From the middle of the seventeenth century, the town hall of the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch in the Dutch province of North-Brabant underwent a series of rapid changes to its interior and exterior.2 As a part of this process, local painter Theodoor van Thulden (1606–1669) was paid five hundred guilders ‘for two paintings done and supplied for this town’ on September 25, 1647.3 On April 6, 1651 another payment of sixty guilders was recorded as ‘still owed for paintings supplied’, without further specification.4 These sums can be linked to a series of allegorical paintings Van Thulden produced for the ’s-Hertogenbosch magistrate: Justice and Concord (1646), The Right of the Four Quarters of the Meierij District to Appeal Before the Court of ’s-Hertogenbosch (1647) and The Request for Admission to the Union (1650) (figs. 1–3), which still hang in the town hall today. Two more paintings in the building, Two Lions (fig. 4) and Wildman (fig. 5) have been attributed to the painter, although their precise relation to this commission has remained uncertain.
The embellishments and expansions of ’s-Hertogenbosch Town Hall are mirrored by other town halls that were improved or newly erected in the Republic during this period, not least the impressive new town hall built in Amsterdam between 1648 and 1665.5 The end of the war with Spain undoubtedly created a mood of optimism in the country’s towns and cities. The changing tides also generated a response in the periphery of the Republic’s territory: ’s-Hertogenbosch’s city aldermen decided to commission paintings from Van Thulden during precisely these years.
Art historians have so far paid limited attention to the works, confining their interest to brief iconographic interpretations of the individual paintings or figures depicted in them.6 The message the paintings convey collectively, and the precise political motives that fueled the decision to decorate the city’s most prestigious civic building in this period, have not previously been addressed by scholars. This latter point is of particular importance considering the precarious position of ’s-Hertogenbosch as the foremost political center of Staats-Brabant (fig. 6) – a fragmented border region seeking increased political autonomy and participation in the Republic’s governmental structures during this exact period.
After 1629 ’s-Hertogenbosch and its surrounding area, the Meierij (Bailiwick), had become part of the ‘Generality Lands’, those parts of the Republic that did not have an autonomous provincial government or voting membership in the States General, and were governed by the States General in The Hague instead. Staats-Brabant’s boundaries and territory remained insecure for the entirety of the Eighty Years’ War, as towns and villages were gained and lost by the Dutch and Spanish armies. The instability of the region, both politically and geographically, as well as opposition from the other provinces, prevented the establishment of a provincial States of Brabant. Careful consideration of the iconographic program of the paintings commissioned from Van Thulden reveals that his compositions captured quite specifically the challenges facing ’s-Hertogenbosch during the turbulent but optimistic years immediately preceding and following the Peace of Münster (1648).
The original locations and functions of the works in the town hall, a building that underwent significant changes in the decades after the paintings were installed, have likewise never been analyzed. To understand the rhetorical function and agency of the paintings, in particular during this uncertain period in the city’s history, we need to know for which audiences and rooms the works were intended and how they were placed in these spaces. The present article aims to provide a comprehensive discussion of the commission’s scope and significance as a decorative program by situating it within the relevant political contexts, and by addressing the processes through which the paintings acquired meaning in relation to their now long-lost surroundings.
Theodoor van Thulden (1606–1669) and ’s-Hertogenbosch
Theodoor van Thulden returned to his native city of ’s-Hertogenbosch around 1643, having spent more than two decades abroad, the last ten years in Antwerp.7 With Van Thulden’s return, potential patrons in ’s-Hertogenbosch had access to a former associate of the famous Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), who similarly specialized in complex compositions and decoration programs with allegorical or mythological subjects, as well as portraits.8 Van Thulden not only modeled himself after Rubens’s example stylistically. By producing compositions that were dense in symbolic content he sought to claim a place amongst those painters who, like Rubens, had the skills and erudition to win important commissions from those in power. The most notable among his patrons in the Republic proved to be Amalia van Solms, who commissioned him to produce six canvases for the Oranjezaal in Huis ten Bosch (1648–1652).9
Van Thulden, who hailed from a prominent local family, could expect favorable conditions for patronage in the city. Jan van Asten (1610–1655), who was appointed city notary in 1646, had previously been married to Van Thulden’s cousin Maria van Thulden (1614–1643). The same year Hieronymus van Thulden (1611–1658), the painter’s distant cousin, was a city alderman.10 Important family connections such as these, along with Van Thulden’s growing reputation and experience in executing large-scale decoration projects, would have made him a most suitable candidate for the town hall commission.
Three Signed and Dated Paintings
Justice and Concord is dated 1646, making it the earlier of the two paintings recorded as executed and delivered by Van Thulden in the city ledgers of September 1647.11 Currently in the council hall (raadzaal) (figs. 7), the painting depicts two women seated against a dark background, gazing intently at the viewer. On the left we see Justice with her scales and sword, dressed in a fur-trimmed white gown and a red mantle, wearing a tiara with a feather on her head. The woman on the right in a green robe holds a bundle of arrows, a symbol of concord, which she is in the process of securing with a ribbon.12 She is covered by a lion’s skin; an attribute of Hercules and an allusion to strength. As such, she symbolizes the power of the state by recalling the phrase Concordia Res Parvae Crescunt (literally: ‘small states flourish through concord’, often translated into Dutch as ‘Eendracht maakt Macht’: ‘strength in unity’), which was the motto of the Dutch Republic.13
The second painting Van Thulden was paid for in 1647 must have been The Right of the Four Quarters of the Meierij District to Appeal Before the Court of ’s-Hertogenbosch, dated in that year. This painting depicts the legal right of the constituents of the four quarters of the Meierij district to appeal before the city’s court (the vierschaar). The Meierij was an area surrounding the city and covering most of the eastern part of the present-day province of North Brabant. It was divided into quarters, Peelland, Maasland, Oisterwijk and Kempenland, here represented by the four women on the right carrying their respective coats of arms. They present their shields to a personification of Justice, who is seated on an elevated throne with the coats of arms of ’s-Hertogenbosch, representing the city’s court, on the left of the composition.14 To Justice’s right is a female figure with an anchor and palm branch, representing Security,15 while in the foreground a river god reclines against an oak tree, presumably representing the River Dommel, which runs through the area.
