Propaganda Art in the Early Dutch Republic
Spruce Creek High School
Port Orange, Florida
NEH Summer Seminar for School Teachers, 2013
The Dutch Republic and Britain: The Making of Modern Society
and an European World Economy
The objective of this paper is to determine how propaganda art was utilized by artists and politicians in the early days of the Dutch Republic. A standard definition provided by the current show on Propaganda Art at the British Library in London states that, “Propaganda is the dissemination of ideas intended to convince people to think and act in a particular way and for a particular persuasive purpose” (Welch 2). For the purposes of this paper the ‘persuasive purpose’ will be political motivation. The dissemination of propaganda art in the Netherlands was greatly enhanced by the high literacy rate of the country. In 1593, when Scaliger, a great French scholar visited he was amazed to see that “in Holland even servant girls could read” (Israel 686).
The Dutch Republic had a unique role in Europe because of their liberal system of governance: there was no royal family, no nobility who had large land holdings, no serfs tied to the land, and no rigidly defined social class that controlled all its wealth or monopolized its government. This meant that each citizen, through hard work, education, and smart decisions could raise his or her station in life. One of the offshoots of this unique society was that the Dutch had a higher literacy rate than the rest of Europe. This plays right into the modern mindset that one should be educated in order to appreciate and enjoy art. Viewing and discussing art does require a degree of sophistication and knowledge in order to begin to understand the artist’s intent and to understand the message hidden within the image. The images in this paper will give a brief insight into the early Republic.
There were several factors that influenced Dutch literacy. One was the high number of people living in urban areas and the highest standard of living in Europe for the common people, which provided easier access to schools and education. Another was the Protestant Reformation and the initial translation of the Bible from Latin to German by Martin Luther. This opened the door for other translations to be written, which meant that Biblical knowledge was no longer exclusive to scholars, nobility, and the priesthood. In fact, the States-General, which actively encouraged citizens of the Dutch Republic to read the Bible for themselves, funded a translation of the Bible based on original Greek and Hebrew texts. Published in 1637, it is considered one of the finest Dutch literary efforts and took twenty years to complete (Westermann 51). The accessibility of the Bible provided the common man, the middling sort, a huge incentive to learn to read. A final reason, that encouraged literacy, was the large number of printers and presses within each local town. These presses printed fliers with both words and images that were purchased by people out and about in town and passed on to their friends. This high literacy rate provided the Dutch with a measure of self-confidence and a determination to have a say in local government not seen elsewhere in Europe.
When comparing urban versus rural society, according to population tables, show 30 percent of the population of the Netherlands in 1500 as urban, 14 percent as rural non-agriculture, and 56 percent agriculture. By 1800 there was a shift, 34 percent urban, 25 percent rural non-agriculture and 41 percent agriculture (Allen 17). Israel stated that in 1500, the Northern Netherlands was not a lot more urbanized than the South. Things changed after the 1566 Revolt and by 1600, more than one-quarter of the Dutch lived in towns of 10,000 or more. And, in the North, there were 19 towns of 10,000, while in the South there were 11. This number was static in the South until 1800 when it grew to 18 towns of 10,000 or more inhabitants. There was no change in the North. This could have had something to do with a more stable government and political system in the North, while the South was under threat of being invaded or occupied by different countries or empires (Israel 115). Industry drove the population movement from rural to urban with people following jobs and earning opportunities.
The Dutch love of reading and knowledge acquisition spread from religious to secular texts. The Netherlands, a geographically small country, with an extensive waterway system connecting most areas of the country, made travel easier. Even people who lived in rural areas were not far from sources of learning and local schools. Because of the Dutch Revolt there was a division of literacy between the North and Spanish Netherlands. In the North, the Protestant Church placed a great deal of emphasis on the ability of the individual to read the Bible and catechism. The same was not true at the Catholic schools in the Spanish Southern Netherlands, which emphasized a verbal catechism. This led, over time, to a deficit in reading (Westermann 52, Israel 686-90). Because of the different emphasis between the verbal and written catechism, by 1843 in Belgium, formerly Catholic Spanish Netherlands, “51 percent of army recruits were illiterate” while in the Netherlands with an emphasis on reading the catechism only “26 percent” were (Israel 686).
