Goltzius and the Pelican Company

Synopsis: Hendrik Goltzius, a late sixteenth-century Dutch printer and engraver of erotic prints, seduces the Margrave of Alsace into paying for a printing press to make and publish illustrated books.
Director(s): Peter Greenaway
Production: Catherine Dussart Productions
  1 win & 1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
128 min

I had a little trading company.

The Pelican Company.

Engravers, printers, a writer,

an actor or two.

All of us specialised in words.

We traded in words.

Words in books.

Words on the stage.

And the members of my company

travelled with their wives

and their mistresses.

And my nephew, Eduard.

And a young woman called Susannah,

who I once knew, carnally.


I needed some money

for some business expansion.

I wanted to make pictures

as well as words.

Pictures in books.

Pictures on the stage.

Every new visual technology

is expensive

And every new visual technology,

sooner or later,

gets into bed with lechery.

My aim was always

to take a trip to Italy.

It was winter-time,

ten years ago.

We fetched up in Colmar

on the Rhine,

and I sought an audience

with the local military-governor.

The Margrave.

By his own account, a libertarian.

With just a little imagination

we seduced him,

and we convinced him to part

with his money.

And maybe also with his dignity.

Don't be alarmed.

I am obliged

to take a public sh*t at 6 o'clock.

Whether my digestion demands it, or not.

To satisfy my courtiers

that the ceremony

is not completely a farce,

I've trained my body

to respond as it is asked.

By long precedence,

relating back to God knows when,

I am obliged to present my human self

to the populace as an ordinary man.

Some ancestor,

eager to abase himself

as some act of penance

for some unmentionable crime -

though it's my feeling also

as a curious act

of self-indulgent exhibitionism -

decided that the palace library

was the perfect place for such things.

Maybe he was thinking

of books as excrement?

It has become a custom.


Your highness,



Your Majesty...



I am looking to found a new

printing press in The Hague,

the Netherlands.

To spread the new learning

of classical

and biblical knowledge.

The new Humanisme from Italy

with a Protestant understanding.

So, Your Highness, signer, prince,

Your Majesty, sire, sir...

we have come to you, devout Christian

and established humanist

to help us in our endeavour.

How much do you want?

And what do I get in return?

Well, what we intend to plan, signer,

is an illustrated "Book of Ovid",

concentrating on the adventures,

the sensuous adventures, of Jupiter.

What we might tentatively call

the "infidelities of Jupiter".

Or we could say,

the "Jealousies of Juno",

his wife.

And what we then conceive of producing

is an illustrated Old Testament,

with the familiar moral stories,

but told with a singular new freedom.

In other words "dirty books"?

How much?

150,000 crowns for a printing press.

80,000 crowns for yearly maintenance.

The sale of prints will pay

for running costs.

And the Treasury receives 40%

of all profits arising from sales.


Fruit of knowledge? Hm?

Entry of evil into the world?

I never eat apples.

I peel them for my monkeys.

Which monkeys

do you peel your apples for?

My Pelican Company.

Pelican Company?

You have taken up a dangerous task.


Pelicans are a bird that feed their young

by the blood of their breast.

We aim to amuse you.

We will present dramas

of these edifying stories

to demonstrate

the range of our ambitions

and the nature of our interests.

It will be a son of advertisement

for our endeavour.

Concentrate first on the Bible,

the Old Testament,

to demonstrate our faith.

And only secondly,

tackle the classical allegories

to demonstrate our learning.

Declaration of faith before learning

will open all manner of permissibilities.

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Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway, CBE (born 5 April 1942 in Newport, Wales) is a British film director, screenwriter, and artist. His films are noted for the distinct influence of Renaissance and Baroque painting, and Flemish painting in particular. Common traits in his film are the scenic composition and illumination and the contrasts of costume and nudity, nature and architecture, furniture and people, sexual pleasure and painful death. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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