The Right of the Four Quarters has a clear pendant, in terms of both size and composition, in The Request for Admission to the Union (1650), which means that the commission can be extended to include this painting as well. This work must be one of the paintings mentioned in the payment of sixty guilders to Van Thulden ‘for paintings supplied’ in 1651, a year after its completion. However, given the substantially higher amount of five hundred guilders that Van Thulden received in 1647 for The Right of the Four Quarters and the smaller Justice and Concord (‘two paintings done and supplied’), a payment of sixty guilders would not have been enough. Unless the funds provided in 1647 already included an advance for The Request for Admission to the Union, we must therefore assume that not all payments are documented in the city ledgers.
A personification of the Union of Provinces or States General, dressed in a pink robe trimmed with ermine, is seated on a sculptural throne decorated with the word ‘Unio’ beneath an arch depicting the coats of arms of the Republic’s seven provinces. She holds a scepter, the trident-like form of which signifies that her realm encompasses both land and water, further emphasized by the sculptural dolphins that decorate her throne, as well as two river gods flanking it; they may refer to the River Maas (Meuse) and the sea.16 ’s-Hertogenbosch personified as Stedemaagd, dressed in white, approaches from the left, presenting Unio with the crest of Brabant. Accompanying her is Mars, receiving a laurel wreath from Victory. Putti are grouped around the bundle of arrows in the foreground of the composition, one of them turning to the viewer as he is about to add another arrow. Liberty, depicted as a winged putto and identified by his liberty hat, stands on the right of the throne holding a cornucopia. The woman holding a rudder and all-seeing eye to the left of the throne can be identified as Providence of Government.17 Taken in its entirety, the painting allegorically depicts the anticipated admission of the province of Brabant to the States General. Both The Right of the Four Quarters and The Request for Admission to the Union are currently located in the burgomaster’s chamber (Burgemeesterskamer; fig. 8).
Two Lions and Wildman
The first of two attributed paintings, Two Lions, is an unsigned and undated copy after the lions depicted in the painting The Meeting at Lyon in Rubens’s Marie de’ Medici cycle.18 This painting, which is fully inconsistent with Van Thulden’s painting style, appears to be a later copy. The painting contains Prussian blue, a pigment that only became commercially available in the 1720s. The paint also contains relatively high levels of the mineral baryte, which did not become a common ingredient in artists’ paints until the nineteenth century.19
While Wildman has been attributed to Van Thulden at least since the nineteenth century, its authorship by Van Thulden is rejected by current scholars.20 This unsigned and undated painting shows the figure as a bearded old man in the nude with a club at his side and a shield depicting the crest of ’s-Hertogenbosch in his right hand. As wild, rugged types symbolizing strength and fierceness, the Wildman had been a common heraldic figure in the Netherlands since medieval times.21 It became associated with the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch as a mythical reference to the city’s founding in the woods, referred to in her name, and was eventually incorporated in the city’s coat of arms.22 The painting presently hangs on the chimney breast in the burgomaster’s chamber (fig. 9) and must have been in the town hall as early as 1693, when carpenter Jan van Es was paid for reducing the size of its strainer and assisting with remounting the canvas.23 It was seen in its present location by Johan Hendrik van Heurn (1716–1793), who recalls the local artist Anselmus Weeling (1675–1747) suggesting that the picture could have been painted by an Italian master.24
The Wildman can nevertheless be attributed to Van Thulden with certainty. The painting techniques and anatomical rendering correspond to those seen in Van Thulden’s paintings of the same period. For example, the rendering of the facial features, fingers, modeling with light and shade and the use of contour lines in the Wildman figure strongly resemble those of the river gods in The Right of the Four Districts to Appeal (1647) and The Request for Admission to the Union (1650).25 Cross sections further show that the Wildman has ground layers strikingly similar to Justice and Concord (1646), The Right of the Four Districts to Appeal (1647) and The Request for Admission to the Union (1650): a double ground consisting of an initial layer containing mainly chalk with on top a grey layer containing mainly lead white and charcoal black (figs. 10–11, tables 1, 2). The first ground layer used in the allegory dated 1650 bears a particularly striking resemblance to the first ground layer in the Wildman. In addition to the chalk some coarse charcoal black and as a little red lead are also present.26 This very similar mixture, used for the earliest ground layer, indicates that these paintings were primed and therefore probably executed at around the same time.27
It thus seems plausible that the Wildman was acquired by the city magistrate in the same period as the other three paintings by Van Thulden in the town hall. This is supported by payments to carpenter Dirck van der Lith for a strainer and frame in 1651.28 It is evident that the city aldermen wished to emphasize the heraldic function of wildmen in this period: in 1649 they paid for a decorative window depicting the coat of arms of the city with the addition of a wildman figure in one of the town hall’s reception rooms.29 And, as we shall see, the subject of the painting may also be linked to the iconography of the other three works.
The Vienna Oil Sketch
An oil sketch in which Van Thulden explicitly unites the theme of his Justice and Concord with the two large allegories sheds light on the iconographic relation that exists between his town hall paintings. This sketch, currently held in the collection of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Vienna (fig. 12a), is an ambitious design for a painted allegorical scene containing numerous figures within a black frame, below which there is a design for an architectural wall decoration consisting of pilasters, niches and reliefs. Van Thulden has given almost every figure an inscription for identification. This must have been an earlier design for the city aldermen’s consideration, apparently rejected, and may be dated in or shortly before 1646.30
The figure identified as ‘Unio’ by Van Thulden is enthroned on a semi-circular base decorated with the arms of the seven Provinces and the motto ‘Concordia Res Parvae Crescunt’, which tells us that she embodies the Republic as a Union of Provinces. Unio, holding a rudder as a reference to government, is accompanied by Justice (left) and Mars (right), and this group is mirrored by the zodiac signs Libra, Virgo and Leo depicted on the arch above them. This important compositional element thus appears closely related to the themes communicated by Concord and Justice, but also incorporates ideas and forms that reappear in The Request for Admission.
