Tales of Transformation

Hendrick Goltzius’s Allegory of the (Alchemical) Arts in the Kunstmuseum Basel

  • Christine Göttler (Autor/in)

Identifier (Artikel)


The rhetoric of secrecy played an important role in the early modern fashioning of painting as a specialized kind of knowledge about the visible and invisible worlds. This article explores Goltzius’s use of secrecy in regard to his largest and perhaps most enigmatic composition, which is also his only painted work that includes a self-portrait. With its explicit references to the processes of alchemical transformation the work draws attention to the enigma of artistic creation and the mutability and versatility of Goltzius’s art. The witty play with various attributes alludes to the multiple roles and guises an artist could assume, and the abundance of detail reflects on the mercurial power of painting as an art that links and connects the worlds of knowledge and deceit. The article argues for a dynamic and discursive notion of subject that challenges rather than satisfies the viewer’s imagination and explores rather than asserts knowledges and ideas.


Verschwiegenheit, Alchemie, Magie, Farbe, Gold, Wissen, Täuschung, Merkur, Prometheus, Pandora