Apr 26–Aug 4, 2024

The Allure of Rome

Maarten van Heemskerck Draws the City

In 1532, Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck (1498–1574) embarked on a journey to Rome. From his five-year stay in the Eternal City, the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin has preserved a unique collection of around 160 drawings. These include wide panoramas and city views as well as studies of ancient ruins and sculptures. This outstanding collection will be on view in its entirety for the first time next year, 450 years after the artist's death. In addition to the virtuoso drawings, which are also important pictorial sources on the history of Rome during the Renaissance, paintings, books, prints and plaster casts will also be on display.

The Kupferstichkabinett Berlin owns two spectacular adhesive albums with around 160 drawings by the Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck (1498–1574), which were made in Rome between 1532 and 1536/37. During these years he strolled through the city, visited art collections and antique gardens, made pilgrimages to the holy sites, and filled his sketchbook with drawings. In this way he compiled an extensive fund of motifs from which he was to draw throughout his life. After his death, the drawings were passed on, first to artists, later to collectors. Individual sheets were sold on, the majority were probably pasted into two albums in the 18th century – together with other drawings by other artists. Thus the core stock of Van Heemskerck's Roman drawings remained together until today, a unique case in art history. In 1886 and 1892, the two albums entered the holdings of the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett; since then, they have never been exhibited in their entirety.

For conservation reasons, the so-called first Roman album, which was renewed in the 1980s, had to be unbound, so that 66 sketchbook pages with their 130 drawn recto and verso pages can now be shown in public for the first time. In preparation for the exhibition, extensive examinations of the inks and papers are taking place, making it possible to reconstruct the original sequence of the pages even more precisely than before, to better understand the drawing processes, and to trace the later use of the sketchbook. The second album, containing only twenty sheets of Van Heemskerck's work, is exhibited in bound form and pages will regularly be turned over. A reconstruction of the sketchbooks as a digital copy and facsimile gives the public an impression of the complete ensemble before it was disassembled and put into adhesive albums.

Numerous loans from various collections of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, but also from important museums such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Princely Collections of Liechtenstein, the National Gallery in Prague, the Dresden State Art Collections, and the Hamburg Kunsthalle enrich the exhibition. Thus, two formerly associated sketchbook pages will find their way to Berlin for the duration of the presentation and will be reunited with their counterparts. In addition, the Berlin sheets are supplemented by further drawings and paintings from Van Heemskerck’s Roman phase, as well as contextualized by plaster casts of sculptures that Van Heemskerck drew, by series of engravings that were created after his return to Holland and take up motifs from his trip to Rome. Prints in particular contributed to the rapid dissemination of the iconic motifs throughout Europe. They were to shape pictorial memory for centuries.