A few years ago the conservator of the Antwerp Vleeshuis museum showed me this picture.
It’s named “The Calvinist uproar restrained”, and was made by Frans Hogenberg between 1567 and 1570. This was the time of the 80-year war between Philip II of Spain and the Low Countries. Philip, the son of emperor Charles V, was a devout catholic. But in Germany the ideas of former monk Martin Luther (also an accomplished lute player) were rising.
Unlike his father (who had grown up here), Philip was raised in Spain, under a very strict protocol. He didn’t have much sympathy for that little swamp in the north. Especially not when the people of that small province started to rebel against his reign. The Netherlands (which also contained Flanders) wanted autonomy and religious freedom. The rebels found an ideological justification in Protestantism, and especially the strict teachings of John Calvin of Geneva became highly popular.
Philip was highly opposed to protestants and started to prosecute them. But unlike what he had hoped, the religion grew in a high tempo. It was a combination of religious and political reveille. In 1566 the tension rose with an iconoclast fury. Groups of rebels went to the churches and destroyed their inventory. Statues and stained glass windows, were broken, paintings and liturgical clothes were burned. Gold and silver was stolen and
monks, nuns and priests were beaten up and sometimes even murdered. In reaction to this Philip send the Duke of Alva (the ‘Iron Duke’) to the Netherlands to restore the peace and punish those responsible. Alva’s ‘council of troubles’ would become know as the ‘council of blood’ because of the high number of executions they ordered.
The engraving shows one of the Calvinist uproars at the Antwerp Meir on march 14, 1567. This was calmed by major Anton Straelen. In some books we find it with the erroneous description that it is a depiction of the “Spanish Fury”. In november 1576 a group of mutinous Spanish soldiers started to loot in Antwerp. Three days they murdered, tortured, robbed and raped the people of the city. Hoogstraten also depicted this, but in a different set of engravings…
The Spanish Fury – two pictures by Frans Hogenberg
Lutes on the flagpole
But why did I show you this picture and tell this story? Well, take a good look at the house in the lower left corner… From the top window hangs is a flagpole with three instruments. Two lutes and something that looks like a gamba (or guitar?).
So why would they hang a couple of lutes outside of te window? Especially in march, when the weather isn’t all too friendly in the Lowlands… Would this perhaps be the home of an instrument maker who hung them out to dry their lacquer? Or for the southern European practice of sunbathing instruments? Maybe, but we simply don’t know. But it’s still a rather nice and curious touch…
I simply had to try… but no real advantage here in the cold and rainy Netherlands…