Journal of the Northern Renaissance

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Offering Peace by Showing Violence: Jan Vos’s Amsterdam Charm Offensive

Yannice De BruyN


[1] The Siege and Relief of Leyden was undeniably the most popular play in the Amsterdam Theatre in 1660. Jan Vos embellished the original play by Reynerius Bontius with five spectacular tableaux vivants, and from its premiere on 30 March 1660 it pulled in impressive revenues. In this paper, I will show how Vos’s additions could have interacted with the political situation in Amsterdam at that time. Around 1660, the city was engaged in a charm offensive towards the Nassau family that included two public parades designed by Jan Vos. His adaptation of The Siege and Relief most likely had its own part to play in this diplomatic venture. The tableaux vivants especially were a source of political potential: I will show that they aimed to move audiences by means of a particularly violent imagination. Employing these emotions towards the glorification of William of Orange made Vos’s adaptation politically effective at a time when his descendants were being charmed by the city of Amsterdam. This paper offers a detailed analysis of the two most relevant tableaux vivants, tableaux that are both significantly violent and bend the narrative of the original play. The first, that opens the play, portrays the Dutch Revolt as a case of tyrannical suppression; the second elaborates on the dramatic climax with a fictional naval battle between State and Spanish armies.


Bringing the Leiden siege before the eyes of an Amsterdam audience

[2] The Siege and Relief of Leyden was a 1645 play by Reynerius Bontius performed each year in Leiden as part of the festival of 3 October commemorating the city’s relief. Its subject is the Spanish Siege of Leiden in 1573-74 and the resulting famine, death and discord in the city. A disastrous surrender is only barely avoided while the threat of violation is a constant element throughout the play. At last, in a case of divine deliverance, the State fleet manages to reach the city on the surging river water and the Spanish army retreats. The city’s resilience is finally rewarded with the right to erect a university. The play remained tied to Leiden until Vos brought an adaptation of it to the Amsterdam Theatre in 1660. His tableaux vivants added much to the play’s popularity, making it a true box office success and the third most popular play ever to be performed there.[1] More than one hundred printed editions of Bontius’s Siege and Relief were produced, generating a maze of textual variants. The 1660 Amsterdam performances came with their own publication of the revised playscript and a separate booklet with elaborate descriptions of the tableaux. Both these printed texts were for sale, probably even during performances.[2] In an advertisement for the première in the Opregte Haerlemsche Courant (23 March 1660), the publication is promoted as much as the performance:

In Amsterdam, by Jacob Lescailie, on the Middeldam, was printed, and will be published, The Relief of Leyden: written by R. Bontius. Which will be shown in the Amsterdam Theatre Tuesday after Easter, and the next days. Embellished with many exquisite tableaux vivants, full of allegories, both before, during, and after the play. Made by Jan Vos. Never shown before now, or printed. Which will also be sold by aforementioned Lescailie. (my italics)[3]

The tableaux were clearly the main selling point, but we are lucky to know anything about them at all. Lescailje’s publication of a separate booklet with descriptions is a rare exception to the rule that tableaux vivants were very poorly documented, especially in the theatre (printed descriptions of tableaux performed during public festivities are more often extant). Usually, we are lucky if a playscript even mentions them, let alone gives a minimal description. The booklet is a magnificent source and the foundation for my analysis. However, it does not describe the actual performance of the play as a whole, about which we have little to no information.

[3] Each of the tableaux described in the booklet is made up of two or three sequentially revealed parts. Each of these parts is accompanied by six verses, possibly read out during the performance (Oey-De Vita 1984: 13; Albach 1987: 328). The five tableaux, all distinctly allegorical, have the following subjects. Shown before the play proper starts, the opening tableau concerns the umbrella conflict of the Dutch Revolt of which the siege and relief of Leiden formed a part. The first part shows the submission of the Netherlands by the Duke of Alba, while the second and third parts show the Spanish violation of citizens and the law. The timing of the following three tableaux is not indicated. The first part of the first tableau within the play shows Leiden’s population suffering hunger and death during the long siege. The second part shows the dawn of their resilience. In the first part of the second tableau within the play, the protagonists are the Plague and Discord. The second part concerns the restoration of Unity. In the third tableau within the play, presenting the relief of Leiden, the booklet describes the first part as depicting an elaborate naval battle between the State and Spanish armies, while the second part is about the euphoric reception of the relieving fleet in the city. Finally, in the tableau presented after the play’s conclusion, both parts revolve around the celebration of the city’s relief and the establishment of Leiden University.

[4] The addition of tableaux was undoubtedly Vos’s biggest adjustment to Bontius’s play. They fit his trademark sense for visual spectacle, which we see as much in his plays as in his work as director of the Amsterdam Theatre. Vos designed tableaux vivants to embellish existing plays, as enactments of poems he staged, and for public festivities at the request of the Amsterdam city council. Pleasing the eyes of his audience was motivated by commercial interest and by what he called the ‘poetics of utility’ (Geerdink 2014: 107-11). Throughout his extensive oeuvre, Jan Vos used powerful imagery for the audience’s moral betterment, and to promote the perspective of the city council and Amsterdam’s prestige in general (Geerdink 2014). These had been traditional functions of tableaux vivants since their earliest use in the Middle Ages. The revelation of ‘frozen’ compositions of actors remained popular in the Low Countries until well into the nineteenth century. Tableaux had a close connection to the visual arts and appeared in both public festivities and theatre plays. During the seventeenth century, their emotional and narrative roles adapted to major transformations in the theatre (Bussels 2019).

