The Allure of Rome
Maarten van Heemskerck Draws the City

26.04.2024 to 04.08.2024

In 1532, Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck (1498–1574) embarked on a journey from Haarlem to Rome. From his roughly five-year stay in the Eternal City, the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin has preserved a unique collection of around 170 drawings. In addition to sweeping panoramas and city views, these primarily included studies of ancient sculptures and ruins. This outstanding collection will be on view in its entirety for the first time next year, marking 450 years since the artist’s death. Along with these virtuosic drawings, which are also important pictorial sources on the history of Rome during the Renaissance, paintings, prints, books, and plaster casts will also be on display.

Berlin’s Kupferstichkabinett owns two spectacular albums with around 170 drawings by the Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck (1498–1574), which were made in Rome between 1532 and 1536/37. The majority of these can be traced back to a landscape-format sketchbook, which, along with large-format loose sheets, he would take with him on his forays through the city and his visits to art collections, ancient gardens and holy sites. With great care, van Heemskerck captured the topography of Rome in vedute and detail studies, briefly before the changes to the city’s architecture and infrastructure under Pope Paul III (r. 1534–1549).

He was the first artist to sketch the Roman Forum, which at the time was still difficult to access, as well as the adjoining imperial fora and thermal baths, the Colosseum, and the monuments on Palatine Hill and Quirinal Hill. He also evocatively documented the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Piazza del Campidoglio before it was redesigned by Michelangelo. His sketches also depict world-famous sculptures from antiquity such as Laocoön, the Belvedere Torso and Apollo, and he often depicted them from unusual, surprising perspectives. Importantly, he also created the first depictions of the new antiquities collections that were emerging at the time, such as those of Cesi, Della Valle, and Sassi.

In this way, van Heemskerck compiled an extensive repertoire of motifs which he would draw upon throughout his life. After his death, the drawings were passed on, first to fellow artists, and later to collectors. Individual sheets were sold on, the majority were probably pasted into the two albums in the 18th century – together with other drawings by other artists. Thus the core of van Heemskerck’s Roman drawings remained together until the present day, a unique case in art history. In 1886 and 1892, the two albums entered the holdings of the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett; since which time they have never been exhibited in their entirety.

Sketchbooks Reassembled, Digitised, and Reconstructed

Due to its fragile state, the “first Roman album”, which was restored in the 1980s, had to be unbound, so that 66 pages from a sketchbook that had previously been pasted in the album, comprising 130 recto and verso drawings, can now be shown to the public for the first time. In preparation for the exhibition, extensive examinations of the inks and papers took place, making it possible to reconstruct the original sequence of the pages even more precisely than before and to better understand the drawing processes.

A reconstruction of the small sketchbook as a digital copy and facsimile gives the public a sense of what the complete ensemble was like before it was disassembled and placed in the collected album. The second album, containing another 21 sheets and 36 of van Heemskerck’s drawings, is exhibited in bound form, with the pages being turned weekly. There is also a digital version of this object.

Sketches, Drawings, Paintings, Engravings and Plaster Casts

The exhibition also includes numerous loans from various collections of the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, but also from important museums such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Louvre in Paris, the Princely Collections of Liechtenstein, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, the National Gallery in Prague, the Dresden State Art Collections, and the Hamburg Kunsthalle. Through these collaborations, sheets that used to form part of the same sketchbooks will make their way to Berlin and be reunited with their former companion pieces. In addition, the Berlin sheets are supplemented by further drawings and two paintings from van Heemskerck’s tome in Rome. Plaster casts of classical sculptures that van Heemskerck drew will also be on display. Multiple series of engravings that were created after his return to Holland and take up motifs from his trip to Rome illustrate how the iconic images from his forays through Rome were disseminated throughout Europe through the medium of printmaking.

Exhibition in Three Sections

An introductory section will look at van Heemskerck’s production from before his trip to Rome. Alongside the first textual references to his work by Giorgio Vasari, Hadrianus Junius and Karel van Mander, paintings by Jan van Scorel feature, in whose Haarlem studio van Heemkerck worked between 1528 and 1530, as do some of van Heemskerck’s own early works. These are complemented by prints based on Roman buildings and sculptures, along with descriptions and plans of the city of Rome that were circulating in Holland at the time and might have served the artist in his preparations for the trip.

In the central space, van Heemskerck’s Roman drawings and paintings are exhibited. The sketchbook sheets are thematically arranged, giving visitors the chance to both discover van Heemskerck’s outstanding drawing technique and to follow his strolls through the streets of Rome. This aesthetic and thematic framing is emphasised by a special presentation concept. Departing from the usual hanging of works on the walls in framed passepartouts, these double-sided sketchbook sheets will be positioned in the centre of the room, virtually floating freely.

The final room focuses on the artist’s production after his return to Haarlem, as well as on the artistic reception of his work and the afterlife of his Roman studies. This constitutes another focus of the exhibition, which sheds light on the function of the drawings in van Heemskerck’s paintings and printmaking.


The exhibition is curated by Christien Melzer (Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Tatjana Bartsch (Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max Planck Institute for Art History, Rome), and Hans-Ulrich Kessler (Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).

Exhibition Publication

A catalogue has been published in German and English by Hirmer Verlag. This was made possible by the generous support of the Rudolf-August Oetker Stiftung, the Bibliotheca Hertziana, as well as Wolfgang Wittrock and Oskar Matzel.

A facsimile of the Roman drawing book by Maarten van Heemskerck will also be published by Hatje Cantz.

Accompanying Events

The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive programme of educational and outreach activities, including a rally for children and workshops for families.
Film series accompanying the exhibition: The ARTE Summer Cinema at the Kulturforum is showing four films with the Eternal City in a leading role.

The exhibition is funded by the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States, the Tavolozza Foundation and the Wolfgang Ratjen Foundation, Vaduz.

Media partners: ARTE, Der Tagesspiegel, Klassik Radio, tipBerlin, and WELTKUNST

A special exhibition of the Kupferstichkabinett – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in cooperation with the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max-Planck-Institut for Art History

Maarten van Heemskerck, Composite Capital and Colosseum, detail, c. 1532–1536, preliminary drawing in lead pencil pen and brown ink
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Volker-H. Schneider
Von Rom nach Berlin. Der Blick auf die Stadt

Workshop | 120 Minuten | 60 EURO

Marielle Durand sketches the Forum Romanum
© Medea Film Factory, Leif Karpe, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
Event at Neues Museum © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Marcus Glahn
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Marcus Glahn
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Volker-H. Schneider

10785 Berlin

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The Allure of Rome
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