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Jacob Math­am, Dutch, 1571-1631: Man with Plumed Hat, Depict­ed as Sculpt­ed Bust, 1604 

This fan­ta­sy head by print­mak­er Jacob Math­am was con­ceived as an inde­pen­dent work and shows a man in the guise of a sculpt­ed por­trait bust mount­ed on a stone pedestal. Although his cos­tume and appear­ance evoke fig­ures depict­ed in Dutch art from the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry, his form recalls Clas­si­cal mar­ble por­trait busts of famous ancient fig­ures, which were an impor­tant source for artis­tic instruction. 

Math­am’s draw­ing clev­er­ly demon­strates his abil­i­ty to cre­ate a new kind of por­trait bust as well as mimic dif­fer­ent art forms simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, in this instance, the cross-hatched lines and stip­pling of engrav­ing and the hard, stone forms of sculpture.

Jacob Math­am was the step­son of the famous Haar­lem artist, Hen­drick Goltz­ius (1558 – 1617), a print­mak­er of great renown across Europe who trained Math­am in the art of engrav­ing.1 Math­am took over the print­mak­ing activ­i­ties of the work­shop around 1600, after which Goltz­ius focused the rest of his career on paint­ing. Like his step­fa­ther, Math­am was also a tal­ent­ed drafts­man who could draw in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent styles with a wide range of media. While some of his draw­ings were his own orig­i­nal prepara­to­ry designs for engrav­ings, most of them, like the present sheet, never appeared in print and must have been con­ceived as stand-alone works. Just under 100 draw­ings by Math­am are known today, many of them signed and dated, and most like­ly made for col­lec­tors and art lovers.2

This work falls into one of the most unusu­al and inter­est­ing gen­res of Math­am’s drawn oeu­vre, that of the fan­ta­sy head or fig­ure. This genre was devel­oped by Goltz­ius, whose own fan­ta­sy heads like­wise appear far more often in his draw­ings than his print­ed oeu­vre.3 Imag­i­na­tive or his­tori­ciz­ing cos­tume is almost always a defin­ing fea­ture of these works. The man’s plumed hat here, along with his hair­style and col­lar, are clear­ly taken from the early six­teenth cen­tu­ry. As would have been under­stood in Math­am’s day, the fop­pish air of an elab­o­rate­ly plumed hat, found in the Renais­sance prints of Lucas van Ley­den and oth­ers, might rep­re­sent the theme of van­i­ty and, by exten­sion, the brevi­ty of life.4 Some male fan­ta­sy fig­ures by Math­am are sim­i­lar­ly cos­tumed in Renais­sance attire.5 Oth­ers, how­ev­er, wear cloth­ing that appears entire­ly imag­i­nary, like­ly meant to be antique or ancient in char­ac­ter.6

Math­am treat­ed female fig­ures sim­i­lar­ly.7 His draw­ing of a fan­ta­sy fig­ure with exposed breasts in Dres­den bears the clos­est styl­is­tic com­par­i­son to the present work in terms of its scale, the use of stip­pling for the flesh areas, and the swift pen work for the area below Fig. 5.1.8

Jacob Matham, Bust of a Female Figure
Fig. 5.1

Jacob Math­am, Bust of a Female Fig­ure, 1605(?). Pen and ink on paper, 138 × 117 mm. Dres­den, Kupfer­stich-Kabi­nett, inv. no. c 1962 – 257.

