Abraham Bloemaert

The killing of the Niobids

Abraham Bloemaert was born in Gorinchem in 1564. His father instructed him in the art of drawing by having him copy works by the Flemish mannerist painter Frans Floris (Antwerp 1519 – 1570). He then worked as an apprentice in different masters’ workshops in Paris and Antwerp (where he is known to have worked for Hieronymus Francken). In 1583 he returned home, where he followed his father to Amsterdam, where he settled in 1591, setting up a workshop in the church of the Order of Poor Ladies. In 1593 he went to Utrecht, where he married, lived and worked until he died in 1651 at the age of 85.

Artistically, Bloemaert was not a mannerist like Maarten van Heemskerck or Hendrick Goltzius, being more influenced by Italianising painters such as Anthonie Blocklandt (whose work he is known to have copied) and Frans Floris, although he never actually visited Italy. He was a very versatile artist, who depicted not only biblical and mythological themes but who also did portraits, landscapes and even some still life paintings. He was a prolific draughtsman, producing many fine drawings, and continued working until well into his eighties.

Early on, the subject of Apollo and Diana killing the Niobids appealed to Bloemaert, who painted the subject in a magnificent painting dated 1591, now in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Copenhagen (inv. SP. 324). The Niobids were the children of Amphion of Thebes and Niobe of the royal house of Phrygia. When Niobe boasted about having had more children than Leto, mother of Apollo and Diana, she inevitably incurred the divine wrath the Greeks thought appropriate for such an act of hubris.

Several drawings of the same subject by Bloemaert have been preserved, one of which is in the Hermitage (St Petersburg, inv. 40416) today. The current drawing, which was in a private collection in Munich since 1965, is another version of this drawing. Where the St Petersburg version is still very much a “work in progress”, our drawing is more technically elaborated. According to Jaap Bolten, who published our drawing in 2011, the St Petersburg version must be considered the original sketch, while the present drawing, also by Bloemaert and probably contemporary, may be seen as a picture drawing, to be sold to a collector.

Artist: Abraham Bloemaert (Gorinchem 1564 - 1651 Utrecht)
Medium: ink and wash on paper, white highlights
Dimensions: 380 x 333 mm
Literature: J. Bolten, 'Abraham Bloemaert's Niobids', in: Ch. Dumas (red.), Liber Amicorum Dorine van Sasse van Ysselt. Collegiale bijdragen over teken- en prentkunst, Den Haag 2011, 67-72.