There were many publishers in Dutch towns who were frequently called on to spread the word, propagandize, about specific political ideals or community issues. The fliers and pamphlets were used to inform public opinion about officials, or later to denigrate those same officials. The Prince of Nassau-Orange, who played such an important role in Netherland’s struggle for independence, had various Manifestos printed in 1568. These fliers propagandized about his ability to save his people who had enjoyed freedoms in previous times and from the current tyrants (Israel 162). Pettegree and Hall, when looking at data derived from the Index Aureliem, a bibliographical project that attempted to complete a global survey of all European print, found that in relation to printed books in the sixteenth century, the Low Countries (7.2 percent) were ranked fourth based on the total number recorded, behind Italy (18.4 percent), France (21.4 percent), and Germany (32 percent), all much larger countries. When looking at the number of printing centers by country, the Low Countries were again ranked fourth (27), behind France (53), Italy (60) and Germany (92). Antwerp produced 56 percent of the country’s printing in the sixteenth century, which was large in proportion to the rest of the country. An interesting fact was that Emperor Charles V had the strictest legislation related to book censorship anywhere in Europe. Because of the high volume of printed books though, officials had a hard time keeping track of them. The book market was driven by people who wanted books in their native language (vernacular), although there was still a large percentage of publishing that took place in Latin. In the Low Countries this ratio was 67 percent Latin to 33 percent vernacular. Most mathematics, science and technical books continued to be printed in Latin, a common academic language throughout Europe (Pettegree and Hall 793-798).
The Dutch Republic, or United Provinces, had a long and extensive history of using propaganda to inform and influence inhabitants of the country, in all of its various geographic configurations. The land we now know as the Netherlands was occupied, conquered, divided, and realigned throughout history. The widespread propaganda in the Dutch Republic, when it was first testing the mental and physical limits of freedom under Phillip II, was utilized by William the Silent, the Stadtholder of the United Provinces, to justify his role in the revolt against the Habsburgs.
Both of the prints, “Duke of Alva and The Prince of Orange” and “William Prince of Nassau-Orange” refer to a time of extreme religious and political conflict between Netherland’s Southern and Northern provinces. During the 1566 Iconoclastic Fury, Protestants destroyed many Catholic icons including statues of saints, frescos, paintings, and altars in churches around the country. This resulted in Phillip II sending the Duke of Alva to bring the Habsburg lands back into compliance with the Catholic Church. Phillip had little sympathy for the people of the Netherlands, having spent the majority of his youth at the Spanish court. He was staunchly Catholic and believed, as many people did, that all other religions were immoral. Phillip II, however, had the power and the forces to impose his will on large population areas. By the time Alva arrived in the Netherlands the iconoclastic storm was already over. That, however, did not deter him from his goal of eradicating Protestant supporters. Duke Alva set up a Counsel of Troubles, an Inquisition, with a large prosecutorial staff who investigated and executed over 1,000 people for treason and heresy. Alva stayed in the Spanish Netherlands six
Atlas van Stolk. Duke of Alva and the Prince of Orange, 1568-1572. Engraving. 9.05” x 12.79” (230mm x 325mm). Printmaker: anonymous. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
The availability of printing presses and images, which William used to communicate with the Dutch people was especially important to him since he was living in exile in Germany by the time Alva arrived. Alva considered Prince William an enemy of the Habsburg state and confiscated all of his properties in the Netherlands.
This was part of timber merchant Abraham van Stolk’s collection. He started collecting in 1835. After his death in 1858 his atlas, the collection of important historical papers related to the Netherlands, continued to grow. It is located, and can be visited in Rotterdam.