Liberty (Libertas), located on a column directly to their right, is depicted as its counterpart in the 1650 allegory – a winged putto holding a liberty hat. Here, however, a companion holds a shield inscribed Cum Arce et Gladio, referring to the fortifications and military that secured the Republic’s liberty and continued to protect it. An appropriate detail, since ’s-Hertogenbosch was an important garrison town on the Republic’s southern border. As in the 1650 painting, the Unio figure is approached by the Maid of ’s-Hertogenbosch. In this case, however, she is chaperoned by Warfare (Minerva in the guise of Oorlogspractyck) and her soldiers, as well as a putto carrying her coat of arms. Following them is her delegation of Meierij quarters (Maaslant, Oisterwyck, Kemp[e?]lant, Peelant) as seen in the 1647 allegory with their respective arms, while the river god Maas in the foreground to the left forms a precursor to the inclusion of this figure in the 1650 work. Father Time (Tyt) with his sickle looks over them and holds a shield depicting scales, adding yet another connotation of Justice. In the clouds, Divine Government (Goddelijk Bestier) is depicted holding a staff, while ‘Iris’, messenger to the Gods, is seen riding the rainbow, Fame (Fama … Victoria) blowing a horn and Victori wearing laurel wreaths. In the right lower corner Labor leans on a spade. Beside him, Vigilance (Waekentheijt) chases away a two-faced figure representing Discord (Tweedraght) while another iteration of this figure, depicted with a head full of snakes and a burning torch, has already fallen amidst abandoned weapons of war.31
The eye is drawn to the centrally placed Maid of ’s-Hertogenbosch, conspicuously dressed in white, and the kneeling putto in front of her. The latter holds the coat of arms of Brabant and an arrow while gazing out at the viewer. This arrow will shortly be added to the bundle of arrows placed on the steps leading up to Unio’s throne by a group of seven putti, corresponding to the number of provinces represented in the bundle. The scene depicts a joyous arrival of Brabant, ’s-Hertogenbosch and Meierij in the Republic, while emphasizing in particular the military victory this represented. The incorporation of this region and the strong natural defense line provided by the Maas River – here strategically placed to close the composition – is presented as a moment of unification and reinforcement for the Republic.
The scene’s triumphal mood is continued in the decorative wall paneling depicted below it.32 This part of Van Thulden’s composition had long been tucked around the edges of the stretcher, but the canvas was restored to its original size in 1957 (fig. 12b).33 Broad panels on the left and right contain oval reliefs depicting escutcheons (left) and what appears to be a Herculean club and lion’s skin (right). Around each oval, gilded sculptural festoons with palm branches and a laurel wreath, symbols of victory, are suggested. In the center is a niche framed by elaborate carving with on either side semi-circular niches framed by pilasters that mirror the imaginary architecture in the allegory above. The pattern of large stone blocks visible on the right shows that Van Thulden wanted to demonstrate the effect of illusionistic rustication; a finish that would be used in the wooden paneling of the Oranjezaal a few years later.34 The robust shapes of the architecture, reminiscent of stone decorations, may also be related to the effect of such faux masonry.35
Van Thulden’s modello shows that he expected a very high room: the niches represented suggest that the paneling was of significant height.36 It can also be inferred from the perspective that the allegorical scene was designed to be installed above the viewer’s eye level: its horizon is located below the lower edge of the composition so that the viewer gazes at the figures and architecture from slightly below, as evidenced by the rendering of the steps and the figures in the lower end of the composition, which appear to recede behind the protruding cornice of the paneling. As the paneling on Van Thulden’s sketch covers about a third of its height, this would indicate that the intended allegorical scene would have been around four meters tall. Van Thulden thus suggested a wall of up to six meters from top to bottom and about eight meters long. Evidently the artist initially envisioned a project of overwhelming ambition. Had it been realized, it would have been one of his largest paintings, outdoing even The Maid of Holland Offering Frederick Henry Supreme Command (1650) in the Oranjezaal (321 × 758 cm).
This grand decorative scheme of paneling and painting was not realized as proposed.37 Instead, Van Thulden was commissioned to execute four individual paintings. Since Justice and Concord (1646), The Right of the Four Quarters (1647), and The Request for Admission to the Union (1650) originated from a concept that united them into one work during the design stage, a more thorough analysis of their collective significance is warranted.
The Search for Unity
The notable emphasis on concord and the regional justice system in both the modello and in the final paintings can be better understood in the context of recent legal and political developments of great importance to the city. After Brabant was incorporated into the Burgundian Netherlands in 1430, a hierarchical justice system was implemented that both solidified and relied on geographical stability in the region. The four Meierij quarters each had their own designated court (vierschaar or schepenbank) but some cases could also be appealed before the vierschaar of ’s-Hertogenbosch. The city’s aldermen were the highest authorities in the city government, which, unlike its counterparts in Holland, did not include burgomasters.38 This court, as well as other regional (Meierij) courts in Brabant, were in turn overseen by the Council of Brabant (Raad van Brabant), located in Brussels. The Dutch Revolt and ensuing war with Spain complicated the functioning of this system from the late sixteenth century onwards.39
’s-Hertogenbosch was captured by Stadtholder Frederick Henry in 1629 and a Protestant city magistrate replaced the former Catholic one, but confusion remained about the extent of the territories that could be claimed by the 1629 victory. The Republic laid claim to the Meierij quarters and the city, but the Spanish army only considered the city, not the Meierij, to have been taken. In 1635, a Spanish alternative to the ’s-Hertogenbosch court was established in Breda to serve the Meierij inhabitants. Both Spanish and Dutch authorities urged the people of the region to appeal their cases before their courts, and instated penalties if they refused to do so.40 However, the fact that city and Meierij were bound by a longstanding justice system, undoubtedly set a precedent for the legal unity of the area.
