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November 09, 2022

Acquisition: Three Engravings by Jan Muller of “Mercury Abducting Psyche”

Jan Muller, after Adriaen de Vries, "Mercury Abducting Psyche"

Jan Muller, after Adriaen de Vries
Mercury Abducting Psyche, c. 1597
engraving on laid paper
plate: 50 x 26 cm (19 11/16 x 10 1/4 in.)
sheet: 51.4 x 27 cm (20 1/4 x 10 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Ruth and Jacob Kainen Memorial Acquisition Fund

Netherlandish artist Jan Muller (1571–1628) was among the most imaginative and refined of a group of engravers that flourished between Haarlem and the imperial court at Prague around the turn of the 16th century. The National Gallery of Art has acquired Muller’s Mercury Abducting Psyche (c. 1597), a series of three engravings based on a 1593 sculpture of the same name by Adriaen de Vries (c. 1556–1626).

In these prints, Muller rendered the statue from three different points of view. By translating a life-size marble of erotic subject and complicated torsion into black-and-white line work of remarkably abstract organization and exhaustive execution, the series demonstrates his extraordinary virtuosity. The series is a late and exceptional example in the paragone—the Renaissance argument about the relative merits of artistic media (usually sculpture and painting) and resulting attempts to demonstrate the superiority of one over another. Not only does this series epitomize the last flourishing of mannerism, but it also asserts the representational potential and high status of engraving.

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