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Embracing Couple (Mercury and Lara?)
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Jan Harmensz. Muller
Dutch, 1588 - about 1594
Black chalk, pen and brown ink, and brown wash heightened with white bodycolor, on light brown paper
7 3/8 x 8 9/16 in.
86.GG.595

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Who is this wildly embracing naked couple? Seated on a large stone beneath a tree in the wilderness, they wrap themselves in each other's arms in a fervent kiss. The helmet in the right corner suggests to some scholars that Jan Harmensz. Muller meant to depict the gods Mars and Venus. But the god Mercury was also traditionally depicted wearing a helmet, so other scholars now believe that the figures may represent Mercury and the nymph Lara. In fact, the scene closely resembles a print that Muller engraved of Mercury and Lara.

Muller's sure yet delicate contours define both god and nymph with a few simple strokes. Strong pen lines define the outlines of their bodies, while quick flicks of ink suggest the dimpled curves on stomachs, buttocks, and thighs. White bodycolor not only adds highlights to the figures but also gives their hair texture and depth. Broad, looping strokes and areas of wash merely suggest the surrounding landscape. Scholars believe that the low level of finish suggests that Muller was still working out his ideas for the print that would later follow.