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Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Nymphs and Satyrs


Creator: Isaac Oliver (c. 1565-1617) (artist)
Creation Date: 
Materials and techniques: 
Black chalk, pen and ink, white heightening, on brown paper
20.6 x 35.5 cm
RL 13528
O(E) 460
XQG 2002 357
Acquirer: Charles I, King of Great Britain (1600-49)
Probably Charles I ('a large lymning Venus a Cupid & Satyrs' or 'Satyrs and venus sporting': Vertue Notebooks, IV, pp. 91, 93); probably James II ('a large limning; Venus, Cupid and Satyrs': Bathoe 1758, p. 45, no. 521)

A drawing of a revel with satyrs and nymphs in a forest clearing.

Although Isaac Oliver is chiefly known for his portrait miniatures, several carefully finished drawings signed by the artist survive; there is no evidence that he ever painted in oils. A number of these drawings are included in early inventories of the Royal Collection. The present sheet was probably in the collection of Charles I and may well have been executed for one of his parents, James I and Anne of Denmark.

The majority of Oliver's drawings are of religious subjects, and the eroticism of the present sheet is highly unusual, not only in the artist's oeuvre but in contemporary English art in general. Possible sources in a number of Italian prints may be noted, especially Agostino Carracci's Love reciprocated of c.1590 which also shows couples by the banks of a woodland pool with a round dance in the distance. The subject of nymphs and satyrs by a woodland pool seems to have been chosen primarily to allow the portrayal of a classical theme and the nude form; the pursuit at far right and abduction at centre left are counterpoints to the general langour and do not point to any specific subject. The figure style and strong chiaroscuro are deeply indebted to the work of the Haarlem Mannerists such as Joachim Wtewael and Hendrick Goltzius, and Oliver may have made a journey to the Netherlands around this time rather than simply knowing the works of these artists through their prints.

Signed at lower right Olliuier

Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002

Further details

Additional Acquirers: James II, King of Great Britain (1633-1701)
Unframed Drawings / Watercolours