The jurisdictional unity of the four Meierij quarters was also a major argument in the ongoing debate on the admission of Brabant to the Republic’s central government body, the States General.41 A coalition of cities spearheaded by ’s-Hertogenbosch, intensified the campaign for provincial autonomy and voting rights in the States General after 1629 and again after 1646.42 The uncertainty about the status of the Meierij, a significant part of the Staats-Brabant territory, was a weak spot in this request for autonomy and provincial status, but that issue was finally resolved in favor of the Republic during the early stages of the peace negotiations with Spain in 1646.43 Its outcome, which brought the Meierij district permanently into the Dutch Republic, was a specifically beneficial victory for ’s-Hertogenbosch. Indeed, with peace negotiations underway and a significant part of Brabant territory now securely under Dutch rule, a foundation had been laid for the most effective campaign for regional autonomy and provincial status thus far.
This campaign provides a crucial historical background to the scene depicted in the modello; ’s-Hertogenbosch and her Meierij, united by Time and Justice, are presented in this painting as entering the Union of Provinces under the guidance of Warfare and the watchful eye of Divine Government. The unity achieved through their inclusion brings liberty, prosperity, fame and victory to the Republic, while discord and fury are eliminated. Van Thulden thus envisioned in this design the longer saying from which the Republic’s motto was derived: ‘nam concordia parvae res crescunt, discordia maximae dilabuntur’ – ‘for small states flourish through concord, while discord will destroy great things’.
This theme resurfaces in the paintings that Van Thulden eventually produced for the city government. Justice and Concord, dated in the crucial year of 1646, encapsulates the idea, establishing an explicit connection between the city’s court and the Republic. Justice wears a robe trimmed with ermine, a symbol of sovereignty that can be interpreted as a reference to the jurisdiction of the city’s aldermen over the larger Meierij area. The figure to her right, representing the Republic’s motto, binds the arrows she is holding – implying a recent addition to the bundle that alludes to the hoped-for admission of Brabant to the Republic’s central governing body.
This message is also emphasized in Van Thulden’s two larger allegories. The Right of the Four Quarters of 1647 conveys the unity and sovereignty implied by the traditional justice system of ’s-Hertogenbosch and its Meierij. The theme of ‘binding’ has been extended here to the iconography of the tree around which putti have tied an orange ribbon. The tree is a symbol of the city (bosboom) and also refers to the gerechtsboom – a ‘justice tree’. These were old trees underneath which justice was traditionally administered in the Low Countries.44 One of the figures points to it conspicuously, while beckoning the four quarters to entrust him, and the city, with their shields. This emphasis on the restored unity in the region can be explained by the importance of this jurisdiction to the ongoing campaign for the inclusion of Brabant in the States General. The desired outcome of this campaign is allegorically depicted in its pendant, The Request for Admission to the Union (1650). That the siege of ’s-Hertogenbosch in 1629 was an important argument for admission is indicated in the painting by the figure of Mars accompanying the Stedemaagd, celebrating the war effort that had enabled the addition of ’s-Hertogenbosch and the Meierij to the Republic’s territories. In the background an orange tree, explicitly honoring Fredrick Henry’s victory, is bound together with the bosboom-Gerechtsboom by a putto gazing at the viewer, creating a subtle interplay between the two pendants around the theme of restored unity. This effect may even have included the Wildman, where a similar orange ribbon established a visual and thematic connection to the two allegories. These Orangistic details also refer to the political influence of the Stadtholder, who held several hereditary titles in Brabant including Baron of Breda and Marquis of Bergen op Zoom. The successive Princes of Orange had generally supported the province’s requests for autonomy, though this at times hurt rather than helped Brabant’s cause, depending on the status of the relationship between the Stadtholder and the Province of Holland.45
The benefits of unification are also more broadly depicted as the basic principle through which the power of state is achieved. By bringing Brabant into the Union, again represented as an arrow adding strength to the bundle, the Republic is reinforced: a fitting visualization of the arguments used by Brabant in so many of its requests. In the context of the political aspirations of the city, this iconography based on the concept of unity – first regionally, then nationally and ultimately ideologically – would have proved very suitable. That concord was the central value stressed in the Republic’s motto made it an all the more appropriate theme for this city’s town hall decoration.
Placing the Commission
To fully understand the significance of these paintings it is necessary to know the rooms and audiences for which they were meant. An extensive renovation of the town hall building that took place in the early 1670s unfortunately leaves the modern-day researcher with limited knowledge of the internal structure of the building before this date. There are, however, several sources from which we can extract information about the early town hall building, starting with images of the complex dating from before 1670.
A drawing by Pieter Saenredam (1597–1665) gives a good impression of the town hall exterior as the artist saw it from the central market square in 1632 (fig. 13). The facade, shown in the drawing, unites three separate buildings that were acquired by the city at different points in time; the house in the middle, named Herenhuis, in 1366, the house on the left, named Gaffel, in 1481 and finally the house on the right, named Sinterclaes in 1599 (figs. 14, 15).46 Not seen in this image is the structure located on lower-lying ground behind these three houses, connected to the town hall complex since the sixteenth century. This building, called Griffiehuis, built between 1562–1565, was not impacted by the 1670s renovation (compare figs. 14, 16).47 It consists of two stories elevated on a rectangular plan, which is divided into two building parts and a gallery. These two parts, which could be accessed through separate entrances, were designed to house different branches of the city government, including the administration of justice and the offices of the town clerks.