The passage at the bottom of this allegorical propaganda print compares of the Prince of Orange and Count Alva. William of Orange, on the right, is accompanied by the personifications of Honor, Wealth of the Land and Peace of Conscience. On the left Alva is flanked by Discord and Envy. He leads the Dutch Virgin naked and handcuffed to his arm. At his feet the Dutch People are depicted as the poor beggar. The background is filled with scenes of war (Rijksmuseum.nl/, Google Translate). This engraving had a four-year run, meaning it was printed repeatedly over a four year period and was distributed throughout the Northern Netherlands. There are several of these prints in major museum collections around the world
Because of Alva’s severe policies in the 1580s, there were large numbers of refugees who fled the Spanish Netherlands including its former largest city, Antwerp. These included many artists. While Antwerp saw the drain of Protestant artists, craftsmen, and business people the North benefited from this exodus. Because of their overabundance in the market place, these very talented artists were reduced to menial work. Their skills were used to illustrate “the proliferation, well before 1590, of the cheap print and mass-produced, low-cost etchings depicting heroes of the Revolt or Spanish atrocities. Another effect was that artistic talent was available in profusion and at low cost for temporary decorations . . . enabling civic governments to use art as propaganda to impress the public” (Israel 549) for celebrations, civic ceremonies, and pageantry. The pamphlets created by these artists were widely used to inform the middle class, business people and guilds.
Hendrik Goltzius, (1558–1617), William, Prince of Nassau-Orange, 1581. Engraving, no size given. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
This portrait of William the Silent, by Goltzius, from Haarlem, compared Prince William to Moses and the Dutch people to the Israelites. Goltzius was a very influential printer who used a variety of styles when creating prints. He left the world of printmaking in 1600 when he became a painter. His print style transferred seamlessly to painting and his first major piece was sold to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (Westermann 175).
This engraving tells the story of Prince William the Stadtholder, head of state responsible for maintaining peace, order and the economy. In the print William leads the people of the Netherlands out of the grasp of Phillip II, in the same way that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt (top right). The other Biblical images used as a form of allegory on this engraving include the flaming bush, where God spoke to Moses (top left corner), the closing of the Red Sea over the Egyptians while they chase the chosen people, (bottom right) and Moses receiving the Ten Commandments (bottom left). William is seen as the long awaited deliverer, the man who would free the Dutch from the Habsburg oppressors.
The Dutch felt that their United Provinces were predestined and ordained by God to be successful. They believed that any success that occurred was due to their orderly work ethic and their predestination as God’s chosen people. They utilized the profits from their manufacturing and trading successes, many related to the Dutch East Indian Company, the VOC, which received a charter in 1602, to commission maps and globes, as well as to purchase paintings and other art objects to decorate their houses. While map making was as old as time, cartography reached its height in the seventeenth and eighteenth century in the Dutch Republic. Painting, etching, scientific and artistic skills were all utilized when creating beautiful maps and globes during the Dutch Golden Age.
The map below, The Lion of the Netherlands, was made in the workshop of Claes Jansz Visscher, a prominent Dutch landscape artist and important printer in Amsterdam. It was considered by many to be the best example of Emblematic map-making, the combination of symbolic images and language, and was created to celebrate the Twelve Years’ Truce (1609-1621) between Spain and the Netherlands. It illustrated the Dutch hope that one day the the northern and southern parts of the Netherlands would be reunited. The towns of the Northern Netherlands on the left were, at least temporarily, free of Spanish harassment. During the truce the local government and States-General, the representative body of the Netherlands, tried to work their way out of the debt that was incurred during the conflict. The economy was booming, which was always a measure of success in the Netherlands. The Northern part of the country also implemented policies that allowed more religious tolerance during a negotiated Truce of 1609.
C.J. Visscher (1587-1652), The Sitting Leo Belgicus. 1611-1621. Copper Engraving. 18.3” x 22.3” (47 x 57.5cm). Sanderson Antiquartiaat. Ghent, Belgium.
The coats of arms from all of the Netherlandic Provinces are found along the top of the Lion Map. On the right side of the map are the Southern towns still under the Habsburg rule of Phillip II. In the center of the map, by the lion’s tale, are two ladies with their heads together, who represent the provinces of Northern and Southern Netherlands, trampling on the old conflicts. The lion, which incorporates all of the provinces of the Netherlands, is surrounded by texts and symbols related to the truce. In the sky above the ladies is the Blessing cherub showering the towns and country below with Wealth, Safety, the Knowledge of Art, Science and Theology. The results of these blessings are Prosperity, Growth, Trade, Safe Travel, and the Ability to Farm in Peace. The landscape below is idealized, especially since the recent destruction that had taken place during the prolonged war with marauding soldiers bent on pillage. Cattle are grazing contently, people go about their everyday lives and a prosperous port town is shown near the horizon line. The port is full of ships bringing goods and wealth back to the country. The Lion’s sword is sheathed because the battle is, at least temporarily, over. There are two medallions near the hilt of the sword: one represents the North with seven arrows; the other, the Burgundian cross, represents the Southern Provinces. In the bottom right corner, the god of war, Mars is sleeping. In the left corner by the lion’s tail is a text panel listing Visscher’s name and address.
