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up to and including 03 June 2012

Maarten van Heemskerck - Ancient Rome Relives

In the spring of 2012, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen exhibited prints, paintings and drawings by Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574), in two rooms. Sketches made by Van Heemskerck during his visit to Rome are used to provide insight into the sources of inspiration of the artist from Haarlem. Central to the exhibition was the oil painting ‘Self portrait with Colosseum’, painted by Van Heemskerck in 1553, which had been specially loaned for this exhibition from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

In 1532 Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574) left Haarlem for Rome, where he became inspired by the relics of classical antiquity. Antique sculptures and ruins proved rewarding subjects for his drawings, which he would continue to use as a source years after his return. In the background of his ‘Self-Portrait’ he painted the Colosseum, for many artists the iconic symbol of ancient Rome. Supporting this famous work, which has been brought from Cambridge especially for this exhibition, a selection of prints and paintings show how antiquity continued to figure in the artist’s oeuvre. The exhibition also examines the influence of contemporaries such as Michelangelo.

Self-portrait with Colosseum

In the painting ‘Self-Portrait with Colosseum’ (1553) Maarten van Heemskerck has portrayed himself twice: as a 55-year-old successful and wealthy artist in front of a painting in which he is shown as a young artist sketching the ruins of the Colosseum. Van Heemskerck drew the Colosseum time and again during his stay in Rome. The extent of his admiration for the ancient amphitheatre became apparent at the end of his life, when he added it as the eighth subject in a series of prints of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Classical quotes

The exhibition included several sketches that Van Heemskerck made during his stay in Rome, from the collection of the Rijksmuseum and from a private collection. His sketchbooks contain studies of classical architecture, ruins and ancient sculptures. Upon his return to Haarlem he used these studies for paintings and prints with fantasy landscapes. The classical ruins and sculptures for the background for mythological, allegorical or biblical scenes, such as ‘The Judgement of Paris’ (c.1545-1550) and ‘The Gods of Olympus’ (1556). The influence of classical sculpture is clearly recognisable in Van Heemskerck’s compositions and in the postures of his figures. He used a study he had made in Rome of the ‘Belvedere Torso’ for his Christ figure in the print ‘Christ Being Crowned with Thorns’ (1548). A plaster cast of this classical sculpture was included in the exhibition.


The exhibition was accompanied by an information brochure. Using Van Heemskerck’s sketches, it took the visitor on a visual tour of ancient Rome. The text wass in Dutch and English.

The curator explains

In connection with the exhibition, the museum organized an afternoon on 15 February 2012 in which the curator talked about Maarten van Heemskerck and his sources of inspiration.



The exhibition ‘Maarten van Heemskerck - Ancient Rome Relives’ had been made possible largely thanks to a private donation.