[5] Already Bontius’s tableaux vivants broke with tradition, in that they seem to have visualised the events that were discussed in the dialogue while it was taking place, thus remaining within the time and space of the plot (Bussels 2019: 90). Although they are merely referred to as ‘vertooningh’ in the playscript, the dialogue hints at their subjects as respectively hunger, discord, death, and eventually joy at the city’s relief, and the reception of William of Orange. Vos moved even further away from tradition by having each of his five complex tableaux made up of two or even three sequentially revealed parts or stages, and a newspaper advertisement for a later performance boasts of a number of more than one hundred actors.[4] This made interaction with the dialogue impossible. Unlike Bontius, Vos made his tableaux the point of focus so that they create their own, parallel narrative rather than being at the plot’s service. If the themes of the individual tableaux are looked at in relation to one another, they reveal a distinctive narrative arc. To an extent, this arc follows the highlights that had become embedded in Leiden’s cultural memory and that Bontius adhered to: the suffering from hunger, illness, and discord; agency lost and regained; and finally, survival and transcendence through the establishing of a university. However, Vos made two major changes that were crucial to the play’s potential to manipulate the political situation in Amsterdam in 1660. Firstly, he opened the play with a tableau on the Dutch Revolt. Secondly, he changed the dramatic climax to a fictional naval battle. Before exploring these violent tableaux and how their emotional effects could have supported the glorification of the House of Orange, I will take a look at the political context within which this glorification would have functioned.


An Amsterdam Charm Offensive Aimed at the Nassaus

[6] Although it had not been optimal before, the relationship between Amsterdam and the Stadtholder really dwindled when William II besieged the city in 1650. After that, any public demonstration of Orangism had been forbidden (Snoep 1975: 82-83). At the end of the 1650s, however, changes in international politics urged Amsterdam to rekindle its relationship with the Nassau family. After Cromwell’s death in 1658, things looked very different for young Prince William. He was related to the royal English House of Stuart through his mother Mary, Princess Royal, who was the daughter of King Charles I. William’s grandfather had been killed as part of Cromwell’s coup d’état in 1649, but with the reinstatement of the aristocracy it was his uncle, Charles II, who was appointed successor to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. To preserve its vital trade relationship with England, Amsterdam had to strengthen ties with the Nassaus despite being in the middle of the First Stadtholderless Period (1650-1672).[5] The city invited the family to public festivities and in 1659 welcomed Amalia van Solms with her entourage, and in 1660 Mary with Prince William. Both receptions included a parade of allegorical floats designed by Jan Vos. The parades were nearly identical, with the addition of several floats on English history in 1660. Vos made elaborate descriptions of the 1659 parade, which were published together with a series of wood prints (Vos 1659). A float carrying the representation of Unity was followed by floats representing each of the seven provinces, several generations of princes of Orange, and finally Gratitude and Amsterdam. Snoep’s reading of this allegorical ensemble is that subsequent generations of Orange princes had brought unity and peace to the Dutch Republic through military action. As such, the parades were a way for the city to express her gratitude to the princes for their service to the country and its people.[6] The addressees of this message were the citizens of Amsterdam as much as the royal guests. The display of ‘these invincible heroes’ was to imprint them with gratitude towards the House of Orange, at least according to the poem ‘Royal thanksgiving’ (‘Vorstelicke dancksegging’) that Constantijn Huygens dedicated to the burgomasters at the occasion of the 1659 parade (Snoep 1975: 86). However, as Geerdink writes, these floats exalted Amsterdam as much as they did the Nassaus (2014: 66).

[7] Only one day after watching the parade from the palace on the Dam, Mary and William were likely invited to attend a performance of The Siege and Relief with the tableaux by Jan Vos. On 18 June 1660, the Theatre’s cash register remained empty, an indication that on that date it was reserved for official guests of the city council.[7] In order to infer exactly how the play contributed to the charm offensive, I will now offer a close analysis of the opening tableau, and that performed at the play’s climax.


The Kneeling Netherlands: Allegory and Accusation

[8] The opening tableau is the first change Vos applied to the original play. While attending this play on the siege and relief of Leiden, the first thing Amsterdam audiences got to see was a gigantic tableau vivant on the Dutch Revolt. The opening tableau places everything that is about to follow in the context of the larger battle of the Dutch people against the Spanish crown. This differs from Bontius’s play, that simply refers to the Dutch Revolt as a sort of framework that makes the local situation more understandable. The Spanish violence in other cities is activated to explain the impossible position of the Leiden citizens, and to create empathy with their struggle intra muros. Vos, on the other hand, turned things around, making the situation at Leiden into an example of the Dutch Revolt and its consequences. With his opening tableau, he appropriated a local Revolt story into a national narrative, something that happened quite often throughout the seventeenth century, in the service of various political goals (Pollmann & Kuijpers 2013: 8; Pollmann 2008: 13). This appropriation provides an interpretative framework for the rest of the play.

[9] The intrinsically violent representation of the Dutch Revolt in the opening tableau was in no way new but rather a well-trodden path in all kinds of media. The three parts of the tableau move from abstract to concrete in sequential steps. The first part centres on Alba’s invasion and the vices he brings in his wake while subduing the Netherlands. The second part specifies the implications of this submission by showing the infractions of rights: forced entry, the destruction of freedom, and the mockery of justice. The third part elaborates on the violent effects of these infractions on Dutch citizens.