The Original Location of Justice and Concord
The appendices to the city ledgers for the year 1646/1647 inform us quite specifically about the original setting of Van Thulden’s first signed painting, Justice and Concord (1646). Among the payments to carpenter Dirck van der Lith is one on June 13, 1647 for a strainer and frame that he made for an overmantel painting in the raadkamer (councilors’ room).48 The term raadkamer is used interchangeably with schepenkamer (aldermen’s room) in archival documents. This latter room, ‘a large and beautiful aldermen’s room with a large retreat room’ is praised by chorographer Jacob van Oudenhoven (1601–1690) for its beauty in his Beschryvinge der stad ende Meyere van ’s Hertogen-Bossche of 1649.49 A survey of the appendices to the city ledgers before 1670 indicates that this room, along with a significant part of the city government’s activities, was located on the second floor of the Griffiehuis (fig. 14).50 The space will have served both the council, or raad, and the schepenen for the purpose of meetings and legal proceedings, and would have been at the heart of the city’s government operations.51 The allegory thus resonated with the justice administered within the room. The fact that the first painting Van Thulden completed would have been meant for the councilors’/aldermen’s room (raadkamer/schepenkamer) further supports the hypothesis that his relative, alderman Hieronymus van Thulden, facilitated the commission.
Although Justice and Concord was dated a year before Van der Lith’s work, it is quite possible that this painting was delivered in 1647, as indicated by the payment of five hundred guilders to Van Thulden in September 1647 for paintings ‘done and supplied’ (‘gemaeckt ende gelevert’).52 The perspective of Justice and Concord is indeed consistent with a relatively high placement, as would be required for an overmantel painting. This can be demonstrated by the depiction of the figures and the scales, seen slightly from below, indicating a vantage point near the bottom of the painting. The light in the painting comes from the right, which means the work was placed to the left of the windows.
The councilors’/aldermen’s room has seen many changes over the years and the city currently uses it as the trouwzaal – the room in which marriage ceremonies are conducted (figs. 17, 18). The beam and joist ceiling with decorative consoles has been largely preserved, however, and is still the same width (over six meters) and height (approximately 3.4 meters measured from below the joists) as it was in Van Thulden’s day (fig. 19). The present fireplace in neo-rococo style, to the left of the windows, dates back to the late nineteenth century, but buildings archeology research has revealed that the smoke duct is in its original location, which means that the fireplace was in the same place during Van Thulden’s time. The room currently has three modern, eighteenth-century style sash windows, but the position and size of the window openings have not changed (fig. 20). This means that the lighting in Van Thulden’s painting corresponded with the direction of the actual light, from the right.
The figures of Justice and Concord are placed very low in the composition while a black background rises up from behind them. Just above the figures’ heads is a visible seam, indicating the presence of a strip of canvas at the top approximately thirty centimeters high; this in turn is made of two pieces with a vertical seam. The compositional imbalance, combined with the fact that Van Thulden consistently used large pieces of canvas for his other paintings in the town hall, led to the suspicion that the top part of the canvas was added at a later date and that the composition originally ended immediately above the two women.53 Paint cross sections indicate that this is indeed the case. The narrow strip of canvas was not sewn on the top until after the original composition on the broad piece of canvas was finished and varnished. The narrow strip was then given a beige ground, applied a little over the seam in order to conceal it. The added strip was covered with a dark paint, which was – at least in part – painted over the brown background of the original composition (fig. 21).54 This layer was subsequently covered by a blackish overpainting, which has been restored at a later date with numerous black retouches. These are also prevalent along the contours of the figures, resulting in their current hard, ‘cut-out’ appearance. The original composition of Justice and Concord was very low, with the heads of both figures nearly reaching the upper edge of the canvas (fig. 22). This scheme is in fact very reminiscent of the overmantel painting Scaldis and Antverpia by Abraham Janssen (1571/75–1632) in the Antwerp Town Hall, which similarly depicts two sculptural figures tightly contained in a horizontal pictorial frame (fig. 23). This work may have served as an exemplary precedent for Van Thulden’s own challenge to produce an overmantel painting in a town hall setting that supported the political ambitions of its city government.55
From shortened joists in the ceiling we can deduce that the chimney breast was approximately half a meter deep and 2,2 meters wide. Van Thulden’s canvas, which is 1,92 meters wide, therefore spanned most of the width of the chimney breast. Thanks to archival records, we are well informed about what the fireplace looked like and how the originally lower Justice and Concord was placed above it. The city ledgers tell us that a mantelpiece of wagenschot − planks of quarter-sawn oak – ‘the ends corniced in the Doric order’ was constructed in 1637, in addition to a doorway in a matching style.56 New supporting columns in stone with consoles were also made.57 When Van Thulden’s painting was installed ten years later, the fireplace was upgraded again. Its back wall was renewed with seventy-eight tiles and an iron fire back plaque (vuurplaat) from Amsterdam, while the stonemason carried out work on the supporting stone columns, which were subsequently painted gray (grauw) together with the mantelpiece.58 The two guilders Van der Lith was paid in 1647 for both a strainer and frame indicate that the frame for Justice and Concord must have been quite simple: payments to the same carpenter show that his strainers typically cost two guilders, while frames ranged between six and twelve guilders.59
The schepenkamer must have had stone mullions similar to those that can still be found on the ground floor of the griffie building. Archival records inform us that the room must have had a predominantly wooden interior in Van Thulden’s time, adorned with wainscot paneling that had been installed in 1579 and carved consoles below the support beams in the ceiling (1562–1563; still in situ, fig. 19).60 A digital reconstruction based on the above information provides an impression of Van Thulden’s overmantel painting as it was situated in the room during this period, and helps us visualize how the pictorial aspects of the work were designed in relation to the room’s architecture (fig. 24). The pictorial lighting, which, as we have seen, corresponded to the natural light, the warm dark background against which the figures are contrasted, the low horizon, and the tightly framed format of the scene together produce a strong three-dimensional effect.