Its date, though prac­ti­cal­ly illeg­i­ble, should prob­a­bly also be read as 1605 based on its sim­i­lar­i­ty to the Peck draw­ing and the match­ing orthog­ra­phy of the final digit. While cer­tain fea­tures like a plumed hat might rep­re­sent van­i­ty, or exposed breasts an alle­gor­i­cal or mytho­log­i­cal fig­ure, clear­ly estab­lished sub­ject mat­ter was not a major con­cern in these works, though one does find iden­ti­fy­ing attrib­ut­es on occa­sion.9 They are, rather, artis­tic exer­cis­es of the imag­i­na­tion. Fig­ures are removed from the more clear­ly defined nar­ra­tive and alle­gor­i­cal con­texts gen­er­al­ly demand­ed by paint­ings and prints, there­by afford­ing the artist’s cre­ative impuls­es to take freer form. More­over, they are often suf­fused with a sense of indi­vid­ual vir­tu­os­i­ty par­tic­u­lar to the medi­um of draw­ing, even if some of the han­dling derives from Math­am’s nat­u­ral­ly ingrained graph­ic vocab­u­lary of the engraver, such as cross­hatch­ing and stippling. 

An added fea­ture of this image that makes it par­tic­u­lar­ly intrigu­ing is its place­ment on a pedestal to give it the appear­ance of a bust sculp­ture. Repli­ca bust sculp­tures of famous ancient fig­ures (often plas­ter) were pop­u­lar at the time with schol­ars and artists, as were real antique mar­ble ones if and when col­lec­tors could acquire them. Con­tem­po­rary sculp­tors were also com­mis­sioned to make bust por­trai­ture of nota­bles at the time.10 Sculpt­ed busts could honor a his­tor­i­cal or mod­ern per­son­age as well as serve as an inspi­ra­tional pres­ence for the view­er, but fan­ta­sy fig­ures such as this were usu­al­ly not treat­ed in plas­tic media. 

Given the par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion of draw­ing a fan­ta­sy head as a bust sculp­ture, this image could be seen as a sophis­ti­cat­ed wit­ti­cism. For instance, the year before, Math­am com­plet­ed one of his largest and most inter­est­ing draw­ings, the Study of Three Sculpt­ed Heads now in Munich Fig. 5.2.11

Jacob Matham, Still Life with Three Sculpted Heads
Fig. 5.2

Jacob Math­am, Still Life with Three Sculpt­ed Heads, 1604. Pen in brown ink and brown wash over black chalk on paper, 351 × 463 mm. Munich, Staatliche Graphis­che Samm­lung, inv. no. 21128.

An exam­ple of a fully devel­oped Fed­erkun­st­stück, or pen work,” it con­fers the visu­al for­mal­i­ty of engrav­ing to a draw­ing for its own sake, rather than being prepara­to­ry for a print. The pres­ence of the tools of print­mak­ing and draw­ing in the image refers to the use of such bust sculp­tures for the edu­ca­tion of artists, who began their early phas­es of train­ing by mak­ing drawn copies of antique plas­ter casts.12 The head on the right, how­ev­er, seems to address the view­er with a jest­ing glint in his eye, and his char­ac­ter­i­za­tion appears to be one of an actu­al pres­ence, alive rather than sta­t­ic like the two busts beside him. One is remind­ed of Peter Paul Ruben­s’s famous warn­ing that too much copy­ing of antique sculp­ture could hard­en or stiff­en an artist’s style, and that one should take care to apply or appro­pri­ate ancient sculp­ture in ways that do not in the least smell of stone.“13 While Math­am and Rubens would not meet for the first time until 1613, they were each prob­a­bly exposed to these ideas about copy­ing the antique dur­ing their respec­tive trav­els in Italy.14 In the Peck draw­ing, too, Math­am attempt­ed to viv­i­fy his fig­ure by por­tray­ing a liv­ing pres­ence in the guise of a sculp­ture. Part of the point behind such a draw­ing, then, might be to insti­gate a dia­logue about this dis­tinc­tion in artis­tic the­o­ry and prac­tice, or to prompt a clas­sic paragone debate about how artis­tic aims and out­comes can dif­fer between sculp­ture and paint­ing — or, in this case, between sculp­ture and drawing.

End Notes

  1. For Math­am’s biog­ra­phy, see the intro­duc­tion by L. Widerkehr in the New Holl­stein (Jacob Math­am), vol. 1, xxv– lxviii.

