Adriaen de Vries
Biography of Dutch Mannerist Renaissance Sculptor.

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Vir Dolorum (1607)
Collection of Prince of Lichtenstein.

Adriaen de Vries (1560-1626)

Born in Holland, trained in Italy, and active mainly in Prague, the Dutch sculptor Adriaen de Vries made an important contribution to the art of sculpture during the early Baroque era which occurred in Northern Europe, during the late 16th and early 17th century. In the 1580s, de Vries lived in Italy and trained as a bronze sculptor in the workshop of Giambologna (1529-1608) in Florence. One of his earliest masterpieces was the statue Mercury and Psyche (1593, Louvre). Later, in Augsburg, where he settled for some years, he executed the Fountain of Mercury (1599) and the Fountain of Heracles (1602). In 1601 he became court artist to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, based in Prague. After Rudolf II's death in 1612, de Vries remained in Prague, where he sculpted numerous statues, church fonts and funerary monuments. Noted for his mastery of modelling and bronze casting and the manipulation of patina (colouration of bronzes), he became one of the most celebrated figures in Baroque sculpture, of his generation.

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Adriaen de Vries was born in The Hague to a well-off family. Details of his early training in sculpture are unclear. However his virtuoso casting technique and quality of finish is consistent with suggestions that he trained in Holland under Willem Danielsz van Tetrode, a pupil of Benvenuto Cellini, or that he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law Simon Adriaensz Rottermont, a goldsmith. In any event, he left the Netherlands probably at the age of 19-20 and travelled to Italy, where (by 1581) he was working in the studio of the Flemish genius Giambologna, who would become his greatest inspiration. Meantime de Vries contributed several pieces to a number of Giambologna's commissions, including his Grimaldi Chapel, in San Francesco di Castelletto, Genoa (1579).

In 1586, de Vries went to Milan to work for Pompeo Leoni (1533-1608), the son of the ailing Leone Leoni (1509-90), former court sculptor to Charles V. In Milan de Vries executed three heroic bronze figures of saints (out of a total of 15) for the high altar of the royal mausoleum at Escorial. The success of this commission led to de Vries' brief tenure as court sculptor to Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy in Turin.



In 1589, he began a 5-year stint in Prague, working for the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612), in the creation of portrait busts and reliefs (now in Vienna or the Victoria and Albert Museum London). The reclusive Rudolf II was in the process of turning his capital city into a major cultural centre, attracting many mannerist artists in the process. While in Prague, de Vries created two monumental bronze masterpieces Mercury and Psyche (Louvre Paris), and Psyche Borne by Cupids (Nationalmuseum Stockholm).


Mercury and Psyche (1593, Musee du Louvre)

Mercury and Psyche, de Vries' bronze sculpture - his greatest homage to Giambologna - echoes the latter's gravity-defying Flying Mercury (1564-80, Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence) in its innovative weight distribution and spiraling movement, which creates an unusual illusion of flight. The sculpture's svelte figures, smooth modelling, elongation of the hands, and slender fingers, as well as its fusion of grace and energy, were all key features of the Mannerism style of art which was fashionable throughout Europe at the time, notably in artistic centres such as Florence, Fontainebleau, and Prague.

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To learn how to judge plastic artists like the Dutch sculptor Adriaen de Vries, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.


Leaving Prague in 1594 to study in Rome, de Vries returned two years later via Germany where he created his wonderful Fountain of Mercury (1599) and Fountain of Heracles (1602) for the city of Augsburg, which still stand in Maximilianstrasse. These and other public sculptures did much to spread the Mannerist idiom - especially the sleek and elegant style initiated by Giambologna and developed by de Vries.

Back to Prague

In 1601 he returned to Prague, where Rudolf appointed him official court sculptor (kammerbildhauer). Following Rudolf's death in 1612, the Imperial court relocated to Vienna, but de Vries remained in Prague for the rest of his life. During these later years he received numerous commissions from Count Ernst of Schaumberg (Buckeburg parish church, font 1616; Stadthagen mausoleum sculpture 1618-20) as well as from several German cities. Christian IV, King of Denmark was another patron: he commissioned de Vries to make a Neptune fountain for the gardens of the royal palace at Frederiksborg. One of the statues from this fountain sculpture is now housed in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the only piece by de Vries to be found in his native Netherlands. Another piece created for the Danish king was the Hercules Fountain, made for Fredensborg Palace. De Vries died in Prague at the age of 66.

In 1999, a major joint exhibition of works by de Vries co-arranged by the Rijksmuseum, the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, was held in Amsterdam. Today, while his work is well represented in the Louvre and other international museums, the largest collection of statues and other sculptures by De Vries, is in Sweden, where a new Museum devoted to his art was recently opened at Drottningholm Palace, near Stockholm.

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