A gifted engraver and draughtsman, Jan Harmensz. Muller (1571–1628) was the son of Harmen Jansz. Muller, a printmaker and art dealer who ran a successful Amsterdam print publishing business. Muller became his father’s pupil and was hugely inspired and influenced by the work of Hendrick Goltzius, in whose Haarlem studio he is believed to have served an apprenticeship in the second half of the 1580’s. It’s thought he lived for some years in Rome and Naples in the latter part of the 1590’s. Whilst he did publish a number of engravings after his own designs, Muller seems mainly to have worked as a reproductive engraver, producing numerous prints after the works of Goltzius, Cornelis van Haarlem and other Haarlem Mannerists.
Muller was related by marriage to the sculptor Adriaen de Vries, who worked at the court of the Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, and thus gained useful contacts with artists working there. In due course he also published a number of important engravings after the work of artists active at the Prague court, notably de Vries, Bartholomeus Spranger and Hans von Aachen. Although Muller seems to have actually visited Prague himself, it’s largely through the reproduction of his prints that the artistic style of the leading artists of the Prague court was disseminated and popularized throughout Europe.
In the first quarter of the 17th century he also produced engravings after portrait paintings by Rubens, Michiel van Mierevelt and others. Towards the middle of the 1620’s, however, Muller seems to have given up printmaking to take over the successful family publishing business, which he had inherited in 1619. Around a hundred prints by Muller are known, most of which are after the work of other artists; the largest extant group of prints by him is in the collection of the Albertina in Vienna. Although paintings by Muller are recorded in several inventories and in his will, only one painting may be firmly attributed to him today.
After Adriaen de Vries.
After Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem.
Arion on the Dolphin illustrates a scene from the life of Arion, a Greek poet and singer, who lived in Corinth in the sixth century BC and was considered the best lyre player of his time. Returning from a sojourn in Italy and Sicily, Arion was seized by sailors who robbed him of the fortune he had made in various musical contests. They allowed him to sing one last song before hurling himself into the sea. His beautiful music, however, attracted a school of dolphins who rescued him. They were likely sent by Apollo, the god of music and poetry. Arion is sitting astride a dolphin strumming his lyre, despite the menacing clouds and turbulent sea, on his way back home to Corinth.
The engraving was commissioned by Hendrik Laurensz. Spieghel, the Amsterdam poet, and has his motto ‘Deugd Verhuegt’ (Virtue gives delight) inscribed below the image.
According to Greek and Roman mythology, the Three Fates were goddesses who determined the course of human lives and were traditionally portrayed as women spinning wool. Muller shows them seated together in a rocky landscape, overlooking a barren plain with a few buildings in the far distance. In the center is Clotho (Greek for ‘the spinner’), spinning the thread of life for all mortals; at the right is Lachesis (‘the apportioner’), measuring out the thread — determining the length of a mortal’s life; and at the left, Atropos (‘she who cannot be turned’), cutting the thread, signaling the moment of death.
The Fight Between Ulysses and Irus illustrates an event from Book 18 of the epic poem of Homer, The Odyssey. Finally returning to Ithaca after years of wandering, Ulysses discovers that his wife Penelope is besieged by suitors who, believing he was dead, wish to marry her. Disguised as a beggar, Ulysses goes to see her and is challenged to a fight by Irus, a drunken tramp and companion of the suitors. Ulysses easily defeats Irus, and Muller shows him as he is decribed by Homer; a nude figure, standing victorious over the body of his opponent, his back to the viewer putting on full display: “his big rippling thighs – his boxer’s broad shoulders, his massive chest and burly arms.”
After Cornelis Bartholomeus Spranger.
Lucretia, legendary heroine of ancient Rome. According to tradition, she was the beautiful and virtuous wife of the nobleman Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus. Her tragedy began when she was raped by Sextus Tarquinius, son of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the tyrannical Etruscan king of Rome. After exacting an oath of vengence against theTarquins ordered by her father and husband, she stabbed herself to death.
When the triumphant Octavian arrived, she attempted to seduce him, but he resisted her charms. Rather than fall under Octavian’s domination, Cleopatra died by suicide on August 12, 30 B.C., possibly by means of an asp, a poisonous Egyptian Cobra and symbol of divine royalty. Suicide allowed her to avoid the humiliation of being paraded as a Roman prisoner in Egypt or Rome. “I will not be led in a triumph” she told Octavian. Here she sits naked on her bed and to her right behind a curtain is her (lost) crown and scepter.