[10] Looking at the booklet’s description of the first part of the opening tableau, what strikes the reader is the sheer level of violence flooding the stage. Allegorical personifications such as Audacity and Violence are all involved in violent acts. The tableau freezes them right in the middle of threatening and invading, and it shows the effects of these actions on their victims: submission, fear, and flight. Their attributes — weapons, chariot, harness — are instrumental to this. In full, the first part of the opening tableau is described as follows:

The Duke of Alba, harnessed, shows himself on his chariot. War’s Destiny stands in the back. He is pulled by Vindictiveness and Bloodlust. Lust for Power holds the reins. The wagon is followed by Tyranny, Robbery, Murderousness, Counterfeit, Infidelity, Arson, Treason, Fear, Angst, and all the horrors. On the left side, Justice, Temperance and Unity are threatened by Violence, Ferocity and Discord with gag, wheel and sword. The Netherlands, that he [Alba] rides towards, are chained to one another by Audacity even though they kneel for him. The Rhine, Meuse, Scheldt, Ijssel, Amstel, Vecht, Spaar, and other stream gods and goddesses are horrified by his arrival. Pallas appears before Freedom, who has several nobles and citizens with her, and advises her to flee. Prudence shows them the way.[8]

The description reveals the composition to be an enumeration of subscenes: the Duke of Alba on his chariot and all the vices that surround him; the kneeling Netherlands — probably a group of actors each representing one of the provinces, as was customary in the visual arts; the startled river gods; and Freedom fleeing with a group of nobles and citizens. Altogether, the group is too large and cohesive to suggest a traditional placement in the stage wall openings.[9] The performers were most probably placed on the proscenium, in a latitudinal juxtaposition of subscenes.[10] The chariot resembles the floats of the parades Vos designed for the Nassau entries of 1659 and 1660: the wood prints of 1659 similarly show wagons with a central figure, figures in the back, and others holding the reins. Whereas the wood prints show carriage horses, however, the chariot in this tableau is pulled by Vindictiveness and Bloodlust. Wagons are a central feature of the first and second tableaux within the play as well.[11]

[11] Central to the composition is the interaction between Alba and the Netherlands. Intuitively, one might interpret the relationship between them as one of domination. However, as all five tableaux are distinctly allegorical, understanding them goes beyond the figurative. In the tableau at hand, concepts of violence such as Murderousness and Tyranny are encrypted as human figures. Costumed, gesturing actors that perform as allegorical personifications make these abstract notions relatable and intelligible to the playgoers (Copeland & Struck 2011: 3-4).[12] It is safe to assume that most members of the audience immediately knew how to respond to an allegorical scene by trying to ‘read’ it for its ‘other-speak’, and that they mastered the literacy for it to varying degrees.[13] The following shows that this reading entails two vital steps. In order to decipher the encrypted meaning, one would have to first identify the individual personifications and then regard them in relation to one another.

[12] Identification of the personifications onstage would have been facilitated for those members of the audience in possession of the booklet. The descriptions offer a very detailed enumeration of the tableau’s characters, while the verses also point out several characters, such as ‘the furious Duke of Alba’ presenting himself on his chariot, and Pallas advising the people to ‘flee the pressing power’.[14] Another method of identification was through the great iconological standardisation in visual culture (Lin 2012: 72). The wide dissemination of a book such as Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1593) greatly added to the audience’s familiarity with the emblematic representation of allegories. The most popular of personifications must have been ubiquitous in the visual and decorative arts, parades, and the theatre alike (Kiefer 2003: 13-18). A Dutch translation of Ripa appeared in Amsterdam in 1644, and its influence on the theatre has already been shown.[15] It is very likely that Vos, too, observed these guidelines when designing his allegorical tableaux, for example, with ‘Geweldt’ (Violence), one of the many personifications that populate the opening tableau. The Dutch version of the Iconologia mentions ‘geweld’ twice. The word is first used in relation to ‘Violenza’, where it carries a sense of violation: ‘Violenza’ is shown as a woman killing a defenceless child with a dagger and cane (Pers 1644: ‘Violenza’). In the second use of the word, in defining ‘Impeto’, ‘geweld’ refers to the surge of passion that brings about assault, or the act of inflicting violence. We read that ‘Impeto’ looks like a semi-nude young man with a cruel and bold demeanour. Bracing himself with his sword drawn, he is ready to violently attack his enemy. His foaming mouth and covered eyes would show his divorce from reason. Iconologia’s character as a manual for the visual arts can be derived from the choice of words: this is how Impeto should be ‘painted’ (Pers 1644: ‘Impeto’).[16] Looking at actual prints or paintings depicting the character of Violence (as in the work of Jan Luyken), it becomes clear that even though these details are not rigorously adopted, there are still many similarities. Even when he is identified as ‘Violentia’ or ‘Vis’, we see a male figure whose posture communicates a readiness to strike and who is in possession of weapons such as torch, sword, mace and shield. His costume is often a harness with Roman influences, underneath which he is usually muscular and half-naked from the waist up.[17] That Vos went in the same direction with his character ‘Geweldt’ cannot be verified but seems likely. At least for tableaux vivants that were performed in public spaces, descriptions and/or prints always emphasised the attributes and costumes through which the figures could be identified (Snoep 197: 83; Kiefer 2003: 21).