The image of the Lion of Belgicus did not originate with Visscher, but with an Austrian, Michael Von Aitzing. Von Aitzing chose the title and inserted the lion map in his book The Lion of Belgium in 1583 to show his support for the Netherlands in their religious conflict with Spain. The map was printed from a copper engraving. And, while C. J. Visscher was responsible for the completed map, an artist in his studio etched the map itself. Visscher etched the allegorical scenes around the lion and another artist, possibly Peiter van der Keere, etched the town views. This antique map had been in a private collection before coming up for sale at Sanderson Antiquartiaat (F. Devroe, personal communication, August 14, 2013).
While the propaganda maps, such as that of the lion, espoused, along with a great deal of printed material created during the birth of the Dutch Republic, were important, during the seventeenth century. There were also paintings that could be hung in public places, militia or guildhalls, and private homes, which can be considered as a having had a propaganda purpose. Moreover, such paitings were in high demand. The rich and influential acquired works of art that purveyed subtle and not so subtle political allusions (Israel 563).
Fishing for Souls, by Adriaen Van De Venne, was painted during the Twelve Year Truce. Because of the lack of military conflict during the truce, people focused on religious competition between the Spanish South and Northern Netherlands. In this allegorical image, De Venne expressed his point of view, showing the Protestant moral superiority of the two groups who were fishing for souls on the river of life.
He also included a point of vanity in the work, completed during his first professional year, with the large fly he painted (see the white circle on the painting) between the Protestant boat and the shore. He wanted this to look like a fly had just landed on the painting. He fell prey to a young man’s ego, much like Michelangelo in his mid-twenties, who after hearing doubts about his ability to so beautifully create the Pieta, went back at night to carve his name in the sash that ran diagonally across Madonna’s chest. Michelangelo later regretted his moment of pride. One wonders what De Venne would do if he could do it over. If he had been able to see into the future, and know that his painting would one day hang in one of finest art museums in the world, a place where they certainly do not let insects land on paintings, would he still include the fly?
Adriaen Van de Venne (1589-1662). Fishing for Souls. 1614. Oil on Panel. 38 1/2” x 74 1/2” (98 x 189 cm). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Painted from an aerial perspective, looking down on the center front, the main emphasis of the paintings is the boats full of people who are fishers of men as discussed in the Bible. The front boat is full of men in black jackets with white ruffled collars while their Protestant brothers are on the left shore. The Protestants have many who seek redemption and their boats seem stable. In the crowd on the left shore are the Stadtholder Maurits and his successor Frederick Hendrik, along with the other European Protestant rulers grouped together in the small clearing, with trees in full leaf behind them. The rulers are toward the center of the bank and can be seen more clearly because of the contrast between their more colorful clothes and the rest of the Protestants dressed in black. De Venne painted himself in the center of the front group of men in black with his hand on his hip.
On the right bank is the dying tree, representing the dying Catholic religion. Red cardinals can be seen in the distance carrying the pope on their shoulders. Archduke Albrecht, Archduchess Isabella, the rulers of the Southern Netherlands and General Spinola, their enforcer, are also found on the right bank (Rijks 97). The Catholic ships, full of bishops and monks, are unbalanced and tipping over, because they are loaded with all the accruements associated with Catholic worship, including incense burners and musical instruments. Both groups of ships meander off to the horizon with the Protestants’ ships in high demand while the Catholic boats wobble unsteadily on the calm water.
