MUNICH 1564 - 1625 AUGSBURG
MINERVA AND THE NINE MUSES
signed with monogram and dated lower right on the rock: 1606 / HR
oil on copper, oval
32.8 by 39.4 cm.; 12 7/8 by 15 1/2 in.
Athene (Minerva) left her watch over Perseus and went to Helicon to see the Muses. She wanted the sisters who inspired song, poetry, drama, and other art forms to show her the spring that had issued forth from Pegasus' hoof. The Muses took her to he beautiful stream that was said to inspire poetry, and Minerva was impressed by the beauty of the Muses' home. As the goddess of war talked with the Muses, nine magpies gathered near the window. Another of the sisters told Minerva the story of the Pierid sisters who challenged the Muses to a talent duel. The deal was that whoever lost the duel would leave their sacred spring. Nymphs were chosen as judges.
In Venice he gained a reputation for small highly finished cabinet paintings on copper, of religious and mythological subjects, combining German and Italian elements of style. In particular he combines the landscape tradition of the North with the compositional and figure styles of Tintoretto and Veronese. He was the first German artist to specialize in cabinet paintings. In Rome he knew the earlier members of the Bamboccianti, a circle of Northern artists (before the name itself arose), and remained in regular contact with Paul Bril, a Flemish artist living in Rome, sending him plates with the figures painted on for Bril to supply the landscape, according to a dealer's letter of 1617. He also collaborated with Jan Brueghel the Elder in a similar way. He was commissioned in 1600 to paint a Feast of the Gods for Emperor Rudolph II (now Hermitage). A good example of his early style, in which he approaches Tintoretto, is his Death of Adonis in the Louvre.
Once back in Germany, he worked on larger altarpieces and decorative schemes for palaces, including the Munich Residenz and Schloss Bückeborg(Goldener Saal), more in the style of Northern Mannerism than his Italian work.
The present work, is dated to the year when Rottenhammer returned to his native Bavaria, where he settled permanently in Augsburg. It is a highly characteristic work, its composition perfectly adapted to the chosen oval format. Here he revisits a subject that he had treated in 1601, in a work now in Baltimore. Although of rectangular format, there are hints in the upper corners and in the figure in the lower right that Rottenhammer was working towards an oval composition. The drawing includes all the figures found in the present painting except the Cupid playing a lute-like instrument.
The background, including the trees, would appear to be the work of Jan Brueghel the Elder.