[13] As a compositional technique, allegory derives meaning from the relationships between its constitutive parts.[18] Although already rich in meaning on their own, the tableau’s personifications should be read in relation to one another to unlock their full message. Even in the absence of a direct visual connection, the juxtapositional format prompts correlative interpretation (Kunzle 1973: 4; Groensteen 2012: 113). Apart from its internal coherence, allegory is also very much connected to the specific historical reality that it reflects on. If the audience failed to connect Alba and the Netherlands to the Eighty Years’ War, the allegorical meaning would be lost on them. There was little risk of that happening, however, for this link was ingrained in the original play’s subject matter and more than commonplace across media. Various sources had exploited the stereotype of Spanish cruelty, ‘the Black Legend’, for propagandistic purposes since the beginning of the Revolt. ‘Iron Duke’ Alba appeared very frequently as one of its most ruthless practitioners and even became its embodiment. There are at least twenty known paintings of the ‘tyranny of Alba’ (all post-1618), and numerous prints. Some bear a very similar composition to the tableau’s description of Alba facing the kneeling Netherlands.[19] Reading the tableau as an allegory of Spanish tyranny towards the Netherlands would therefore have been inevitable for contemporaneous audiences. The other subscenes in the composition contribute to this reading: there is the flight of Freedom, but also vices threatening virtues with weapons that were typical of the Black Legend (‘gag, wheel and sword’). Any contemporary audience would have had the cultural background to identify these personifications and read them in relation to one another.

[14] Vos’s tableau summarises the complex, eighty-year-long conflict in one strong image of illegitimate domination of perpetrator over victim.[20] By focusing on the interaction between two characters, this tableau turns the abstract and complex into something that the audience could relate and respond to. Tyranny was a strong emotional catalyst. Defined as excessive and unlawful use of power and force, and a stock feature of many plays, it typically functioned as an accusation.[21] Tyranny’s emotive potential is furthered by the verses that accompany the first part of the opening tableau:

The furious duke of Alba presents himself on his chariot.
The Netherlands are regrettably cut down.
The cruel and mighty do not refrain from bullying the people
Advised by Pallas, they flee the pressing power,
That has eyes, nor ears, for begging requests.
Angered kings are boundless in their vengeance.[22]

The abuse of power, violence without mercy or measure, and the rule of passions such as fury or vengeance — these were all familiar characteristics of tyranny (Bushnell 1990: 51).[23] Feelings of indignation are reinforced by assessments such as ‘cruel’ or ‘bullying’, or the suggestion that the Netherlands are ‘regrettably cut down’.

[15] The second and third parts of the opening tableau similarly support this emotive function by elaborating on what Alba’s tyranny entails. The second part displays forced entry, the destruction of freedom, and the mockery of justice. The third part shows the violent effects of these infractions on Dutch citizens. Specifically, the second part shows 1- the unlawful capture of citizens; 2- the farewell of the Governess Margaret of Parma, signifying the arrival of Alba; 3- the Blood Council seated behind a table filled with horrifying torture instruments; 4- the forced submission of cities, symbolised by the surrender of keys; and 5- the tearing-up of privileges.[24] Now, these subscenes take their traditional place in the stage wall openings. Judging by their description, Vos seems to have built on denunciative imagery that already circulated in visual culture.[25] Apart from indignation, the second part plays on feelings of horror: intense fear, dread or dismay.[26] The booklet specifies that the Blood Council’s assembly of torture instruments was meant to cause fear as much as pain in the detainee.[27] The third part of the opening tableau even calls for the explicit performance of ‘horrors’ (‘gruwelijkheeden’). We read that ‘after these pageants, one sees, after the opening of five new scenes, the beheading, hanging, strangling, burning of people, and other horrors.’ This line-up is paralleled in one of the accompanying verses: ‘they hang, they strangle, and burn by force of the cruel command.’[28] Again, these scenes are reminiscent of the iconic prints that were produced during the most violent phase of the Dutch Revolt.

[16] Altogether, the opening tableau is profoundly affective. This will prove significant, especially in relation to the climactic battle tableau that is Vos’s second narrative change. The emotional effects of horror and indignation achieved by the opening tableau serve as the foundation for the audience’s experience of the dramatic climax.


The Glorification of Military Violence

[17] The climax in the third tableau within the play was probably staged near the end of the play, following most of the dialogue and after the two tableaux on the Dutch Revolt, hunger and resilience, and the Plague, discord and the restoration of unity. Vos did not follow the generally accepted historical narrative here. Instead of divine deliverance, he staged a naval battle as the cause of the relief of Leiden. The booklet describes an elaborate battle between the State and Spanish armies in the flooded river:

The tritons, with the sound of their whelk horns, summon the sweet and salt waves. The north-west wind flies between heaven and earth, and helps the water rise, by blowing on it. The south-west wind urges, while floating over the meadows and fields, the streams through the breached dikes and docks, and makes them roar over land towards the city. The stream gods and goddesses, who were hiding in their mossy basins long before the rage of the Spanish army, are now seen to catapult themselves from the ground and bob on the waves. Here, the enemy burns several army camps, at the sight of the approaching fleet. There, State and Spanish [soldiers] cling to each other on board. Over there, they clash with one another in the water with rudder, spike and sword. Drowned warriors float everywhere.[29]

Reading this, we are left with many questions. How did Vos evoke the water running across the stage, for example? How did he represent the two ships and the numerous drowned warriors? Although Vos was very visually oriented, we should keep in mind that representational techniques were not necessarily all mimetic. Of particular importance in this scene are the tritons, who were a tried allegorical technique to signify ‘being on water’ (Lin 2012: 72). Other than that, most people would have been more than familiar with naval battles, as they had been a ubiquitous subject during the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654). Dutch news markets had been flooded with descriptions and depictions of the naval battles that were characteristic of this conflict throughout its course (Spies & Frijhoff 1999: 527).[30] As such, playgoers had at their disposal plenty of tools to let their imagination fill in potential scenographic blanks, especially considering that many would have had access to the booklet with its descriptions.

