Pleasure and Piety

Joachim Wtewael, Mars, Venus and Cupid (detail), c. 1610. P. and N. de Boer Foundation Amsterdam
Joachim Wtewael, Mars, Venus and Cupid (detail), c. 1610. P. and N. de Boer Foundation Amsterdam

Pleasure & Piety is the first-ever large monographic exhibition on the Utrecht painter Joachim Wtewael. Wtewael is a sublime colourist and fabulous storyteller. His works on copper are exquisitely painted gems. His biblical depictions are strikingly sensitive, while his mythological works are witty and good-humoured, with gods and goddesses at play or at war.
His portrayals of Mars and Venus are so risqué that some were censured or hidden from view - behind another painting, on a collector’s bookshelf, or in a museum depot.

A selection of his best works has been brought together for this exhibition. Approximately forty paintings and ten drawings from European and American museum and private collections offer a unique demonstration of his mastery.  

Joachim Wtewael, Self-Portrait (1601)
Joachim Wtewael, Self-Portrait (1601)

Who is Joachim Wtewael?

Joachim Wtewael was born and died in Utrecht. Early in his career Wtewael spent several years traveling through Italy and France, where he mainly studied the work of the School of Fontainebleau. In 1592 he returned to Utrecht.
Wtewael is seen as the most important Northern-Netherlandish mannerist. This style is characterised by an extremely idealised nature: nude figures with prolonged bodies and limbs in unlikely positions populate the mythological, often erotically charged scenes.
During his lifetime, Joachim Wtewael’s paintings were hugely popular among leading art patrons, and he was praised as one of the greatest Dutch painters of his time. So why has he been all but forgotten today? That his name is spelled in different ways (Wttewael, Uytewael, Wtewael) and is hard to pronounce does not work in his favour.

Joachim Wtewael, Mars and Venus surprised by Vulcan (1606-1610)
Joachim Wtewael, Mars and Venus surprised by Vulcan (1606-1610)

Collection: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Pleasure & Piety

The theme of Pleasure and Piety returns frequently in the work of Wtewael, and often in a playful manner. On his self-portrait he holds his palette, brush and maulstick in his left hand. He clasps the brush that he is working with between his thumb and index finger. There is red paint on the tip of the brush. The colour was likely not chosen at random; instead, it is a playful hint for the perceptive viewer. Red is the colour of danger, but also of pleasure and love. That is why red is also the colour of Mars – Wtewael’s favourite mythological figure.

Wtewael painted at least four versions of Mars and Venus Surprised by the Gods. It is the explicitly portrayed adultery that is striking. Aside from a bit of textile here and there, Mars and Venus are shown naked in bed, making love. In the past this outright eroticism was covered up and even censored outright.

Touring exhibition and catalogue

After Utrecht the exhibition Pleasure & Piety will travel to The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (28 June to 4 October 2015) and to The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1 November 2015 to 31 January 2016). The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with contributions by Stijn Alsteens, James Clifton, Liesbeth M. Helmus, Anne Lowenthal and Arthur K. Wheelock. The catalogue is available in two languages: Dutch and English. It can be purchased in the Centraal Museum shop (and elsewhere). € 35.00 (English, soft cover). ISBN-/EAN-number: 978-0-89468-391-6.


This exhibition is subject to a surcharge of € 2,50.


Joachim Wtewael, Perseus and Andromeda, 1611 (detail)
Joachim Wtewael, Perseus and Andromeda, 1611 (detail)

Collection: Musée du Louvre, Paris

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