Thomas M. Stillwell
Rubens to Rembrandt 2010FALL.ARH3354.82766.01
Image Sleuth Essay
September 15, 2010
In this paper I shall seek to prove, beyond the shadow of an educated doubt, the following catalog of art illustrates the glorious struggle of the Dutch independence during their Eighty Years War with Spain.
Furthermore, these works can be subdivided into three categories. The first is a selection of war etchings from Dutch propaganda designed to rally a collective front against the Spanish rule. Secondly, we have a collection of paintings representing the battlefield and fight for independence. Third, we have a collection representing the main character in our tale; Dutch Statesman, General and Politician, Frederik Hendrik.
From the conceptual notion of revolt, to the battlefields and ending with victorious independence, these works tell the tale of the birth of Dutch nation.
Dutch patriotism was not the cause, but the consequence, of the revolt against Spain. Irrespective of its invention after the fact, however, it rapidly became a powerful focus of allegiance to people who considered themselves fighting for hearth and home.[i]
In 1568 the United Provinces of the Dutch Republic began a revolt against Philip the II of Spain which would continue for the next eighty years! The origins of this revolt were written in expostulatory style and accompanied by engravings that were simultaneously heroic and gruesome and meant to etch themselves into the collective memory as they were printed on the page.i
“The Sifter and the Peace Offering” (The Nieuwe BarneValschen Trade) is an etching from 1618. Here Spain is represented by a serpent bird-footed cloaked man trying to elude the Dutch republic with a peace laurel. The Republic is represented by the lion and sword that guards their symbolic country. A grim reaper figure with a Dutch hat is flying above with a “human-sifter” to the right seemingly separating good and evil. Another interesting note is the appearance of a comet in the upper left. I believe this is a remnant from the original etching dated to 1598. Possibly Halley’s comet as this etching was redesigned from it’s original state to suit the political climate of 1618.
This etching by Pieter van der Heyden (after Pieter Bruegel the Elder), the “Big Fish Eat Little Fish” dates to 1557.
The focal point of this etching is an enormously large fish that has either been pulled ashore or beached. A man stands on a ladder stabbing the fish with a trident, while the other slices open his belly releasing numerous smaller exotic fish the larger creature has consumed. In the foreground an elderly looking man and his son sit in a boat. The man gestures to his son at the scene and a Flemish inscription translates, “"Look son, I have long known that the big fish eat the small." This vernacular form of the ancient Latin proverb, which appears in majuscule lettering just above, relates to the theme of a senseless world in which the powerful instinctively and consistently prey on the weak.[ii] This is an easily interpreted scene amongst the common Dutch society. A sort of “dog eat dog” reference to a small oppressed nation. They are being offered two options; fighting or being consumed by the larger fish.
“The Disbanding of the Waardgelders” Oil on
Canvas by Pauwels van Hillegaert 1627.
Hillegaert (1596–1640) was a Dutch Golden
Age painter of landscapes and military
scenes. Hillegaert won royal commissions to paint battle scenes, most notably for the Siege of Hertogenbosch in 1629. He also won a commission for the Battle of Nieuwpoort.[iii]
Oil on Panel, Prince Maurits at the Battle of Nieuwpoort, 2 July 1600 [iv] represents a rare moment in the Dutch battle for independence where the Spanish troops were driven from the field by then stadholder and general Maurice Hendrik.
Following Prince Maurice’s death in 1625, Hillegaert was commissioned to paint his successor Frederik Hendrik.
Frederik Hendrik (also know as Frederick Henry) was the successor to his brother Maurice Hendrik as stadholder of the seven provinces during the Dutch Golden Era. It is said that his kindly disposition, well-known moderation and geniality, his handsome face and chivalrous bearing, his often-proved gallantry and skill in war, and last but not least, his Dutch birth and training, all conspired to win for him golden opinions, and make his accession to power acceptable to all parties.[v]
Frederik Hendrik was a hero to the Dutch Republic and played a major role in their fight for independence from Spain.
A portrait of Frederik Hendrik by Gerard van Honthorst in 1650 shows the triumphant general and stadholder in battle armor accentuating his leadership at the end the Eighty Years War.[vi]
Another family portrait by Honthorst shows Frederik Hendrik and his family in 1648. A cherub is flying in above with a peace laurel symbolizing the end of the war and recognition of the Dutch declaration of independence.[vii]
I conclude with a beautiful etching by Pieter Potter entitled, Perseus and Andromeda.
This etching depicts a planned production on the water of the Damrak for Henrietta Maria, queen of United Kingdom, in Amsterdam 9 March 1642.[viii]
In this etching Perseus represents
Frederik Hendrik triumphantly swooping in from above to save Andromeda (The Dutch Republic) while the sea monster (Spain) lurks in the background.
And so it is with this etching I conclude my essay. The Dutch Republic is free from the stronghold and persecutions of Spain. Their art tells a story and does so very well. With passion, wittiness and thoughtful undertones of classic mythology, we come to understand the birth of this magnificent nation.
[i] Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Knopf, 1987. Print.
[ii] Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Big Fish Eat Little Fish (17.3.859) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
[iv]Rijks Museum Website Catalog: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/collectie/zoeken/asset.jsp?id=SK-A-664&lang=en
The English Historical Review
Vol. 5, No. 17 (Jan., 1890), pp. 41-64
Vol. 5, No. 17 (Jan., 1890), pp. 41-64
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/546555
[vi] Rijks Museum Website Catalog: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/collectie/zoeken/asset.jsp?id=SK-A-178&lang=en
[vii] Rijks Museum Website Catalog: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/collectie/zoeken/asset.jsp?id=SK-A-874&lang=en
[viii] Rijks Museum Website Catalog: http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/collectie/zoeken/asset.jsp?id=SK-A-3473&lang=en