[18] The audience’s experience of this heroic battle built on the opening tableau in two ways. Firstly, the violence against citizens and the horror and indignation it inspired now invested playgoers in a victory for the Dutch. Second, zooming out to the Revolt made the relief of Leiden necessary to the survival of the Dutch Republic as a whole. By staging a spectacular military fight on the water, Vos portrayed something that in reality never happened, placing the two rivalling camps opposite one another in a fight for victory. This would have made the relief much more exciting, eliciting feelings of elation and perhaps even cheering, and bringing about emotional relief in the audience. That the representation of violence between the soldiers did not aim to evoke the same emotions as the representation of violence against citizens has everything to do with framing. Rather than a case of power abuse, the violence has now turned into a necessity.

[19] As has been noted, Vos’s climax differs from the historically accepted narrative. The State fleet did fight the Spanish army in fortified villages near Leiden, and citizens engaged in skirmishes around the city throughout the siege. However, the actual relief was established when the Spanish army fled from the surging water. Vos’s climax also differs from the play text, which explains the surging water as an act of God in 1645 as well as in 1660 (Bontius 1645: vs. 1772-1824; Bontius 1660: 42-43). In the tableau, the hand of God is still made present through the actions of the — albeit pagan — stream gods, winds and tritons. His help is celebrated in the accompanying verses as well. However, by staging a spectacular final battle, Vos’s tableau clearly emphasises the role of human agency in the relief.[31] This turns it into a real victory, whereas with Bontius, the announcement of a God-given deliverance makes for something of an anti-climax. By staging the relief as a process rather than a given, active achievement rather than passive acquiescence, the tableau engaged the audience on a different level. The glory of the hard-won victory and the euphoria that it is bound up with could subsequently be associated with the heroes that are presented at the end of the play. Commander-in-chief William I of Orange (and before him admiral Louis Boisot) is received into the city and praised as a ‘heroic war hero’ and ‘God’s hero’. He is even compared to the invincible ‘knight of God’.[32] Notably, this praise is already present in 1645, and remains a part of the 1660 publication. However, the battle makes sure there is a solid emotional foundation for this glorification, all the more so because it builds on the opening tableau that, by zooming out to the Eighty Years’ War, implies that Orange is the saviour of the entire Dutch Republic and not only of Leiden. The text confirms this when Vander Does praises Orange for risking his life for the whole country (Bontius 1645: vs. 1947-51; Bontius 1660: 44). In 1660, furthermore, the text is abbreviated so that the play ends with praise of Orange and his departure to secure the Dutch people’s sovereignty. He states that, as long as the enemy is not defeated, he has no time to lose to go after them. All the characters that are present chant him farewell: ‘Orange fortune and hail, remain the winner in victory!’.[33] After the final scene, the prince makes another appearance in the closing tableau where he has Freedom, Holland and several provinces with him, suggesting that it is he who brings back freedom and unity.[34] Ending the play with Orange is yet another way to emphasise his importance.

[20] The combination of these interventions with the choice of a Revolt play is significant in relation to the political situation in 1660. The glorification of their progenitor reflected well on the Nassau family, especially as the military focus matched the preferred self-representation of subsequent generations of Stadtholders. It underpinned their claim to national leadership and had therefore been a frequent matter of disagreement with Amsterdam. As mentioned previously, Jan Vos performed as the city council’s spokesman on more than one occasion. Throughout his diverse oeuvre, the Nassaus only appeared when they were of interest to the burgomasters (Geerdink 2012: 63, 111-12, 119-20). If anything, the glorification of Orange in Vos’s tableaux for the Siege and Relief came directly from the city council. At the same time, the prominence of the State fleet in the final battle also added to the exaltation of Amsterdam herself. Especially during the First Stadtholderless Period, the Admiralty of Amsterdam exerted great power over the fleet (Spies & Frijhoff 1999: 144). This double focus matched the 1659 and 1660 parades’, praising subsequent generations of Orange princes while also adding to the glory of Amsterdam.



[21] When Prince William and his mother Mary responded to Amsterdam’s invitation to a reception in June 1660, they not only got to see a parade designed by Jan Vos, but most likely also a Revolt play that he embellished. Behind this invitation was an Amsterdam charm offensive towards the Nassau family. Now that William’s uncle had ascended the English throne, the city wanted to secure its trade relationship. Vos’s embellishments to The Siege and Relief consisted mainly of the addition of five allegorical tableaux vivants. This paper has argued how these could have contributed to the charm offensive. To begin with, their published descriptions suggest a genuine visual spectacle, which was Vos’s trademark. The tableaux create their own narrative, which differs from the plot of the original play in two significantly violent ways. Firstly, the opening tableau zooms out from the Leiden siege to the Dutch Revolt. Its allegorical composition can be read as an accusation: the Eighty Years’ War was a case of tyrannical oppression. Elaborating on the violent implications of this tyranny, the opening tableau aimed to evoke feelings of indignation and horror in the audience. These would subsequently have served as the emotional foundation for the climactic battle in the third tableau within the play, investing the audience in a victory for the Dutch. Here a composition showing violence between soldiers invites a different kind of emotional reaction than the torture of innocent citizens. Placing the two rivalling camps opposite one another in a fight for victory, Vos’s version deviates from both the original play and the historically accepted narrative. The elation, cheer, and emotional discharge bound up with the battle eventually benefit the military hero who is presented at the very end of the play: William I of Orange. Both tableaux place essentially violent subjects centre stage: the violation of citizens and a fictional naval battle. By exploiting the emotional potential of these acts of violence, the play had the potential to affect the political reality of its day. Glorifying their progenitor was one way to charm the Nassau family. The specific military focus was another: subsequent generations of Stadtholders loved to present themselves as military heroes as a source for their authority. However, typically for Amsterdam there was also an element of self-glorification: the focus on the State fleet added to the city’s glory as much as to that of Orange.

