Oud Holland

Review of: 'Paper knives, paper crowns' (2022)

November 2023


Review of: Maureen Warren (ed.), Paper knives, paper crowns: Political prints in the Dutch Republic, Champaign [Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign] 2022

Within the third volume of his Groote schouwburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719) praises the “great ingenuity and inventions…[and the] richness in variety in etching” of the printmaker and sometimes painter Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708).1 Such attention to achievements in etching is unusual for Houbraken, but it is a testament to the virtuosity of one of the great early modern Dutch political printmakers (fig. 1). Active into the eighteenth century, De Hooghe is the final of three pillars – following Claes Jansz. Visscher (1587-1652) and Crispijn II de Passe (c. 1594-1670) – in the history of political prints in the seventeenth century that is explored in Paper knives, paper crowns: Political prints in the Dutch Republic. This publication, with a detail of De Hooghe’s print of William III as Mars on the cover, accompanied the traveling exhibition ‘Fake news & lying pictures: Political prints in the Dutch Republic’, which was on view at the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign between 25 August and 17 December 2022, at the University of San Diego between 10 February and 12 May 2023, and at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens between 11 November 2023 and 29 April 2024.

Maureen Warren – curator of the exhibition and editor of Paper knives, paper crowns – has produced the first major, non-monographic publication in English to focus on Dutch political prints of this era, removed from the European context.2 This distinction alone makes this volume singular, and its incisive contents only further elevate its contributions to the field. One of the many advantages of concentrating solely on Dutch prints is that they can be situated in a variety of intellectual frameworks, including the "material, cultural and social context", as this book proclaims.3 This volume begins with two essays that direct the discussion. In a brief historiographical overview titled ‘Dutch Political Prints: Historiography in a Nutshell’, penned by the prominent scholar of Dutch prints Ilja M. Veldman, the author sets the stage not only for the contribution of this catalogue to the historiography of political propaganda but also argues for the urgency of this volume (and associated exhibition) today: the increasing slippage between biased and objective information, and the corresponding need for increased literacy in order to distinguish the two. While the references to the divisiveness of contemporary American politics are marginal, their inclusion makes explicit the timeliness of this collection of essays. Warren provides an encompassing overview of the production and consumption of prints in the Dutch Republic in her essay, “'What wonders, what news!' Political prints in the Dutch Republic", including their sale through print publishers and itinerant peddlers, their presentation and storage in the home (‘hung on the wall like a painting’, as Jan van der Waals describes, inserted into albums or lining the interior of trunks and cabinets), and their purpose in strengthening political support via numerous strategies.4 Her essay offers a valuable historical foundation for the texts that follow.

Cover of: Paper knives, paper crowns: Political prints in the Dutch Republic

Left: fig. 1 Romeyn de Hooghe, Portrait of William III as Mars, 1672, etching and engraving, 100 x 99 mm., British Museum, London, 1868,0808.2168

Middle left: fig. 2 Crispijn II de Passe, Allegory in honor of His Most Serene Highness William III, Prince of Orange, for the good of the fatherland, 1665-1672, engraving and letterpress, 447 x 332 mm., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-0B-68.283

Middle right: fig. 3 Jan Luyken, The destruction of the portrait of Cornelis de Witt inf front of the town hall of Dordrecht in July 1672, 1698, etching, 113 x 155 mm., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, RP-P-0B-82.060

Right: fig. 4 Romeyn de Hooghe, The fair Constance dragooned by Harlequin Déodat (La Belle constance dragonée par Arlequin deodat), c. 1689. Etching, engraving, and letterpress, 390 x 380 mm., Krannert Art Museum, 2019-7-3