After the Twelve Year Truce the hostilities between the two sides resumed. While the religious conflict between the two sides continued the on-going military conflict eventually became known as the Eighty Year War. Stadholder Frederick Hendrik was very successful during his military campaigns and became known as the “taker of cities” (rijksmuseum.nl/ ). Eventually the Spanish grew serious about peace negotiation, in large part because they were running out of funds. Several times Phillip II had been unable to pay his soldiers and lost control of them as they ransacked the countryside surrounding their garrisons in the Netherlands. Peace negotiations between Spain and the Dutch Republic took place between 1629 and 1632 without success.
During the peace negotiations there were a lot of discussions about whether the Spanish offer of peace was a trick to get the Dutch to lower their guard. Because of the Protestant reforms in the North, paintings of Biblical figures were no longer hung in churches since that was seen as encouraging idolatry. However, there was a long history of Biblical imagery in the Netherlands and many of the Biblical paintings that survived the 1560 Iconoclastic Fury were hung in town halls and other public buildings. They were viewed as allegorical commentaries on the state of the Netherlands. “The Dutch historians presented their nation as the new people of Israel, small but selected by God for moral leadership” (Westermann 102).
One of the most popular stories painted by artists during the truce negotiations was the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah (Israel 563). This was a cautionary tale with the Dutch portrayed by the strong, but betrayed Samson and the beautiful deceptive Delilah as the Habsburgs, who could not to be trusted. Many of these Samson and Delilah paintings were created for the Stadtholder and others were placed in government buildings. In the Biblical story of Samson, told in Judges, Samson’s purpose for being was to save the Israelites from the Philistines. He was, however, not blessed with good judgment in women; repeatedly falling in love with the wrong one. His third and last love, Delilah, betrayed him when he told her the secret of his strength, which was embodied in his long hair.
Jan Lievens, born in Leiden and considered to have been a child prodigy, was one of Rembrandt’s early classmates. He painted the first Samson and Delilah picture in this paper. Both Lievens and Rembrandt were apprenticed to the same Leiden painter. Both of the artists traveled to Amsterdam, although not at the same time, to learn from Pieter Lastman who had studied in Italy for four years and who became an important history painter when he returned to the Netherlands. Many Dutch artists who returned home from studying in Italy considered themselves a part of the school of Caravaggioism. They were very strongly influence by Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro technique, which used a strong contrast between the light source that focused on the main element in an image, and the remainder of the image, which was cast in dark shadows. In Lastman’s studio both artists learned about chiaroscuro and the need to create a clear story placed in a believable setting when developing their artwork (Westermann 43). When Rembrandt returned to Leiden, after studying with Lastman, it is possible that he shared studio space with Lievens and the early rivalry continued.
Lievens’ Samson and Delilah captures the viewers’ attention with the closely cropped characters in the front of the image and the dramatic chiaroscuro lighting with the focal point on Samson, who was asleep on Delilah’s lap. The heightened value contrast between Delilah, who received full light, and Samson, who had light flowing over his back, and the shadowy figure in the background emphasized the human forms. Lievens’ brush strokes were very smooth when and produced a noticeable texture contrast between Delilah’s linen dress, Samson’s skin and his animal fur clothing. Lievens’ Delilah is respectable looking. She was dressed in yellow with her double chins, the pearls woven into her hair, and her dangling pearl earrings. The jewelry worn by Delilah was something Lievens may have seen worn by the wives of the successful merchants in Leiden or Amsterdam.
In the painting, Delilah looks worried and hands the scissors that she had intended to use to cut Samson’s hair, to the lurker. According to Kahr, the composition of this painting and the placement of the two main characters were directly based on a work by Gurenico, an Italian artist. Gurencio’s piece can now be found in a private collection in Bologna. However, the inclusion of the man in the background was Lievens addition. He utilized a pyramid composition, which was frequently used by artists to provide a sense of depth in the paintings.
Jan Lievens (1607-1674). Samson and Delilah, ca. 1630-35.
Oil on canvas.
50 13/16 x 43 5/16 in.