Universiteit Gent & Vrije Universiteit Brussel



[1] In 1660 alone, The Siege and Relief was performed no fewer than twenty-four times and its revenue was almost 1.5 times higher than the average. For the performances in 1660 (and beyond), see ONSTAGE, ‘Beleg en ontset der stadt Leyden’. For the revenues of all plays performed in 1660, see ONSTAGE, ‘Shows in 1660’. For the link between Vos’s tableaux and the play’s popularity from then on, see Hogendoorn 1976: 72. The play was performed until the mid-nineteenth century throughout the Dutch Republic and even in Hamburg (Bordewijk 2005: 20). For the popularity of The Siege and Relief in the Amsterdam Theatre between 1660 and 1772, see ONSTAGE, ‘The 50 most popular plays between 1660 and 1772’. [back to text]

[2] As a means of censorship, the theatre directorate commissioned publications for all the plays that were to be performed under their roof. Between 1658 and 1679, the official printer for the Schouwburg was Lescailje. It is very probable that these publications were sold to the audiences of the respective performances: at least, this practice is documented from 1670 onwards (Grabowsky 1995: 35-36; Smits-Veldt 1995: 216; Bordewijk 2005: 15). [back to text]

[3] ‘Tot Amsterdam, by Jacob Lescailie, op de Middeldam, wert gedruckt, en sal uytgegeven worden, Het Ontset van Leyden: Gerijmt door R. Bontius. ’t Welck op de Amsterdamse Schouburgh Dingsdagh na Paesschen, en de volgende dagen, vertoont sal worden. Verheerlickt door veel treffelijcke Vertooningen, vol Sinnebeelden, so voor, in, als naer het Speelen. Gemaeckt door Jan Vos. Nooyt voor desen Vertoont, ofte Gedruckt. Welcke oock by den voorschre Lescailie alsdan sullen verkocht worden’ (Haerlemsche Dinsdaeghse Courant, no. 12 (23 March 1660), verso). [back to text]

[4] Although there is no way of knowing if the actual performance was as ambitious, the characters described in the booklet easily add up to one hundred: ‘t’Amsterdam, by Jacob Lescailje, op de Middeldam, werdt uytgegeven; het Belegh en Ontset van Leyden, bly-eyndent Treur-spel, door R. Bontius, met de Vertooningen door Jan Vos; en een Beschryvingh van de cieraden van het Toneel, met de Verklaringen der Zinnebeelden, gelijck het selve op Maendagh nae de Kermis-Weeck, zijnde den 28 September, en de drie volgende, op d’Amsterdamsche Schouburg, door meer als hondert Persoonen, sal gespeelt, vertoont en uytgebeelt werden, met Konst- en Vlieg-wercken, Perspectiven, &c.’ (Oprechte Haerlemse Dinsdaegse Courant, no. 38 (22 September 1671), verso). My gratitude goes out to Frans Blom for referring me to both advertisements. [back to text]

[5] Upon the Act of Abjuration (1581), the role of the Stadtholder was transformed from representative of the king to top civil servant of the United Provinces. While the executive power remained with the provincial States, frequent power struggles characterised their relationship to the Stadtholders. When William II died in 1650, the office was terminated until the start of the Franco-Dutch War in 1672 (Geerdink 2014: 64; Snoep 1975: 86). Contemporaries saw a parallel between the Dutch Revolt and the English Civil War and Restoration: hence from this perspective too it would have made sense to perform a Revolt play for the reception of members of the English royal family (Helmers 2015). [back to text]

[6] The parade in 1660 recycled the floats of 1659 and added several more on periods from recent English history (Snoep 1975: 85-87). [back to text]

[7] ONSTAGE registers the parade on 17 June 1660 (‘Thursday 17th June 1660’). On the performance of 18 June 1660, see ONSTAGE, ‘Friday 18th of June’. Snoep links the lack of revenue to the official character of the performance (1975: 172). State visits often included a visit to the theatre, a custom inspired by court etiquette. Most of the time, the guests would pay for the performance: only exceptionally were they treated by the city council. It was not uncommon for theatre performances for official guests to be part of a broader program (van der Haven 2008: 88, 90-91). [back to text]

[8] ‘Vertoont zich de Hartog van Alba, in ’t harnas, op zijn staatcywaagen. de Krijgsfortuin staat achter op. hy wordt van Wraakgierigheidt en Bloedtdorstigheidt voortgetrokken. de Staatzucht heeft de toom om te mennen. de Waagen wordt gevolgt van Dwingelandy, Roovery, Moordtdaadigheidt, Geveinstheidt, Trouweloosheidt, Stoockebrandt, Bedrogh, Schrik, Vrees, en alle gruwelijkheeden. Aan de slinke zy, worden Gerechtigheidt, Maatigheidt, en Eendracht, door Geweldt, Verwoedtheidt en Tweedracht, met strop, roer en deegen gedreigt. de Neederlanden, die hy [Alba] te moet komt rijden, worden, door de Stoutheid, schoon dat zy voor hem knielen, met keetens aan elkanderen geslooten. De Rijn, de Maas, de Scheldt, d’Yssel, d’Amstel, de Vecht, het Spaar, en andere Stroomgooden en godinnen, zijn voor zijn komst verbaast. Pallas komt by de Vryheidt, die verscheide eedelen en ingezeetenen by sich heeft, en raadt haar te vluchten. de Voorzichtigheidt wijst hen de wegh’ (Vos 1660: 3). [back to text]

