August 20, 2016

The gruesome murder of the De Witt brothers was 344 years ago today

Filed under: Art,History by Branko Collin @ 10:58 pm

de-wit-brothers-jan-de-baenThe year was 1672. The 80-year war of independence of the United Provinces against Spain had been hard fought, but had also ushered in a golden age in which trade, science and arts blossomed. Now that progress was halting. The Treaty of Münster in 1648 had seen the recognition of the young Dutch republic as an independent nation, but 24 years later fresh enemies were at the door. England had declared war, followed by France and a bunch of German bishops.

An Anglo-French attack over sea had been thwarted with ease by the mighty Dutch fleet, but the weakened Dutch army could not stop the French from invading over land. The Dutch tried to retreat to the redoubt formed by the Dutch Water Line; a huge lake formed by flooding parts of Utrecht and Brabant. The flooding went slower than expected and it also made the people outside the redoubt feel they were being left to their own devices. People started panicking and started looking for scapegoats.

These scapegoats were found in the brothers Johan and Cornelis de Witt. The former was the grand pensionary of the provinces of Holland and Zeeland, which made him the de facto leader of a federation of provinces that preferred not to have leaders. It also brought him in direct competition with the line of Orange-Nassau which had assumed the stadtholdership and had turned it into a hereditary position. The Oranges were the favourites of many people who saw in the latest heir, William III, a new leader for the new war.

Cornelis had been framed for the crime of conspiracy and had been banished from the country. On 20 August 1672 his brother Johan came to pick him up from prison in The Hague, but outside a mad crowd awaited them. The rabble lynched the brothers, mutilated their bodies and cut parts off. The heart of Johan was cut out of his body and thrown in his face.

The painting shown here was created by Jan de Baen. On the back is written: “These are the corpses of Jan and Cornelis de Witt, painted from life by an important painter, as they were hanging from the gallows at 11 o’clock in the evening. Cornelis is the one without a wig, Jan de Witt has his own hair. This is the only painting painted from life on 20 August 1672 and therefore worth a lot of money.”

According to, “some of their body parts were even traded, taken as souvenirs and eaten. The Haags Historisch Museum owns a tongue and a toe of one or both of the brothers. These became the property of supporters of the brothers who kept them as relics.”

(Illustration: Jan de Baen / Wikimedia Commons)

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September 21, 2010

Netherlands gives Australia its half of shared treasure

Filed under: General,History by Branko Collin @ 9:25 am

Last Wednesday the Dutch and Australian governments signed an agreement on how to give Australia the Dutch half of the ANCODS collection, which contains the salvage of four Dutch ships that sank near the Australian coast in the 17th and 18th century.

The agreement to give Australia the Dutch portion of the artefacts had already been taken in 2006, Flevocourant writes.

According to a press release (PDF, 2009) by the ministry of foreign affairs the collections of the Batavia (1629), Vergulde Draeck (1656), Zuytdorp (1712) and the Zeewyk (1727) “include bricks, building blocks, lead ingots, elephant tusk, canon, canon balls, amber and pitch as well as rare objects owned by crew and passengers such as navigational instruments and ornaments”.

“Rather than dividing objects between the two countries, they will be kept as close as possible to the shipwrecks where they have been excavated. This is why the Netherlands has agreed to entrust Australia with safeguarding the objects, which are currently in Dutch possession.”

The agreement was signed aboard a replica of the Batavia which is stationed in Lelystad.

(Photo of the Batavia replica by Wikimedia user ADZee who released it to the public domain)

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April 17, 2009

Berckheyde’s Golden Bend painting claimed by US bank

Filed under: Architecture,Art by Branko Collin @ 8:26 am

The US bank JPMorgan Chase claims to be the rightful owner of De bocht van de Herengracht (around 1672) by Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde, writes Volkskrant (Dutch). The Rijksmuseum, which currently has the painting, bought the work in October of last year from one Louis Reijtenbagh, who has since gotten into financial troubles. The bank claims Reijtenbagh never should have sold the painting in the first place, as he had been using it as collateral for a loan.