  2. Widerkehr 1997 (unpub­lished PhD dis­ser­ta­tion) con­tains a cat­a­logue of Math­am’s draw­ings, list­ing sev­en­ty-three accept­ed works, twelve attrib­uted to, twelve doubt­ful, and forty-three rejected.

  3. For Goltz­ius’s fan­ta­sy heads, see Reznicek 1961, vol. 1, 204 – 05, and many of those cat­a­logued among the Not Iden­ti­fied Male Por­traits” (nos. 290 – 345) and Not Iden­ti­fied Female Por­traits” (nos. 353 – 75). See also some of the works dis­cussed by H. Leeflang in Ams­ter­dam, New York & Tole­do 2003, 235 – 63. For Goltz­ius’s influ­ence on Math­am’s own fan­ta­sy heads, see Widerkehr 1993, 242 – 44.

  4. A well-known exam­ple is the engrav­ing by Lucas van Ley­den, A Young Man with a Skull (New Holl­stein, no. 174; and Lei­den 2011, no. 82), which like­ly served as the main inspi­ra­tion for Goltz­ius’s famous draw­ing in the Mor­gan Library & Muse­um, New York, Young Man with a Skull and Tulip (Reznicek 1961, no. 332; Stampfle 1991, no. 69; Ams­ter­dam, New York & Tole­do 2003, no. 96). Both plumed fig­ures point to skulls, and the van­i­tas theme is made even more explic­it in Goltz­ius’s draw­ing, which bears the inscrip­tion QVIS EVADET / NEMO” (Who can escape it? No one).

  5. War­saw, Gdan­sk & Poz­nan 1967, 38, no. 22, pl. 25; Vien­na, Alberti­na, inv. no. 8177; and Braun­schweig, Her­zog Anton Ulrich Muse­um, inv. no. Z 1520. Math­am labeled the Braun­schweig draw­ing Hani­bal” on his hat, sug­gest­ing an antique iden­ti­ty for this fig­ure; on this see Reznicek 1961, vol. 1, 205.

  6. See, for exam­ple, the Imag­i­nary Por­trait of a Man dated 1606 in the Muse­um Boi­j­mans Van Beunin­gen, Rot­ter­dam (Paris 1974, no. 66; and Paris, Rot­ter­dam & Wash­ing­ton 2014 – 15, no. 85); and the Head of a Man with Peaked Cap dated 1607 in the Nation­al Gallery of Scot­land, Edin­burgh (Andrews 1985, no. 341).

  7. See Schapel­houman 1987, 94 – 95, no. 57.

  8. Ketelsen, Hahn & Kuhlmann-Hod­ick 2011, 199, no. C 1962 – 257.

  9. An exam­ple of a bust-length draw­ing of a female fan­ta­sy-like fig­ure that can be iden­ti­fied through her attrib­ut­es is the fig­ure of Diana (with cres­cent moon head­piece and hold­ing a bow) in the Fon­da­tion Cus­to­dia, Paris; see Boon 1992, no. 144. There is also the afore­men­tioned Hani­bal” in Braun­schweig (see note 5, above), though with­out the text label he would be impos­si­ble to identify.

  10. See, for some exam­ples, Antwerp 2008 (pas­sim).

  11. For this draw­ing, see H. Bev­ers in Munich 1989 – 90, 47 – 51, no. 39.

  12. A point made by H. Bev­ers in Munich 1989 – 90, 48.

  13. As cited in De Piles 1643, 87. For Ruben­s’s art the­o­ry and his unpub­lished man­u­script of De Imi­ta­tione Stat­u­rarum (later cited by De Piles), see Muller 1982.

  14. For sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments expressed ear­li­er by Ital­ian art the­o­rists, such as Gior­gio Vasari, Ludovi­co Dolce, and Gio­van­ni Bat­tista Armeni­ni, see, with fur­ther ref­er­ences, E. Dodero in Haar­lem & Lon­don 2015, 122, 124 (note 8).