Justice and Concord must have been enlarged when it was relocated to what is now the council hall (raadzaal) (figs. 7, 16). This probably happened in 1675, when painter Jacobus de Langhe (1648–1693) was paid for ‘stitching on’ (‘aen lassen’) an unspecified painting.61 The work was also given its current frame in the council hall; the carving, like that of the chimney itself, is characteristic of the 1670s.62 This room is 4,6 meters high, approximately 1,2 meters higher than the former councilors’/aldermen’s room in the griffie, which could explain the desire to enlarge the composition.
The Original Location of the Two Large Allegories
The appendices to the city ledgers also reveal the locations of Van Thulden’s The Right of the Four District Quarters (1647) and The Request for Admission to the Union (1650). On February 27, 1646 Dirck van der Lith earned twelve stivers for mounting a painting located ‘in the Gaffel’, the house on the left in Saenredam’s drawing of the town hall complex (fig. 13), and ten guilders on March 8 for making a large black frame around it.63 It is specified that the expenses regarding the painting’s mounting and framing should be addressed to ‘those who employed him’.64 On September 23, 1650, Van der Lith received payments again: two guilders and ten stivers for making a large strainer (een groot raemt) for a painting, as ordered by ‘Sr. Thulde’, in addition to a further twelve guilders for another ‘large black frame’.65 Coinciding with these payments to Van der Lith, locksmith Anthoni Claessen also received payments on April 16, 1646 and October 15, 1650 for hangers to secure the paintings (ogen and houvasten), again ‘in the Gaffel’.66
These payments to Van der Lith and Claessen demonstrate that in 1646 and 1650 two large paintings received the exact same treatment in terms of framing and mounting, as would be expected for pendants. Since Van Thulden is mentioned by name in 1650, the painting in question must be The Request for Admission, signed that year, and consequently the payments from 1646 concern The Right of the Four District Quarters.67 Both paintings were given black frames, recalling the black frame already represented in the Vienna modello (fig. 12a, 12b).
In his description of the town hall Van Oudenhoven singles out the ‘Gaffel Room’, which – as the name indicates – was located in the Gaffel building. According to Van Oudenhoven, the room had traditionally been used for meetings of a society of knights and nobles in the Meierij called Gaffelbroeders.68 In Van Thulden’s time, however, the room seems to have functioned as the building’s main reception and banquet room. Not unlike examples in other cities, ’s-Hertogenbosch maintained spaces specifically for the purpose of receiving, lodging and entertaining important visitors, which probably included delegates from other cities, and possibly even The Hague.69
Buildings archeology research has revealed that the Gaffel was over six meters wide.70 It consisted of a front part, a voorhuis, on the market side, which was about eighteen meters long, and an achterhuis, a building in the rear, about eight meters long. Information in the ledgers places the Gaffel Room on the second floor on the market side of the building where it must have occupied almost the entire depth of the building (fig. 14).71 Saenredam’s drawing of the facade of the Gaffel shows very tall windows on the second floor, indicating that the building level of the voorhuis – and hence the Gaffel Room – was roughly six meters high (figs. 13, 15). In the city ledgers, the addition ‘in the Gaffel’ was commonly used as shorthand for the Gaffel Room, so that the two allegories must have been designed for this room.72
The two allegories depict two opposite directions in lighting: in The Right of the Four District Quarters it comes from the right, and in The Request for Admission from the left. It is therefore most likely that the paintings were placed opposite one another on either side of the windows: The Right of the Four District Quarters on the west wall and The Request for Admission on the building’s east wall. In this configuration, the figure groups in both paintings would have seemed to move from the light towards the enthroned personifications of the city and the Republic respectively.
The horizon in both allegories can be found approximately 95 centimeters from the bottom of the composition. When the horizon in the painting corresponds to the viewer’s eye level, the illusion of pictorial space in the composition is most convincing. It is therefore quite likely that the works were hung at this level which, assuming a height of 160–170 centimeters for the average viewer’s eye level, would be consistent with a placement of about 70 centimeters above the floor.
Van Thulden’s paintings, in this original situation, would have been integrated in a monumental and very decorative interior. The Gaffel Room was very well lit by large windows on the market side. These were decorated with various coats of arms in stained glass, which had been updated after the 1629 shift in power.73 Heraldic themes also figured prominently in the room’s interior decoration, as is evidenced by payments made to Jan Reynders Cloot for painted crests (1605–1606) and in 1641 for green woolen cloth (laken) cushions with the city’s coat of arms.74 The large format of Van Thulden’s canvases would have been ideal for the tall, bright Gaffel Room and for the prominent guests – city, Meierij and government officials – who made up their seventeenth-century audience. The coats of arms represented prominently in the paintings would have established firm links with the room’s emphasis on heraldic themes.
