This strong, expressive representation of a fool reveals a lot about the Renaissance and early Modern Period in the Low Countries: freedom of speech was still in its infancy. There was much that only a buffoon could safely say.
The composition copies a late 16th century engraving by Hendrick Goltzius.
About Werner van der Valckert
Dutch painter and engraver
The Hague circa 1580 – Amsterdam in or after 1627, or Delft 1644
Painter of portraits, genre and historical scenes and allegories.
It is not known whom he studied painting with, possibly with his father-in-law, the glass painter Cornelis Sybertsz Monicx van Montfoort from The Hague. He married his daughter Jannetje in 1605.
According to Arnold Houbraken, the Dutch painter’s biographer in his “De Groote Schouburgh” of 1718, van der Valckert had been a pupil of Hendrick Goltzius.
Van der Valckert is documented in The Hague until 1613, the next year he is mentioned for the first time in Amsterdam (a baptism of a child), where he is registered until 1627.
According to some authors he must have moved to Delft where a pottery painter of the same name died in 1644.
About Hendrick Goltzius
Dutch draughtsman, printmaker, print publisher and painter.
Mülbracht 1558 – 1617 Haarlem.
Goltzius was born near Venlo in Bracht or Millebrecht, a village then in the Duchy of Julich, now in the municipality Brüggen in North Rhine-Westphalia. His family moved to Duisburg when he was 3 years old. After studying painting on glass for some years under his father, he learned engraving from the Dutchman Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert, who then lived in Cleves. In 1577 he moved with Coornhert to Haarlem.
Goltzius had a malformed right hand, from a fire when he was a baby, which turned out to be especially well-suited to holding the burin. He was internationally well known for his sophisticated technique of engraving and for the exuberance of his compositions.
In Haarlem, 15 km W of Amsterdam Goltzius, Karel van Mander and Cornelis Cornelisz. van Haarlem introduced the complex compositions and the exaggerated twisted figures of Mannerism in Dutch art.
At the age of 21 Goltzius had married a rich, elder widow. Their unpleasant relationship forced him in 1590 to travel through Germany to Italy, where he admired Michelangelo. After his return by the end of 1591 he developed a more classicizing style. Still later his art reflected a growing interest in naturalism.
Goltzius began painting around 1600, at the age of 42; he more or less gave up engraving at that stage.
About our painting
The composition of our painting copies an engraving by Hendrick Goltzius dating from the last decade of the 16th century. Our court jester stands stylistically close to other figures that were engraved and painted by Werner van der Valckert. Arnold Houbraken stated already in 1718 that van der Valckert had been a pupil of Goltzius, although this hypothesis is today no longer accepted.
Representations of buffoons, jesters or fools were popular in the Low Countries during the 16th and 17th century as they served as an antidote to power: the truth about authority could only be safely revealed by absurd mockery.
Our jester is pointing at his marotte: a mock sceptre with a small head of the fool himself. It served as his alter ego.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a grand statement of how people in the Low Countries, criticized in but also inspired by Erasmus’ “In praise of folly” dealt with the power of church and state.