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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Maarten van Heemskerck, Netherlandish (1498 - 1574)
Giving Drink to the Thirsty
Work Type
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Brown ink over touches of black chalk and incidental white opaque watercolor, incised, on cream antique laid paper, framing line in brown ink over black chalk
25.6 x 20 cm (10 1/16 x 7 7/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: Dated and monogrammed, brown ink, lower edge: 15511 MVH [in ligature]
  • inscription: verso, upper center, graphite: Hamskerck XVeme Hollandais / très-rare [underlined]
  • watermark: Coat of arms, series of vertically stacked letters within shield (PTTAV[?]) and the name PPRICARd below; nearly identical to Briquet 9613 (Namur, 1547)


Recorded Ownership History
Probably C. Elout, sold; [Van de Vinne, Haarlem, 4 April 1780, KB A, part of lot 32]; to J. La Clé, by descent to; his widow, E. M. Brouwer, sold; [A. Engesmet, Haarlem, 25 September 1827, kb A, part of lot 32]; to Engesmet (bought in). Private Collector, Paris, sold; to [Bob P. Haboldt & Co., Paris and New York], sold; to Vermeer Associates Limited, Brampton, Ontario, 1993, sold; to Harvard University Art Museums, 1994; Purchase through the generosity of an Anonymous Donor, 1994.155.

Published Text

Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums
William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016)

The Haarlem master Maarten van Heemskerck had a long and successful career as a painter of altarpieces—some on a monumental scale—and other religious pictures, as well as portraits and mythological scenes. More than one hundred paintings are known. He initially adopted the style of Jan van Scorel, with whom he worked in the late 1520s. After a long sojourn in Italy (1532–1536/37), where he studied the art of Michelangelo and Giulio Romano and drew after ancient sculpture and architecture, Heemskerck developed the more dynamic Italianate manner that he practiced for the rest of his life.

Hardly less significant than Heemskerck’s achievement as a painter is the oeuvre of six hundred prints made from his designs.1 A few are after paintings, but the vast majority reproduce detailed pen-and-ink compositions, of which Giving Drink to the Thirsty is a fine example. Hundreds of these drawings have survived. Neatly executed with clearly defined contours and sharp, distinct parallel lines and cross-hatchings for shading, they provided easily translatable models for the specialist engravers who copied them onto copper plates. The first of his collaborators was the printmaker and moral philosopher Dirck Volkertsz. Coornhert, with whom Heemskerck worked from 1548 to 1559. Initially, they probably co-published their prints in Haarlem, but from 1553 onward, most were issued in Antwerp by Hieronymus Cock and marketed there by Cock and the printer/publisher Christoffel Plantijn.2 Later, Philips Galle, among others, engraved Van Heemskerck’s compositions, which he continued to design into the 1570s. Many were produced in series, including Old and New Testament narrative cycles, devotional imagery, mythological scenes, and allegorical subjects.3

Giving Drink to the Thirsty was engraved by Coornhert in 1552 as the third plate in a suite of seven representing The Last Judgment and Six Works of Mercy (Fig. 1).4 The theme of the Works of Mercy (or Charity) derives from Matthew 25:31–46. Addressing his disciples, Jesus foretold the Last Judgment, when the righteous would be welcomed into heaven and the wicked consigned to eternal damnation. God would distinguish the righteous by the charitable acts they had performed during their lives: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, offering shelter to strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. Medieval theologians added a seventh work of mercy, burying the dead, to the six enumerated by Jesus in the gospel.5 The subject occurs in paintings and glass roundels displayed in almshouses and hospitals in the Netherlands during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, sometimes in conjunction with a Last Judgment.6