[9] In 1660, the stage model of the Amsterdam Theatre was still very close to that of the Rhetorician’s. The back of the proscenium was lined with a façade that had five openings, three bigger ones and two smaller ones. In the Rhetoricians’ theatre, such openings (the number varied) were a typical location for tableaux vivants (De Paepe 2012). [back to text]

[10] De Paepe has made reconstructions of the Amsterdam stage (1637-1665) that can be accessed freely on his website ( Erfgoed in beeld). According to this reconstruction, the proscenium of the 1637 Amsterdam Theatre was ca. 14m wide and max. 5m75 deep. Similarly, the description of Vos’s tableau suggests a latitudinal division across the stage, as it contains a spatial indication to Violence, Ferocity and Discord as ‘on the left side’ (‘Aan de slinke zy, worden Gerechtigheidt, Maatigheidt, en Eendracht, door Geweldt, Verwoedtheidt en Tweedracht, met strop, roer en deegen gedreigt.’ — Vos 1660: 3). Finally, frontality (as opposed to depth) was a known feature of the Rhetoricians’ acting style — one that was closely connected to the lighting possibilities of the theatre (De Paepe 2012: 352-53). [back to text]

[11] Wagons were often used by the Rhetoricians for open-air performances (van Dixhoorn 2009: 61; Elenbaas 2004: 291). [back to text]

[12] The double meaning is already encompassed in the literal meaning of allegoria, that is ‘other-speaking’. The Latin allegoria comes from the Greek allêgoria, a compound between allos (another, different) and agoreuein (speak openly) (‘Allegory’). [back to text]

[13] Lin defines allegory not simply as a means of representing situations that are difficult to stage, but as ‘one of the underlying cultural logics that shaped basic theatrical literacy’ (2012: 72). [back to text]

[14] ‘De woedend’ Alba toont zich op zijn staatcywagen. (…) Men vlucht, door Pallas raadt, voor ’t prangen van ’t Geweldt’ (Vos 1660: 3). [back to text]

[15] The Dutch version of the Iconologia was published by the Amsterdam printer and publisher Dirck Pietersz Pers, who aimed at a broad audience with his translation (Van Dael 1995: 89ff.). [back to text]

[16] See ‘Impeto’ for the reference to painting (‘wort hy gemaelt’). [back to text]

[17] Among others: Jan Luyken, Violence Tramples the Vanquished (1706), etching (; Jacob de Gheyn (I), Theatre of Violence (1577), etching, 219 x 290 mm (; Anon., Love expelled by Envy and Violence (1575), engraving, 317 x 194 mm ( (all part of the Rijksmuseum collection). Kiefer (2003: 22) also mentions Philips Galle after Maarten Van Heemskerck, The Wretchedness of Wealth (1563), engraving, 235 x 170 mm (British Museum) ( [back to text]

[18] The reception of the Greek term allegoria in Latin produced a conceptual shift from ‘meaning’ to ‘speaking’. It now became a rhetorical technique that denoted a form of writing as well as reading (Copeland & Struck 2011: 4). [back to text]

[19] Even in 1660, stories of Alba’s tyranny continued to appeal to audiences, for example in an Amsterdam maze (Kuijpers and Pollmann 2013: 180; Urbaniak 2011: 34ff.; Pollmann 2008: 12). A famous example of such a similar composition is Willem Jacobsz. Delff (attrib.), Tyranny of Alba (c. 1622), engraving, 370 x 550 mm (Rijksmuseum) ( . For the ubiquity of explicit violence in printed images produced in the Dutch Republic between 1650 and 1700, see van Duijnen 2019. [back to text]

[20] As such, the opening tableau is much more poignant than an earlier publication of the play that also starts with a series of four tableaux vivants on the topic of the Dutch Revolt. In the Baron edition, the enumeration of Spanish horrors ends with the prospect of heavenly mercy, offering a conclusion rather than a re-activation of the Revolt material (Bontius 1659: fol. A4r). [back to text]

[21] Tyranny has different meanings, but they all revolve around the Greek etymology of an absolutist ruler who has come to his unlimited power unlawfully and who puts himself above the law in general (see ‘tirannie’ in De Geïntegreerde Taalbank, ‘tyranny’ in Merriam-Webster, and ‘tyranny’ in the Online Etymology Dictionary). [back to text]

[22] ‘De woedend’ Alba toont zich op zijn staatcywagen. | De Neederlanden zijn Godtsjammerlijk gevelt. | Wie wreedt en machtigh is, ontziet geen volk te plaagen. | Men vlucht, door Pallas raadt, voor ’t prangen van ’t Geweldt, | Dat oog, noch ooren heeft voor traanen, noch voor smeeken. | Getergde koningen zijn tomeloos in ‘t wreeken’ (Vos 1660: 3). [back to text]