(131 x 111 cm). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Rembrandt, Harmensz Van Rijn (1606-1669). Samson and Delilah.1628. Oil on wood. 23 27/64”x 19 1/2 in. (59.5 x 49.5 cm). Staaliche Musuem, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin (Rembrandt’s first version)
Rembrandt, like most artists, experimented with his name and signature. By 1633, he decided to use one name only, Rembrandt, putting himself on the same level as the great Renaissance artists Michelangelo, DaVinci, and Raphael. Perhaps, this very healthy ego gave him the confidence to break from the traditional formatting of Samson and Delilah paintings.
It was said that Rembrandt modeled all of his Delilahs after his wife Saskia. Conflicts between Rembrandt and Saskia were well known. She was used to a life of ease as the daughter of a successful businessman and Burgemeester, mayor. Rembrandt was very successful when they were first married. He was in high demand and he assumed he would always have plenty of money. Rembrandt did though, have a tendency to spend a lot of money and not pay all of his bills as his later bankruptcy proved. Conflicts over money can cause much strain in marriages and the conflicts with Saskia over monetary matters could be why he painted her as the betrayer in these works. After Saskia’s death he never painted another Samson and Delilah (Kahr).
In Rembrandt’s last Samson and Delilah, the dramatic chiaroscuro lighting brings focus
Rembrandt. The Blinding of Samson. 1636. Oil on canvas. 81.1” x 108.66” (206 × 276 cm). Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
In this image, Samson has been tackled by two men, one of whom ended up underneath
To one of the main characters. The room’s entrance is back-lit while the light spills onto Samson struggling on the floor as he is attacked by two men, one of whom ends up underneath him. A third soldier has Samson’s wrist wrapped in chain, while the soldier on the left side stands with his pike pointing diagonally down at Samson ready to attack if needed. The soldier on the far right is shrouded in darkness, but has his sword raised high. The metallic glint from the soldiers’ armor and helmets shows men prepared to do battle in the third attempt on Samson’s life, while the soft draping of Samson and Delilah’s clothes adds to the story of a man who expects to be at rest. Samson’s toes are curled in agony as the soldier just above him gouges out his eyes. They point to Delilah who is running from the dark toward the light through the curtains. A pearl earring and bracelet catch the light as she glances back at Samson. In her hands she holds a shiny pair of scissors and a handful of Samson’s once long hair.
Research indicates that Rembrandt gave The Blinding of Samson to the Prince of Orange’s Court Secretary, Constantijn Huygens. Which is not as bizarre as it seems, although who would want a large, violent painting of a man having his eyes gouged out with a knife in their home? Huygens was a connoisseur of art and an early supporter of Rembrandt’s work. He also had a large house in which to display a work this size. This image was sent to Huygens three years after Rembrandt painted it, possibly as an apology for the late delivery of a Huygens recommended commission piece for another client. The large image could have served several purposes as far as Rembrandt was concerned: to stay in Huygens’ good graces, to have a large image of his work exhibited in Huygens’ home as a constant reminder of Rembrandt’s skill and technique, and the third, while a little redundant, could have been to remind Huygens of the possibility of political betrayal. This was an awareness, which Huygens obviously had, having maintained his very prestigious position as secretary for several Stadtholders (Westermann 66, Stadel Museum).
The final propaganda image in this paper is related to the 1648 Treaty of Munster, when Spain finally recognized the Dutch Republic as an independent nation and hostilities ceased between the two countries for good. Celebrations broke out all around the Netherlands after the official signing. Guild and militia paintings were very popular. Each member of the group paid an equal amount and master artists were engaged to create large-scale paintings that were hung in the militia or guild halls. By 1648, Bartholomeus van der Helst was considered the finest
portrait artist in Amsterdam. His skill had come a long way since the earlier 1639 militia painting The officers and other shooters, District VIII, Amsterdam, led by Captain Roelof Bicker and Lieutenant Jan Michielsz Blaeuw (Rijksmuseum.nl/). In this piece he placed gentlemen, while beautifully dressed, stiffly within the picture frame; all with their faces angled as far front as possible. One man in the front with a very elaborate leather jacket points his gun across at other members of the militia, not something that would ever be seen in an orderly meeting of the militia group. The composition of the painting suffered in his desire to make sure everyone felt they received full value for their monetary investment.
