Oud Holland

Review of: ‘The birth of modern political satire: Romeyn de Hooghe and the Glorious Revolution’ (2020)

May 2022
NADINE M. ORENSTEIN

Review of: Meredith McNeill Hale, The birth of modern political satire: Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708) and the Glorious Revolution, Oxford [Oxford University Press] 2020

A prominent and outspoken figure in the late seventeenth century, the creatively nimble and politically provocative Romeyn de Hooghe (1655-1708) (fig. 1) has, deservedly, gained increased scholarly attention over the past two decades. Most widely recognised for his enormous output of large, etched history prints and broadsheets, his multi-faceted artistic career extended into manifold fields including producing maps, books, and paintings, as well as designing textiles, sculpture, triumphal decorations, metalwork, stained glass, pillow covers, and the gardens of the palace of Het Loo. As if that were not enough, he was also a prolific author, chronicler of history, theologian and a doctor of law – and he may also have founded a drawing school in Haarlem that offered free lessons to orphans. Romeyn de Hooghe: De verbeeling van de late Gouden Eeuw (2008), the excellent book that accompanied an exhibition at the University of Amsterdam and the Allard Pierson Museum surveys, in 17 essays, all aspects of the artist’s many-sided career. It made a strong statement about his significant artistic and political contributions at the end of the seventeenth century. The exhibition was timed to coincide with the 300th anniversary of the artist’s death, in 2008. Henk van Nierop’s superb biography of the artist, The life of Romeyn de Hooghe 1645-1708. Prints, pamphlets, and politics in the Dutch Golden Age (2018) interweaves the artist’s fascinating life story with his myriad publications in a highly readable and engaging book. De Hooghe must be one of the best documented artists of the seventeenth century, thanks in part to his many court proceedings, his public arguments in pamphlets and prints and his engagement with public figures, most notably, the stadhouder William III (1650-1702) and the regents of Amsterdam. The artist’s life is so full of incident and intrigue that one wonders why Hollywood has not yet produced The Romeyn de Hooghe Story.

Meredith Hale’s The birth of the modern political satire: Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708) and the Glorious Revolution, takes a more focused look at a specific aspect of De Hooghe’s output: the political satires. Specifically those produced during a brief and charged period of time between late 1688 and the summer of 1690, when he threw his considerable satirical skills towards a full-throttled attack on the opponents of stadhouder Willem III and his invasion of England, also known as the Glorious Revolution. Hale was a contributor to the 2008 catalogue and the present book expands on her PhD dissertation, which she completed in 2006 at Columbia University. These large etchings, accompanied by equally sized letterpress texts, skewer – in particular – King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) and James II of England (1633-1701), as well as the Amsterdam regents. One of the central aims of Hale’s book, is to show that the satires he produced during this time created a new genre of political print; one that anticipated eighteenth-century British caricatures, and political cartooning, to this day. The artist’s work was known within England at the time, and his satires clearly opened the door for the caricatures of Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and James Gillray (1756-1815) that broadly ridiculed their subjects. Even closer in spirit to De Hooghe are the brutally mocking caricatures of the following century by Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) and his co-conspirators in the pages of La Caricature and Charivari that similarly, as Hale defines for the Dutch artist’s work, would throw the viewer into the midst of a chaotic situation already underway. Hale identifies singular elements of the prints that carried on into the future, specifically the transgression of bodily boundaries; the interdependence of text and image; the centrality of dialogue to the generation of meaning; serialised production; and the emergence of the satirist as a primary participant in political discourse. Hale also makes the case that these satires were key to the success of the Glorious Revolution and central in keeping the Dutch onboard, both financially and spiritually in support of William’s invasion of England, and against the machinations of James II and Louis XIV.