The subsequent texts offer penetrating views into the major players behind these works. Daniel R. Horst, in his ‘Cartoons and cruelties: Political prints from the critical first decades of the Dutch Revolt’, reflects on how newsprints from this volatile period drew upon biblical metaphors, antipapal satire and animal imagery, strategies that originated in German prints of the Reformation. The appeal of such imagery was twofold: not only was it a visual vocabulary that was immediately comprehensible to the viewer, but it also allowed for the proliferation of implicit propagandistic imagery. In 1569, the Index librorum prohibitorum (Index of prohibited books) was reissued, with outlawed images added to the list. One of the images on it was described as ‘A figure of our Lord, with the words: I am the good shepherd’, and Horst finds parallels to an extant print in the library at the University of Heidelberg of c. 1570. This suggests that the efficacy and threat – depending on with which side you aligned – of political images was recognised from the very beginning of the revolt. Veldman’s second essay, ‘Journalism with a fun factor: Political satires by Crispijn de Passe the Younger’, surveys the artist’s activity as a maker of images and texts for political broadsides. This essay expands upon her treatment of the artist’s political prints in her 2001 Hollstein volume and her 2002 NKJ article, bringing in a fuller discussion of prints addressing the Thirty Years’ War. She ends with a compelling, familiar tale illustrating the dangers of engaging with such material. With the publication of his Allegory in honor of His Most Serene Highness William III, Prince of Orange, for the good of the fatherland, of 1665, which celebrated the prince of Orange as the sole force capable of saving the ailing United Provinces, the 72-year-old printmaker was banned from the province by the ruling StatesParty. The sentence was never officially carried out, given De Passe’s advanced age, which allowed him to develop a second state of the print in which he substituted a symbol of the United Provinces (seven crossed arrows) for the portrait of William III. Unfortunately, this second state (fig. 2) is not illustrated in the catalogue, as it is in the Hollstein volume.

Following Veldman’s essay is a revised and abridged translation of Wolfgang P. Cillessen’s essay from the catalogue Krieg der Bilder: Druckgraphik als Medium politischer Auseinandersetzung im Europa des Absolutismus, titled ‘Dutch political propaganda in the medium of political correspondence in the second half of the seventeenth century’. It is a foundational text in the world of Dutch political prints, and an English translation makes it accessible to a much wider audience. Cillessen’s essay adds another dimension to these prints, highlighting the seditious character – objectionable prints and images were referred to as ‘libelles’ in diplomatic correspondence – with which these images were imbued, attributing them the status of nothing short of ‘precursors to war’.5 He refers to the example of Jan Luyken’s etching (fig. 3) of the destruction of Cornelis de Witt’s portrait, then located in the Dordrecht Town Hall, by an angry mob in July 1672, when his leadership came to be perceived as vainglorious and dangerous to the common good. An English envoy in Rotterdam reported to his foreign minister in London that the ‘shamefull pictur [sic]’ of De Witt was removed from the regents’ chamber and broken ‘all in splints’.6 Cillessen points out that the painted portrait, which includes in the background the attack on Chatham that De Witt led, would have undoubtedly fallen under the category of ‘abusive Pictures’ cited by King Charles II as part of his justification for a declaration of war. The combined visual testimony of Luyken and the high-level invocation of the defamatory power of images penned by the English king reinforces the unifying theme across all the essays: political imagery possessed transformative power in the seventeenth century. Finally, Meredith McNeill Hale’s text, ‘Romeyn de Hooghe, Caricature, and Modernity’, situates the father of modern political satire within the circumstances of the development of caricature and the notion of the modern self. Arguing that De Hooghe’s satires resist the typical emblematic-caricatural binary, Hale draws upon a series of six roundels dated to 1672 that feature the faces of European leaders integrated at a 180-degree angle with an animal or divine counterpart. The roundels featuring Louis XIV as a lion, Charles II as a tiger, and William III as Mars (fig. 1) are reproduced. Hale argues that the specific, but not exaggerated, character of the physiognomies and the pairing with an avatar locate them in the category of caricature.7 Her contention that De Hooghe’s satires helped to catalyze the shift in government necessary for the emergence of caricature, the final statement of the publication, puts a fine point on the power of prints to manifest true change.