On April 1, JPMorgan Chase claimed the entire art collection of Reijtenbagh which contains Rembrandts, Monets, Picassos and so on. The location of many of these paintings is apparently unknown, but Berckheyde‘s painting of what later was to be known as the Golden Bend, where Amsterdam’s wealthiest citizens used to live, is currently at display at the National Gallery museum in Washington.

Note by the way that Volkskrant and De Telegraaf show two different pictures, and the Rijksmuseum website has a third painting with the same name. For the illustration of this entry I went with the version I liked best, but if you know which picture is the contested one, let us know.

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December 20, 2008

Tour company profits from financial crisis

Filed under: General by Branko Collin @ 2:49 pm

Tour company Amsterdam Excursies has decided to profit from the financial crisis by organizing themed guided tours of the financial history of Amsterdam. It’s Crisis Tour starts at the Zeedijk, where the first share in the world was traded in 1606, and ends on the Spuistraat at De Keuken van 1870, the oldest and only still extant soup kitchen of the city. Other crises touched upon during the tour are the collapse of Tulip Mania in 1637, and the end of the Dutch Golden Age.

Via the print edition of NL20. Photo of the VOC HQ (East India Company) by Josh, distributed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

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January 17, 2008

Golden age collections showcased in Wonder Stage of Nature

Filed under: Art,History by Branko Collin @ 9:00 am

No Dutch Golden Age (17th century) collection of obscure and exotic trinkets and specimens appears to have survived, as heirs tended to sell off these collections to foreign collectors. However, we still have books that illustrate them at least. As Bibliodyssey writes:

The collection obsession of Early Modern Europe, that saw people stocking cabinets of curiosities […] with obscure and exotic trinkets and specimens from the worlds of ‘artificialia’ and ‘naturalia’, emerged in Holland under a local profile of influences.

Unlike most of their European counterparts, the Dutch republic lacked both a royal court or any sizeable aristocracy, so collecting was a hobby cultivated by regular citizens. […]

[There were numerous collections] built up by Dutch carpenters, merchants, tradesmen and artisans. The enthusiasm for collecting, in Holland at least, could be seen at all levels of society, but with the most notable collections owned by burghers and regents, in contrast to the kings, nobles and prelates of other European countries. And there is the rub. It was customary for families to sell off these ‘rariteitenkabinets’ and divide the spoils following the death of the collector. Accordingly, most Dutch collections of significance left the country, purchased by foreign nobility and no intact collections have survived; adding an interesting element of documentary detective work to scholarly assessments.

But at least a documentation of these collections has survived. The wonderful Bibliodyssey for instance liberally quotes a picture book by Levinus Vincent (1658-1727) called “Wondertooneel der Nature” (Wonder Stage of Nature).

Via BoingBoing.

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May 28, 2007

Tulipmania myth debunked

Filed under: General,History by Branko Collin @ 8:01 pm

For the casual observer looking at the Netherlands, the Tulipmania story has it all: tulips, the Golden Age, the start of modern capitalism, windmills, clogs… OK, so everything but the last two. For the puritans among you, this tale has even got a moral. Here’s a quick recap of how the story goes:

In the 17th century, the Dutch were at the top of their wealth, both financially and culturally. The Dutch trading ships controlled the seas, and brought the treasures of foreign countries to these shores. This wealth ignited the local Renaissance, giving artists like Rembrandt and Vermeer, and scientists like Van Leeuwenhoek and Grotius a chance to plie their trade. A story from that time goes that the first economic bubble was also created by the Dutch. Among the many things they imported were tulip bulbs, which started to fetch higher and higher prices. At one point, a box of bulbs would cost as much as a house. But in the spring of 1637 the bubble was burst; Dutch pride was punished, and thousands of traders went bankrupt.

At least, that’s the popular version of the story. According to a recent book written by Anne Goldgar, most of what we know about the bubble stems from propaganda from the period. An interesting review from the Financial Times tells more:

Some contemporary pamphleteers attacked the trade, baffled by what one Englishman called the ”incredible prices for tulip rootes”, and disquieted by the godless materialism of it all. […] Most tulip tales we know, scolds Goldgar, ”are based on one or two contemporary pieces of propaganda and a prodigious amount of plagiarism”.

In fact, during her research Goldgar could not find the name of a single person who had been bankrupted by the burst of the bulb bubble.

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