The Gaffel Room had a tiled floor and a large fireplace decorated with painted tiles.75 The room featured a large table and a sideboard. Twenty-four new Spanish chairs upholstered in green woolen cloth were added in 1636, and reupholstered in the same fabric ten years later.76 The room was predominantly decorated in shades of green: in 1643 it was painted green and ‘stone green’ (steengroen) and just prior to the arrival of Van Thulden’s allegories in 1645, Jan Janss Kerffs supplied three green kersey curtains and curtain rails for the three windows.77 In the same year the walls were decorated with woolen cloth (laken) which was held in place by two long wooden battens for which Dirck van der Lith was paid in 1646.78 While the ledgers do not specify how the green woolen cloth was applied to the walls in 1645, it seems likely that it was only applied up to a certain height of the wall, thus creating a pleasantly proportioned background for Van Thulden’s canvases (fig. 25).79
The Original Location of the Wildman
The location of Van Thulden’s fourth painting, the Wildman, cannot be pinpointed with certainty. No archival records referring to its intended location have survived. The pictorial lighting from the right does indicate that the work was meant to be placed to the left of the windows. It was probably never meant as an overmantel painting. We do not view this figure from below, but rather from slightly above, indicating that its position on the wall must have been originally lower. Its proposed date of around 1650 coincides with the relocation and new design of the vierschaar, situated in the rear of the ‘large hall’ (grooten Sael) on the bel-etage of the Herenhuis.80 A painting could well have been ordered as part of this renovation, presumably in response to the political developments outlined earlier.81 Another possibility is that the painting was located in a part of the town hall behind the vierschaar. In 1693, when its strainer was reduced in size, several offices had to make way for a new corridor connecting the bel-etage of the Herenhuis to the Griffiehuis, the so-called Romangalerij designed by Jacob Roman (1640–1716) (figs. 16, 17).82 We might therefore have to look for its original location in these quarters.
With One Foot in the Golden Age? A New Reading of Justice and Concord
While Van Thulden’s paintings all communicated quite specifically the importance of regional and national unity to strength and prosperity, a closer examination of Justice and Concord in particular reveals another layer of meaning. For this the interior of the room in which the painting was originally placed, the schepenkamer, is highly relevant.
A painted edge, reminiscent of a painting frame, divides the pictorial space of Justice and Concord into a foreground and background. Justice sits in the foreground on a cushion, while Unity is seated on top of this depicted edge. Justice has crossed one leg over the other, with one bare foot placed on the ground and its missing shoe placed conspicuously next to it. What could this detail mean?
Van Oudenhoven provides a clue by referring to an intriguing Latin inscription at the entrance of the aldermen’s room (‘schepenkamer’):
Has Ducis è Sylva sedes Astraea poposcit
Ut daret explicito cortice jura Themis
Astraea demanded this seat from ’s-Hertogenbosch
for Themis to judge after explaining the law83
In mythology, Astraea, who was thought to be a daughter of Zeus, was considered a personification of Justice, as was her mother Themis. She had been said to have left earth in disappointment during the Iron Age and to have taken up a place among the stars as the constellation Virgo, while awaiting a new golden age to return to earth.84 In early modern Europe, the allegorical comparison of those in power to Astraea had a long tradition and the theme was in vogue in the Dutch Republic as well.85
The fact that Van Oudenhoven made sure to record the verse on the entrance to the aldermen’s room indicates its importance as a motto. In this light, we need to explore whether the Justice figure that Van Thulden depicted in this painting can be identified as the Astraea demanding a seat in ’s-Hertogenbosch mentioned in the Latin inscription. In the painting a seat is in fact depicted in the form of a green cushion. The color green, as we saw, figured prominently in the ledgers of the Gaffel Room as well as the schepenkamer. In 1633, Spanish chairs with green woolen cloth (laken) upholstery featuring the city coat of arms had been acquired from Lille for this room.86 And two years before Van Thulden’s painting was installed, brand-new green cushions and a matching tablecloth were acquired by the city for the ‘room of the gentlemen aldermen’.87 It is therefore hardly a coincidence that Van Thulden also painted a green cushion. He had studied the interior of the schepenkamer carefully, witness his choice of lighting and horizon in his painting (fig. 22).
The painted architectural frame with the green cushion and Justice placed outside it makes the figures appear to transcend the boundaries of the painted surface, explicitly showing how the painting meant to evoke the effect of both women (but Justice, or Astraea, in particular) entering into the real world of the meeting room. As a trompe l’oeil effect this allegorical figure has been given ‘a seat at the table’ which, quite significantly, placed her on the side where archival records show the highest ranking official, either the bailiff (schout) or presiding alderman (president schepen) was seated during meetings.88 The conspicuous detail of the figure’s bare foot resting on the ground outside the painted frame reinforces this effect and may also allude to the return of Astraea to earth, announcing the dawn of a new golden age. In light of the city’s ambitions in the late 1640s, this golden age was thought to coincide with the end of the war and the province’s incorporation into the prosperous Republic, while the city aldermen would have identified with the positive qualities needed to bring about its dawn. The optimism so strikingly depicted in Van Thulden’s paintings was slightly premature in this case – the provincial autonomy of Staats-Brabant was not actually achieved until 1796.89
Epilogue: A New Situation after 1670
The paintings did not remain in their original setting for long. During the 1670s renovation, the three buildings comprising the town hall complex on the market side were given a unifying facade, their floors were brought to a similar level, and new partition walls and passageways were constructed. The council chamber/hall (raadzaal) where Justice and Concord is located nowadays was created in the 1670s as the groot college (figs. 7, 16) – a large meeting and reception room on the market side on the second story of the former Herenhuis.90 It is one of the most splendid rooms in the town hall, featuring full wall tapestries with landscapes (1679) by Maximiliaan van der Gucht (1603–1689).91 During the 1670s, the ceiling of the room was raised to its present 4,6 meters and its wooden fireplace with pilasters, consoles and reliefs with putti was constructed by Gijsbert ter Lip.92 Van Thulden’s enlarged Justice and Concord is placed between pilasters in a prominently gilded carved frame that makes its trompe l’oeil effect hard to discern.93 In its new setting, the painting is positioned with the windows to its left, contradicting the situation in the old schepenkamer (fig. 24), so that the natural and pictorial light are no longer congruent.
