Van Heemskerck's Temple of Diana at Ephesus: Our drawing of the week

In the weeks leading up to Christmas 2013, for one morning per week, you can see a print or drawing from our collection in the intimate setting of our Print Study Room. Next up is Maerten van Heemskerck’s Temple of Diana at Ephesus.

Austeja MacKelaite, PhD student at The Courtauld Institute of Art, explains why she chose this drawing and what it means to her. You can see the drawing for yourself on Monday 16 December, 10:30 – 1:30.

Temple of Diana at Ephesus

From the early sixteenth-century, Rome became the key destination for Netherlandish artists seeking to directly experience ancient art and architecture, and to copy the art of their Italian contemporaries.

My PhD research focuses on these intimate encounters, recorded in drawings which the artists brought back to the Netherlands.

I am intrigued by the relationship that these foreign artists would have formed with ancient and modern art in Rome, and the ways in which the years spent in Italy informed their artistic practices for the remainder of their careers.

Maerten van Heemskerck occupies a very important place within this history of artistic interchange between Italy and the Netherlands.

The artist left for Rome in 1532, at the mature age of 34. He stayed in the city for four years, sketching classical architecture and statues, as well as works by modern Italian masters, including Michelangelo and Raphael.

Upon his return to Haarlem, van Heemskerck became a champion of Italianate iconography in his native city.

I chose van Heemskerck’s drawing of the Temple of Diana because I have always admired the artist’s ability to conjure up the past in a highly imaginative (if not always historically precise!) manner, as well as his meticulously controlled drawing technique.

This drawing was completed more than three decades after van Heemskerck’s trip to Rome. It belongs to a series of eight compositions depicting the wonders of the ancient world, of which only three other sheets survive today (including the Colossus of Rhodes, also in The Courtauld Collection).

The Temple of Diana, completed around 550 B.C., was considered to be one of the wonders of the ancient world because of its vast proportions.

In this very detailed drawing, van Heemskerck depicts both the construction of the Temple at left, and the already finished structure at right.

He uses dense, careful hatching to model the musculature of the figures in the foreground, imbuing them with a sculptural quality. The man holding the map on the left may represent Dinocrates, the building’s architect.

While van Heemskerck might have been familiar with some descriptions of the Temple of Diana from the classical texts, he based the building design on the architecture he studied in Italy.

Specifically, he used a church type which had evolved in Florence in the late Quattrocento. Many elements of the exterior decorations, such as the S-shaped volutes, have no precedents in antiquity.

Rather than a historically precise investigation, this drawing is therefore a vision or a dream of ancient past that would have appealed to learned Netherlandish viewers.

It served as a model for an engraving, thus reaching a wide audience and attesting to the appetite for classical subjects in the sixteenth-century Netherlands.