Connected Central European Worlds, 1500-1700

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The Power of Print at the Court of Rudolf II

Olenka Horbatsch, British Museum

Printmaking at the court of emperor Rudolf II represents the apogee of engraving as an art form. The emperor patronized expansive print projects, and appointed Aegidius II Sadeler (c. 1568-1625) as the first-ever imperial engraver. Sadeler introduced new techniques, formats, and subjects into his ambitious prints. Hendrick Goltzius and Jan Muller, who were based in the Netherlands and worked after designs from Prague by Rudolf’s court artists, brought new refinement to the art of engraving by using swelling lines to convey volume. Prints produced in and for Prague combined technical innovations (both in terms of scale and complexity) with a new self-conscious interest in the history of printmaking in Europe, centered on the work of Albrecht Dürer. This paper investigates the status of prints in Rudolfine Prague, from technical and art theoretical perspectives, and queries the role of prints in the emperor’s collection. Further afield, prints disseminated the courtly style to much broader audience that extended as far as Mughal India. Case studies include Sadeler’s prints after Dürer and engravings by Muller and Goltzius after Spranger.


Olenka Horbatsch is Curator of Dutch & Flemish Prints and Drawings at The British Museum. She received her Ph.D. in 2017 from the University of Toronto with a dissertation on Lucas van Leyden and his contemporaries. Her first exhibition opened September 29, 2017 at the British Museum, The Candle is Lighted: Martin Luther’s Legacy in Print. She has curated exhibitions on Martin Luther’s Legacy in Print (2017), Rembrandt’s prints and drawings (2019) and Printmaking in Prague under Rudolph II (2021). She is currently undertaking a research and catalogue project on early Netherlandish drawings in the Museum’s collection. Her work has appeared in the Rijksmuseum Bulletin and in edited volumes published by Brepols, Routledge and British Museum Press.