Heemskerck’s series begins with The Last Judgment, followed by six plates representing the charitable works cited by Matthew. The signature on The Last Judgment identifies Heemskerck as inventor and Coornhert as engraver of the set. Drawings for five of the seven plates have survived.7 All are signed or monogrammed and dated 1552,8 and their dimensions correspond closely to those of the engraved compositions, which reproduce the models in reverse. The Harvard sheet has been incised to transfer the design to the copper plate. Dutch texts beneath the images in the engravings quote the words of Jesus from Matthew 25:35–36. The line under the print after the Harvard composition reads, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” (Icwas dorstich, ghi hebt mi te drincken gegeuen; Matthew 25:35.) Images of this charitable scene often represent the recipients as impoverished and supporting themselves on crutches, but Heemskerck has strikingly shown the drinking man with only one arm.9 The vertical format of the compositions, as well as the large scale and Michelangelesque style of the figures in this series, are characteristic of Heemskerck’s designs of the late 1540s and early 1550s.10


1 Ilja M. Veldman in New Hollstein, Maarten van Heemskerck, throughout.

2 Ilja M. Veldman, Leerrijke reeksen van Maarten van Heemskerck (Haarlem: Frans Hals Museum, 1986), p. 14.

3 Ibid., pp. 14–15.

4 Dirck Volkertsz. Coornhert, after Maarten van Heemskerck, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, (Fig. 1) 1552. Engraving. 257 × 191 mm. London, British Museum, 1949,0709.208. Signed, MH. Inventor. Printed text in lower margin: Icwas dorstich, ghi hebt mi te drincken gegeuen 3, plate 3 in the series The Last Judgment and the Six Works of Mercy, Veldman in New Hollstein, part 2, nos. 330–36, pp. 36–43.

5 Timothy Husband in The Luminous Image: Painted Glass in the Lowlands, 1480–1560 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995), under cat. 47, p. 109.

6 Ibid., cats. 46–50, pp. 108–115. Jan Piet Filedt Kok in Jan Piet Filedt Kok, Yvette Bruijnen, and Jonathan Bikker, Early Netherlandish Paintings in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam: Artists Born before 1500, Published online in 2009 by the Rijksmuseum, “Master of Alkmaar: Polyptych with the Seven Works of Charity,” consulted 27 April 2012.

7 In addition to Giving Drink to the Thirsty, the drawings for plates in this series are: The Last Judgment, Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum, AE 394 (see Gisela Bergsträsser, Niederländische Zeichnungen 16. Jahrhundert im Hessischen Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Darmstadt, Germany 1979, cat. 61, pp. 80–81, repr.); Clothing the Naked, New York, Morgan Library and Museum, 2004.41 (see Peter Dreyer in Cara D. Denison et al., The Thaw Collection: Master Drawings and New Acquisitions, New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1994, cat. 7); Visiting the Sick, Private Collection, Toronto, promised gift to National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (see Joaneath Spicer in Joaneath Spicer, Odilia Bonebakker, and David Franklin, Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada; Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum; Fredericton, New Brunswick: Beaverbrook Art Gallery, 2004, cat. 7); and Visiting the Imprisoned, Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst, KKSgb5476 (see Jan Garff, Tegninger af Maerten van Heemskerck, Copenhagen: Statens Museum for Kunst, 1971, cat. 32). Heemskerck’s drawings for Feeding the Hungry and Sheltering the Strangers have not come to light.

8 The Harvard work is dated 15511 [sic], while other drawings for prints in the series are dated 1552. Perhaps Heemskerck completed the drawing in 1551 or initially misdated it to that year and, to conform to the date on the other models, expediently redated it 15511, rather than writing 2 over the last 1. In any event, it seems clear that by writing 15511 he intended to date the drawing 1552.

9 See the painting of 1504 by the Master of Alkmaar in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, SK-A-2815-2, and the undated drawing by Pieter Cornelisz., called Kunst, in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main, 5508, where the recipients of the charity in scenes of Giving Drink to the Thirsty are represented as impoverished and walking with crutches.

10 Veldman (1986), p. 15. In the Harvard drawing, the figure on the stairs at the upper right was inspired by a soldier in Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina.


Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Purchase through the generosity of an Anonymous Donor
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), cat. no. 46, pp. 164-166, repr. p. 165; watermark p. 377

Exhibition History

Subjects and Contexts

  • Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

Verification Level

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