Helst, Bartholomeus van der. “Banquet Celebrating the Treaty of Munster, June 18, 1648.” Oil on Canvas. 91.33” x 215.35” (232cm × 547cm). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Helst’s painting of the celebratory banquet of the Crossbowman’s Guild nine years later, however, was composed more naturally with everyone grouped around the table in their finest clothes. Captain Cornelis Witsen, with the drinking horn, one time Burgemeester of Amsterdam, commissioned the elaborate painting. Helst included the twenty-two men of the company, the landlord and servers, as well as several still lives with reflective surfaces and rich velvets, wool, linen, and silk materials. The captains of the civic guard are the men on the right side shaking hands to symbolize the peace. The drinking horn will be passed around the group so that everyone can join in the celebration. Helst composed the painting so that those in the front of the table are the men who hold positions of prominence in the guild. There is a poem tucked into the drum that illuminated the fact that their weapons could be put away.
There are two men who looked like twins, or they could be father and son, in the painting. One, with some gray hair, is in the center front with a blue sash draped around his waist and chest staring directly out at the viewer. While the other, slightly thinner man with brown hair, is at the left end of the table holding a drumstick with one hand and his white napkin in his lap with his other. He has a pale blue waist sash. The Rijksmuseum list of men who were in the company included two with the same last name they were Andries van Anstenraadt and Gerrit Pietersz van Anstenraadt.
The clothes worn by the men in the portrait speak loudly of their station in life. Only the upper class could afford the best colorfast indigo dyed black clothing. Other black cloth faded relatively quickly. Lieutenant Van Waveren’s black jacket is covered in gold lace.This lace is made by wrapping gold wire around thread. The linen and lace collars that lie flat against the jackets are a more modern style of the time. Only a few of the older gentlemen and the landlord continue to use the stiff, pleated collar from earlier years. This is a way the men in the group exhibit the fact that they have disposable income that allows them to buy the latest fashion. The slouchy, stylish boots the men wore often causes tears in the hose. A way to protect the hose was to wrap the leg in fine linen to prevent the snags and tears. This style progressed and men eventually wrapped their legs in linen edged with expensive lace, again showing their wealth and position in society (Rijksmuseum information panel, Israel 564).
The Dutch were unique individuals. They discussed religion and political ideas with each other and with foreign visitors as they traveled about the country in the boats that plied the various waterways. De Vries wrote that many of these gentlemen were from noble families and were quite taken aback when the common people talked to them on these trips “as if they were just anyone, without the least regard for rank” (Israel 2).
The citizens of the Netherlands treasured the fact that William and the Stadtholders who followed fought for their independence and for their right to determine their own destiny against the Hapsburg Empire, Spanish and French invaders. While they had no royalty or king during the Dutch Golden Age, today they consider William the Silent, the father of the Netherlands. Images and stories from the past still resonate with the Dutch and with William’s distant relatives, right down to the recently inaugurated King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima.
Dutch Art of the sixteenth and seventeenth century was rife with propaganda images, messages both subtle and overt. It could reasonably be said that all images created before the Impressionists were a form of propaganda. Kings and Queens, those aspiring to positions in society, and well-to-do merchants, all had images created. These images showed others their point of view of their place in the world, their important events, and their way of remembering critical times in history. Because of the profusion of talented artists in the Netherlands, and the educated middle class and merchants who supported them by buying their work and placing it in their homes, we have a wealth of images that tell the intriguing story of the Dutch Republic as it struggled to build and maintain its position on the world stage.
Deciphering the context of when the propaganda art was made, knowing information about the people in the image, while researching the artist’s life and ideas are key to understanding the desired message. It is up to the individual to determine the degree of believability presented in these propaganda pieces. Those of us who participated in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar have an advantage, though, when analyzing this work. We have seen the art in the great museums of Europe, have had insightful guides, searched many primary sources, read extensively in the seminar texts and participated in classroom activities and discussions. All of which we have used to gain insight into this important place and time in world history.
Anonymous. “Duke of Alva and the Prince of Orange” Atlas van Stolk. Rijksmuseum. 2013. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Web. July 28, 2013. https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/explore-the-collection/timeline-dutch-history/1568-1584-william-of-orange
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