[23] These are the characteristics of tyrants in plays such as Geeraardt Brandt’s De veinzende Torquatus (1645) and Guilliam van Nieuwelandt’s Jerusalems verwoestingh door Nabuchodonosor (1635). Tyranny also plays an important role in Vos’s first play, Aran and Titus, where it is defined as revenge beyond measure and beyond reason, and where the rule of passion eventually leads to the death of most characters (see Geerdink 2014). The tyrant was a well-known character type in early modern theatre (Keifer 2003: 12). [back to text]

[24] The placement in the stage wall is indicated in the descriptions: ‘after this tableau, five frames are opened’: ‘Achter deeze Vertooning, worden vijf verschieten geopent: in’t eerst van de drie grootste, dat zich aan de rechterhandt laat zien, is Speldt, de Rooderoe, met zijn knevelaars, bezigh met vangen van mannen en vrouwen. In ’t tweede, aan de slinkehandt, neemt de Hartogin van Parma haar afscheidt van ’t Hof. In ’t middelste zit de Bloedtraadt aan een taafel, daar een kleene galg op staat: het kleedt, om d’aangeklaagde, buiten pijn, schrik aan te jaagen, leit vol kluisters, kettingen, geesselroeden, stroppen, zwaarden, nijptangen, pistoolen, en allerlei pijn en-moordtuig. In ’t eerste van de twee kleene verschieten, ziet men verscheide Steeden de sleutels van haar poorten, aan de Spaansche Krijghshoofden, over leeveren. In het tweede worden de voorrechten, handvesten en vryheeden, in’t byzijn van de Staaten, aan stukken gescheurt’ (Vos 1660: 3r-v). [back to text]

[25] The unlawful capture of citizens is part of almost every composition by Frans Hogenberg and his contemporaries. The Blood Council seated at a table likewise knows many versions, although I have not found any where the table is filled with torture instruments, as in Vos’s description. Handing over the city keys is mostly depicted as a voluntary act, for example in Crispijn van de Passe (II), De stadsmaagd van ’s-Hertogenbosch overhandigt de sleutels van de stad aan Frederik Hendrik (1629), engraving, 141 x 370 mm (Rijksmuseum) ( However, rather than access to the city being offered freely, the presence of Spanish warlords in the tableau suggests that it is enforced. Finally, the tearing up of privileges plays a role in the aforementioned print The Tyranny of Alba, among other examples. [back to text]

[26] Konst believes the staging of horror was meant to elicit a brief but strong emotional response of disgust, bewilderment and flinching in the audience (Konst 1993: 208-09). [back to text]

[27]  See note 24, above. [back to text]

[28] The description reads as follows: ‘achter deeze Vertooningen, ziet men, naa ’t oopenen van vijf nieuwe verschieten, de menschen onthoofden, hangen, wurgen, verbranden, en andere gruwelijkheeden’. The verses read as follows: ‘men hangt, men wurgt, en brandt door kracht van ’t wreet gebodt’ (Vos 1660: 3v). [back to text]

[29] ‘Verdagvaarden de Tritons, door het geluit van hun klinkhoorens, de zoete en zoute baaren. De Noord-weste-wind vliegt tusschen hemel en aardt, en helpt het water door gestaadigh te blaazen, aan ’t zwellen: de Zuidtweste jaagt, terwijl zy over d’akkers en velden zweeft, de vloeden deur de deurgesteeken dijken en kaaden, en doetze langs het landt naar de Stadt toe bruischen. De Stroomgooden en Godinnen, die dus lang, voor ’t woeden van ’t Spaensche leeger, in hun bemoste killen verschoolen, ziet men nu van de grondt opschieten en op de baaren dobberen. Hier steekt de vyant verscheide leegerplaatsen, door ’t naaderen van de vloot, aen brandt. Daar klampen de Staatsche en Spaansche elkander aan boordt. Gins gaat men elkander, in ’t water, met roer, spies en deegen te keer. Overal dryven verdronken Krijgsluiden’ (Vos 1660: 6). [back to text]

[30] A beautiful example of a naval battle in print is Anon., Zeeslag bij Terheide (1653), etching, 295 x 370 mm (Rijksmuseum). Significantly, Vos was assigned by the Amsterdam burgomasters to design a series of allegorical tableaux at the occasion of the end of the Anglo-Dutch war in 1654 (Vos 1662: 601ff.). During their performance on the Dam, pamphlets were dispersed with descriptive texts and poems by Vos (Snoep 1975: 82). An earlier example of Vos’s interaction with this subject is his 1653 poem ‘Zeekrygh’, in which no gory detail is spared and that may well have been performed onstage (Geerdink 2012: 68). [back to text]

[31] This follows a trend in plays on the Leiden siege. By focusing on the city’s suffering from the plague and famine, Bontius’s play already highlights the human aspect of the siege more than his predecessor Jacob Duym (Meijer Drees 1992: 171). [back to text]

[32] ‘Manhaftigh Oorloghs Helt’; ‘gelijk den Ridder Godts’; ‘Godts held’ (the latter is exclusive to the 1660 publication) (Bontius 1660: 44; Bontius 1645: vs. 1947, 1958). [back to text]

[33] ‘Oranje luck en heil, blijft winnaer in victory!’ (Bontius 1660: 45). [back to text]

[34] ‘In de vertooning na ‘t spel Staat een brandent Outaar; aan de slinke zy vertoont zich Leiden, Mars, Stadtvoogt en Burgemeesteren; aan de rechte komt Prins Willem, die de Vryheidt, Hollandt en eenige Staaten by zich heeft. Hier wordt Leiden, voor haar geleede ellenden, het recht van de Hoogeschool opgedraagen’ (Vos 1660: 7). [back to text]



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