This extraordinary tondo is one of the most daring works to have resulted from the brief collaboration between Goltzius and the painter Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem. The common bond of the series of four fallers is that each one tried to enter the realm of the gods and was punished for his hubris.
Although he worked from Cornelisz's designs, Goltzius should be given just as much credit as the painter for the striking nature of these scenes. His bold, meshed, swelling strokes lend the figures a powerful presence and masterfully evoke the reflections of light and shadow on their rippling muscles. The sense of confusion surrounding the falls of Ixion and Tantalus into their hellish surroundings is heightened by repeated patterns of swirling lines. The four seemingly varied poses are in fact more or less the same pose (one leg bent down, the other raised; one arm raised, the other lowered) viewed from different angles.
1588 engraving by Hendrick Goltzius. Art reproduced by permission of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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