In addition to the strong historical circumstances, Paper knives, paper crowns offers a number of new attributions, which are relatively unsung. The six roundels discussed by Hale are here formally called De Hooghe for the first time, after decades of provisional attribution to the artist.8 Given Hale’s situation of these prints along the road to caricature, this is an important conclusion to flag. Horst has reproduced in its entirety, for the first time, the anonymous print depicting the parable of the Good Shepherd (fig. 2), of which only two complete impressions survive. Similarly, Veldman states early in her essay that she makes new attributions to De Passe and publishes some prints for the first time, though it remains unclear which prints she is signaling. This is a minor, somewhat unconnected point in a tightly organised exploration of the reception and consumption of political prints.

In addition to the excellent quality of the essays, this volume is exquisitely designed by Thomas Eykemans. The typeface is elegant and contemporary, with reminiscences of the historical flourishes of early typography. But it is the illustrations – sumptuously reproduced in both black-and-white and color – that dazzle. The essays require legible illustrations to convey the layered arguments around politics, identity and propaganda to the reader. The details, such as that from Theodoor de Bry’s Pride and folly, or De Hooghe’s Fair Constance dragooned by Harlequin Déodat (fig. 4), allow the reader to get lost in the technical mastery of these artists. In many cases, one can take in the etched and engraved lines reproduced on the page more easily than standing before the prints in the gallery. There is a continuous and, for the most part, unspoken relationship between the historical and the fine art identities of these objects in the essays, and the superb design puts into relief the absence of discussion about the aesthetic merits of these works. That the corresponding exhibition was presented at a series of art museums speaks volumes about the place of these prints.

In short, Warren has accomplished tremendous things in this volume: she has brought together new thoughts from the field’s top scholars on political prints, highlighting the accomplishments of three great practitioners across the century and making new attributions to them, and reproducing their work with exceptional quality. It is certain that this volume with be the cornerstone of English- and non-English-language studies on Dutch political prints for decades to come.

Jacquelyn N. Coutré
Eleanor Wood Prince Curator
Art Institute of Chicago


1 “…day hy een man was uitsteekend in groot vernuft en vindingen, en die ik niet weet dat zyns gelyk in vaardigheid van ordeneeren, in rykheid van veranderingen in de Etskonst gehad heeft, waar van het oneindig getal van Boektytels en andere Printen, getuygenis geven…” See: A. Houbraken, De groote schouwburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, vol. 3, The Hague 1753, p. 257.

2 Publications that consider political prints across the European stage or that focus on a particular moment in the history of Dutch propagandistic imagery include: J. Tanis and D. Horst, Images of discord: A graphic interpretation of the opening decades of the Eighty Years’ War, Bryn Mawr 1993; W. Cillessen, (ed.), Krieg der Bilder: Druckgraphik als Medium politischer Auseinandersetzung im Europa des Absolutismus, Berlin 1997; K. Bussmann and H. Schilling (eds.), 1648: Krieg und Frieden in Europa, 3 vols, Münster 1998; and D. R. Horst, De opstand in zwart-wit: Propagandaprenten uit de Nederlandse opstand (1566-1584), Zutphen 2003.

3 I. M. Veldman, ‘Dutch political prints: Historiography in a nutshell’, in M. Warren (ed.), Paper knives, paper crowns: Political prints in the Dutch Republic, Champaign 2022, p. 17.

4 M. Warren, ‘“What wonders, what news!” Political prints in the Dutch Republic’, in Warren 2022 (note 3), p. 38.

5 W. Cillessen, ‘Dutch political propaganda in the medium of political correspondence in the second half of the seventeenth century’, in Warren 2022 (note 3), p. 137.

6 Cillessen in Warren 2022 (note 3), p. 126.

7 M. McNeill Hale, The birth of modern political satire: Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708) and the Glorious Revolution, Oxford 2020, chapter 2.

8 Hale called them, “Attributed to Romeyn de Hooghe” in her 2020 monograph, and Cillessen and others have qualified them as “Anonymous (Romeyn de Hooghe?)”. See: Hale 2020 (note 7), pp. 34-35, and Cillessen 1997 (note 2), p. 172.


Jacquelyn N. Coutré, ‘Review of: Paper knives, paper crowns: Political prints in the Dutch Republic’, Oud Holland Reviews, November 2023.