extensive stippling and employing much denser parallel- and cross-hatching. The sheet has been squared in black chalk; it is unclear whether this preceded or came after the ink campaign.4

Although the drawing is of considerable quality, it is not a preparatory study for Bacchus, Ceres, and Venus. The connection with the print, dated to about 1597, would place the Head of Bacchus to the early years of Muller’s career. Stylistically, however, the drawing relates to neither Muller’s early imaginary portraits, rendered in chalk, nor his later imaginary figures done in a manner imitating engraving.5 The latter, dated by Emil Karel Josef Reznicek to about 1620, are all independent works of art and bear no relationship to Muller’s printed oeuvre. Like other draftsmen associated with the Goltzius school, Muller did not produce his preparatory drawings in a strictly linear manner but, rather, relied on a combination of carefully modulated washes and white highlights.6 The Harvard sheet is executed in the same direction as Muller’s print, which further confirms its status as a copy. It probably dates to the early decades of the 17th century, when mannerist prints were often imitated for training purposes. As Reznicek has noted, some of the more accomplished copies would have been admired for their technical execution.7

The Head of Bacchus was once mounted on a page from a book, and the verso of the sheet shows faint traces of writing in letterpress. The few words that can still be deciphered suggest that this was a devotional text in Spanish, perhaps indicating the drawing’s early provenance in the southern Netherlands.8


1 Jan Muller, after Bartholomeus Spranger, Bacchus, Ceres, and Venus, c. 1597, in the Harvard Art Museums collections, M26103. See Jan Piet Filedt Kok in New Hollstein, The Muller Dynasty, part 2, no. 74, pp. 202–3; Sally Metzler, Bartholomeus Spranger: Splendour and Eroticism in Imperial Prague: The Complete Works (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014), cat. 191. On Muller’s career as a printmaker and his relationships with Goltzius and Spranger, see J. P. Filedt Kok, “Jan Harmensz. Muller as Printmaker—I,” Print Quarterly 11 (3) (1994): 223–64.

2 Writing in about 1646, Edward Norgate listed Muller among the artists whose prints should be copied “to get a good hand in hatching”; see Edward Norgate, Miniatura, or, the Art of Limning, ed. Martin Hardie (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1919), p. 80. Muller’s Bacchus, Ceres, and Venus seems to have been a particularly popular subject among copyists. Other anonymous drawn copies after the engraving include Ceres and Bacchus, dated 1621, brown ink on vellum, 478 × 302 mm, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 49.50.66; Ceres and Bacchus, brown ink with brown wash and opaque white watercolor, 249 × 343 mm, London, British Museum, 1898,1216.4; Ceres and Bacchus, brown ink, 450 × 350 mm, Tajan, Dessins Anciens, Paris, 3 May 2012, lot 1; and Ceres and Bacchus, red chalk, 415 × 240 mm, Thierry de Maigret, Paris, 24 March 2010, lot 103. For engraved copies, see Jan Piet Filedt Kok in New Hollstein, The Muller Dynasty, part 2, no. 74, p. 202–3.

3 For Goltzius’s imaginary portraits, see E. K. J. Reznicek, Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius (Utrecht: Haentjens Dekker & Gumbert, 1961), 1: 120–26; for an example of Matham’s imaginary portraits, see the Harvard Art Museums object record for Portrait of a Man, 25.1998.6. Before the connection with Muller’s prints was established, the drawing was attributed to Jacob Matham. In her unpublished catalogue raisonné of Matham’s drawings, Léna Widerkehr rejects the attribution of the Harvard sheet to the artist; see Widerkehr, “Jacob Matham (1571–1631) graveur-éditeur à Haarlem: un maître du burin et son œuvre dessiné,” Ph.D. dissertation, Université de Strasbourg, 1997, vol. 2A, DR. 25, Fig. 122 (“Dessins rejetés”).

4 My thanks to Penley Knipe, the Philip and Lynn Straus Senior Conservator of Works of Art on Paper and head of the paper lab in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, for producing the infrared image of this drawing and helping me interpret it.

5 Examples of Muller’s imaginary portraits before 1600 include Imaginary Portrait of a Man, red and black chalk with brown and light green wash, 399 × 317 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, RP-T-1954-285; Imaginary Portrait of a Man in a Phrygian Cap, colored chalks, 410 × 310 mm, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, 2367. Examples of Muller’s pentekeningen of imaginary figures include Vanitas, brown ink, 296 × 179 mm, Copenhagen, Den Kongelige Kobberstiksamling, KKSgb10659; Allegorical Portrait Study of a Young Man, brown ink, 206 × 149 mm, Brussels, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, 2663; and Head of a Young Man or Woman Holding a Burin(?), brown ink and opaque white watercolor (partially oxidized) on prepared yellow paper, 236 × 176 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, RP-T-1941-5.

6 Muller’s studies for prints include Portrait of Dirck Volkertsz Coornhert, brown ink, brown wash, and opaque white watercolor, 149 × 123 mm, Haarlem, Teylers Museum, PP 287b; Baptism of Christ, dated 1590, black and brown ink with wash and opaque white watercolor, 296 × 208 mm, Munich, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, 1013; The Feast of Belshazzar, brown ink and brown wash with opaque white watercolor, 341 × 401 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, RP-T-00-597; Adoration of the Magi, purple chalk, wash, and opaque white watercolor, 127 × 147 mm, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des dessins, 22222. In his 1956 catalogue raisonné of Muller’s drawings, Reznicek included two pen and ink studies in the manner of engraving that, he suggested, had been used as preparatory studies for prints: The Henpecked Husband (cat. 27), for an engraving done by Harmen Jansz. Muller, Jan’s father, and Chilon (cat. 13), for an engraving executed by Jan Muller himself. Reznicek removed the latter from Muller’s oeuvre in his addenda of 1980 (see E. K. J. Reznicek, “Jan Harmensz. Muller as Draughtsman: Addenda,” Master Drawings 18 [2] [1980]: 116–18), because the drawing is, in fact, one of a number of surviving copies after Muller’s print. Since The Henpecked Husband, which is unsigned and follows the direction of the print, had been ascribed to Jan Muller based largely on its stylistic similarities to Chilon, Reznicek’s attribution of the drawing now seems debatable. (The location of The Henpecked Husband, which was in the art market at the time of Reznicek’s publication, is unknown, preventing a closer investigation.) See E. K. J. Reznicek, “Jan Harmensz. Muller als tekenaar,” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 7 (1956): 91–93.

7 Reznicek, “Jan Harmensz. Muller as Draughtsman: Addenda,” pp. 116–18.

8 The legible words include “sangre” (blood) and “corazón” (heart).

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Maida and George S. Abrams
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Léna Widerkehr and Université de Strasbourg, "Jacob Matham (1571-1631) graveur-éditeur à Haarlem: un maître du burin et son oeuvre dessiné" (1997), no. DR. 25, n. p., repr. fig. 122

Subjects and Contexts

Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

Related Works

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