The current burgomaster’s chamber (burgemeesterskamer; figs. 8, 9, 16) where The Right of the Four District Quarters, The Request for Admission and Wildman can be found, was created in more or less the same location as the Gaffel Room, although its space is not nearly as deep.94 The room was first known as the ‘small board room’ (klein college), functioning as the counterpart to the groot college next door, and was designated as the burgomaster’s chamber in or shortly after 1808. Van Thulden’s allegories were most probably given a place in the klein college in 1675 and the Wildman was in all likelihood first placed here in 1693.95 The paneling in which the paintings are presently placed was installed in 1744.96 Since the two allegories are both positioned on the wall to the left of the windows, while the Wildman is an overmantel to the right of the windows, the lighting depicted is now inconsistent with Van Thulden’s original concept. And because the large allegories are now placed at approximately 135 centimeters above the floor, their horizon is positioned well above eye level, compromising the pictorial illusion.
While the circumstances under which Van Thulden’s paintings for the ’s-Hertogenbosch town hall were commissioned had previously been largely unknown, this article has shed light on the number of paintings produced and located them in both their political context and their physical surroundings in the pre-1670s town hall building. As a result, the Wildman has been re-attributed to Van Thulden, while it is now clear that Two Lions can no longer be accepted. The analysis of his three signed works, Justice and Concord (1646) The Right of the Four Quarters (1647) and The Request for Admission to the Union (1650), as well as the Wildman (c. 1650) and his remarkable modello in Vienna revealed a surprising focus on topical issues – the dispute over territory which assumed a pivotal role for this borderland city, in addition to the quest for provincial autonomy that gained momentum just as Van Thulden returned to his home town. His ability to devise a striking and erudite decoration program to elucidate the city’s arguments, coupled with his family connections to the city magistracy in 1646, must have contributed to the city’s decision to award the prestigious commission to him.
While Van Thulden evidently proposed a large-scale design at first, the program was eventually realized in four individual paintings. In this way, ironically, the iconographic focus on the concept of unity, as presented in the modello, became spatially and compositionally disparate. We may wonder if the uncertainty of the political situation played a role in the design process of these painted decorations – the modello reflecting the triumphant mood immediately after the Meierij victory, followed by a more cautious approach to the designs when political progress stalled. Concord and Justice emphasized the importance of these qualities for the government, victory and prosperity of the Republic, a theme synthesized in the Vienna modello. In the schepenkamer, for the select audience of bailiff, aldermen, councilors and suspects, it could function as a guiding principle during deliberations in regard to the way justice was meant to be administered.
But the theme is articulated further in the other two allegories, which decorated a larger and more public room in a part of the building that had historically been associated with the Meierij district. Functioning as a space for reception, meetings and entertainment, the paintings would have been seen here by visiting delegates, prominent visitors to the city and local officials in attendance. Making an explicit case for provincial autonomy and continued local recognition, the iconography of the paintings was strategically chosen to underline the legal and geographical structures that had historically signified status, as well as position the city in a proposed future relationship to the political structures of the Dutch Republic. Both aspects were tied to the concept of strength through concord, which was the Republic’s motto and resonated with the city’s ambitions as well.
The paintings’ significance, therefore, was contingent on concerns surrounding the political situation in the middle of the seventeenth century and on knowledge of the concept as it was originally proposed by Van Thulden in his modello. It also relied directly on the interplay between the paintings and their physical surroundings. The arguments they communicated were strategically chosen to complement the rhetorical power of the spaces they occupied, achieved by taking into consideration the position of the viewer and lighting, and even the interior decoration of the intended locations. Van Thulden’s paintings were thus part of an interrelated decoration program that received its full significance only when understood comprehensively. The paintings’ surroundings have changed considerably over time, starting only a few decades after their installation, when the town hall on the market side was renovated after 1670. As a result, the significance of the paintings in relation to one another, and to the meaningful interior they were designed to be a part of, was quickly lost – a situation that was never rectified. The study presented here, however, has aimed to reconstruct the relationship between these ephemeral contexts and the more permanent traces in the artworks they informed.
13. Appendix: Tables
|6||Particles of dirt|
|5||Brown binding medium paint layer, fluoresces in UV-light (0–6 μm). Organic red pigment (pale pink in UV-light), chalk.|
|4||Brown binding medium rich layer (< 20 μm). Lead white (quite coarse; particles up to 30 μm), chalk, carbon black, umber, bright yellow and organce earth pigment, organic red pigment (pale pink in UV-light).|
|3||Beige layer of flesh paint, fluoresces in UV-light (70 μm). In UV-light is visible that the paint has been applied in three layers. Lead white, charcoal black, umber, light brown and bright orange earth pigment, organic red pigment (pink and orange fluorescence in UV-light).|
|2||Second ground layer (110 μm). Lead white (partly saponified), red lead (for a part formed as a result of saponification of lead white), very coarse charcoal black, ivory black, a bit of chalk.|
|1||First ground layer, strong fluorescence in UV-light (incomplete). Chalk, coarse charcoal black, red lead (for a part) formed as a result of saponification of lead white).|
|10||Yellow green overpaint (< 15 μm). Lead white, yellow-brown earth pigment, yellow pigment, bright red pigment, black pigment, blue particle, transparent.|
|9||Transparent layer fluoresces in UV-light: varnish (< 4 μm)|
|8||Transparent layer weak fluorescence in UV-light: varnish? (< 4 μm)|
|7||Dark particles, dirt?|
|6||Light grey layer (c. 4 μm). Lead white, charcoal black, brown earth pigment, umber?, bright red pigment, chalk?|
|5||Translucent yellow-brown layer (10–25 μm). Binding medium rich, lead white, charcoal black, brown earth pigment, umber?, orange earth pigment, transparent, splinters, chalk?|
|3||Dark beige layer (0–30 μm). Lead white, coarse charcoal black, brown earth pigment, umber?, chalk?|
|2||Second ground layer (< 100 μm). Lead white, partly saponified, red lead (for a part formed as a result of saponification of the lead white), coarse charcoal black (splinters visible), chalk.|
|1||First ground layer, strong fluorescence in UV-light (incomplete). Chalk, coarse charcoal black, red lead (for a part) formed as a result of saponification of lead white).|