Cover of The birth of modern political satire: Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708) and the Glorious Revolution

Middle left: fig. 1 Jacob Houbraken, Romeyn de Hooghe, 1733, print, 22.6 x 18.3 cm., Amsterdam City Archive, Amsterdam

Middle right: fig. 2 Romeyn de Hooghe, Paye qui Tombe, print, 51.6 x 39.5 cm., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Right: Romeyn de Hooghe, The French reign of terror in the Dutch villages Bodegraven and Zwammerdam in 1672, print, 1673, 19.7 x 30.7 cm., Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Following an introductory chapter that provides an overview of the literature and De Hooghe’s life story, Hale examines the precedents for his approach to satire in political prints from the Reformation through the end of the seventeenth century and the strategies that these artists employed. While earlier traditions set the stage for his work, he created something new. She divides the earlier material into two main categories: those that employ animal imagery and those in which humans are the key players. The animal-related images, e.g. fables and conflations of animals and humans, offered the makers of political prints the opportunity to associate their subjects with the base and beastly. The human prints often employed the strategy of breaching bodily boundaries; for instance, a multi-headed Pope or a figure vomiting coins. Other approaches included the exaggeration of an individual’s actions to an extreme and spinning off from formal artistic conventions like those for portraiture. De Hooghe employed all these approaches, to a certain extent, although he was able to communicate the base and beastly without resorting to animal imagery. I am not sure that these taxonomical distinctions are all that enlightening for studying De Hooghe’s methods but the material provides background for appreciating the originality of his approach. It is the human – in particular, a theatrical focus on human transgressions and ridiculing of well-known figures – that dominates his work. The chapter centres on prints, though I missed here, as well as in chapter five – entitled ‘Text, image and the performance of satire’ – a real discussion of De Hooghe’s relationship to theatre, and whether or not he employed strategies found on the stage and in street theatre of the time.

Hale mentions a clear connection in this respect: De Hooghe’s writer-collaborator Govert Bidloo (1649-1719), who was involved with theatre in Amsterdam but she stays close to printed material – theatre that appeared in print and printed ballads. Connections to theatre in the appearance and content of these prints have been raised before, though this would have been a perfect opportunity to explore the depth of these ties further.1 The scenes resemble performances of tightly grouped figures who declaim in broad gestures and in shallow stage-like spaces under dramatic lighting. In addition, the letterpress texts that accompany the prints resemble theatre scripts; they are composed of the lines spoken by each character. The recurring personifications identified by Hale as an important aspect of his satires recall and even make reference to the stock characters of the Commedia dell’Arte. For instance, Arlequin Deodat, the figure who represents Louis XIV in several of the works, derives from the well-known Commedia dell’Arte character Harlequin and Pantagion, who represents Louis’s son the Grand Dauphin (1661-1711), from Pantaloon. In Paye Qui Tombe (Hale, fig. 7.5; fig. 2), he depicted Louis XIV and James II as acrobats walking a political tightrope under a large tent, as William III plays music in the foreground. These tropes of performed theatre, both street theatre and more formal plays, must have been familiar to his audience and added a recognisable layer of meaning to these complex satires.

Hale shifts from discussions of the details of the prints and their context to broad overviews of satire and the role of the artist – from the micro to the macro, as she puts it. This approach makes sense since the satires reflect not only their moment but were also significant for the broader history of the genre. Hale spends a good deal of the book, the third and fourth chapters, describing and elucidating in great detail the dense iconography, complex historical circumstances and many figures with opposing interests that animate the prints. Satires are a product of their moment; the characters, specific issues, and cultural context of a contemporary political cartoon quickly lose their significance with time. De Hooghe’s richly layered prints, which would have kept his contemporary audience in long discussions of their content, require a good deal of background for today’s viewer to grasp the humour and pointed barbs. These chapters provide close examinations of the prints, first those that address international issues followed by those that take on domestic ones. The international group relates primarily to the events surrounding the Glorious Revolution, which mock and taunt Louis XIV and James II and the figures around them. One of the recurring side characters is the infant son of James II, who reminds us of the rumours that he was secretly fathered by a miller, by holding up a small windmill. Hale delves with great thoroughness into the context and the details of each work and translates the accompanying texts into English for the first time.  It is rare that satirical depictions are given such thorough explanation and analysis. This may prove heavy reading for some yet it offers a useful resource and insight into the artist’s tactics. Given the number of pages devoted to this dissection of the details in the images, the volume would have benefitted from larger and clearer photographs or at least of details of the works described. The relatively small book with tightly printed text is the size of an academic history book, appropriate in shape for it’s approach to the subject but not so much for making legible the large-sized artwork that it deals with. The muddy black and white illustrations of the prints make the individual features in De Hooghe’s complex images difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish.

In the discussion of the domestic material, the author makes the point that in these works De Hooghe dismantled the rules of monarchical representation; in other words, the ridiculing of Louis XIV as Harlequin Deodat is a long way from Rigaud’s distinguished painted portraits of the monarch. This seems like a false dichotomy, however. While some of the prints sport French letterpress text, Hale notes that they were likely meant for a local market, with its cosmopolitan public, for whom French was the language of the educated elite. The question remains, then, whether this sharp departure from the stately representation of the French monarch – an iconic image in French art of the time – would have registered in the same way for a Dutch public where court portraiture was not met with the same level of reverence. In the domestic prints, De Hooghe took on the Amsterdam regents who opposed William III’s invasion of England and saw William’s dynastic ambitions as a threat. Yet, William needed the support of Amsterdam, to finance his campaign in England. Hale views the domestic prints as addressing – in particular – neither the Orangists, nor their opponents, but rather those remaining regents who were not wedded to either party, in an effort to pull them over to the Orangist side. Whatever their goal or rate of success, they certainly got the attention of Willem’s opponents, who engaged De Hooghe in extended battles in print, which gave him a taste of his own medicine.

The final chapters shift more towards the macro. Chapter five looks at more generally at broadsheets and pamphlets and the relationship between text and image, and their public and De Hooghe’s works fit into this context. De Hooghe’s large and finely etched broadsheets were clearly high-end products in contrast even to the copies and pared down versions of his same material produced for the Dutch market. Intended for a sophisticated and affluent public. And the his broadsheets were clearly collected and saved – they have survived in large numbers compared to other broadsheets of the time. Here, Hale looks at the symbiotic nature of text and image in De Hooghe’s prints. De Hooghe’s text were crafted in collaboration with Ericus Walten, an Orangist pamphleteer, and Bidloo, the physician and author mentioned above. While his earlier works include, in addition to the letterpress text below, speech banderoles within the images, a device that harkens back to sixteenth-century German Reformation broadsheets, these disappear from his prints of 1689-90 in which the letterpress text becomes the main conveyor of dialogue. At the same time, the prints move from being commentaries on events that had taken place to satires on events that were unfolding. The seriality of these works was necessary to keep up with events and keep supporters of the Stadholder onboard. The dialogue of the letterpress texts lends the broadsheet an immediacy as well as a performative dimension. Yet, as I said earlier, as well, one wonders whether street theatre might not have been taking a similar approach already and may have offered some inspiration to these theatrical broadsheets. In chapter six, Hale examines the role of the satirist and deals, and in particular the Pamphlet War of 1690, which turned into a feud between De Hooghe and Nicolaas Muys van Holy (1653/4-1717) – a barrister who supported the side of Amsterdam. Rather than focusing on the satires, which were clearly the source of their ire, Muys van Holy directed his attacks on De Hooghe’s character. The pamphlets accuse him of blasphemy and perversion, among other things, but also of being an inconstant supporter of William III, and an opportunist who supported William as the prince’s position improved. This exchange raises for Hale, broader questions about the presumed integrity of caricaturists more generally, and how the artist’s claim to truth in his work became entangled at this time with the personality of the caricaturist himself.

The book concludes with a look at the influence of De Hooghe’s imagery and, not surprisingly, instances of direct quotation are few. Some of his plates were repurposed after his death and in some instances, his imagery was quoted. But generally, given the specificity of the circumstances for which they were made, it was his overall approach to satire that had a longer life than his images themselves. As Hale recognises, De Hooghe’s satires are relevant for our day as his line of attack is carried on in the work of political cartoonists. Today’s viewer may also recognise in the merciless lampooning of enemies and working of facts, rumours, and fiction into the characterisations of subjects that the artist’s tactics are alive and well today, on social media. Students of De Hooghe’s work and of late-seventeenth-century politics will find interest in this in-depth study of his satirical imagery, its political context, and how these played out on the rough and tumble political stage of the Netherlands.

Nadine M. Orenstein
Drue Heinz Curator in Charge
Department of Drawings and Prints
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

NOTES: 
1 H. van Nierop, ‘Lampooning Louis XIV: Romeyn de Hooghe’s Harlequin Prints, 1688-1689’, in Louis XIV outside in. Images of the sun king beyond France, 1661-1715, T. Claydon and C. Édouard Levillain (eds.,) London 2015, pp. 136-37.

CITE AS:
Nadine M. Orestein, ‘Review of: The birth of modern political satire: Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708) and the Glorious Revolution’, Oud Holland Reviews, May 2022.