Archive

17th century

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Gutenberg brought freedom and suppression. He liberated the word, but from the sixteenth century onwards most secular and religious authorities in Europe tried to regulate and control it. Printers were required to hold official licenses to trade and produce books. In 1557 the English Crown aimed to stem the flow of dissent by chartering the Stationers’ Company. The right to print was restricted to Oxford and Cambridge and twenty-one existing printers in the City of London. The nature of censorship was initially predominantly religious in nature with the aim of suppressing views that were contrary of those of an organized religion on the grounds of blasphemy, heresy, sacrilege or impiety.

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Tolerance and censorship are incompatible. There are civil, ecclesiastical and social components to the notion of tolerance. The first concerns the policy of the state towards dissent; the second focuses on the degree of diversity tolerated within a particular church; and the third deals with accepting or celebrating difference in the street and work place. The practice of religious toleration depends on the principle that society and the state extend freedom of belief and expression by refraining to impose restrictions, conditions, doctrines, or forms of worship or association upon them. The principle goes beyond the sole domain of religion as it incorporates the broader (and more important) goals of intellectual liberty and freedom from censorship. The early history of religious toleration in England is – in one way or another – connected with the Low Countries.

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The accession of Elizabeth I put an end to the years of Catholic restoration under Queen Mary. With the 1559 Act of Supremacy in which Elizabeth declared herself Supreme Governor of the Church of England came an Oath of Supremacy, requiring anyone taking public or church office to swear allegiance to the monarch as head of the Church and state. Anyone refusing to take the Oath could be charged with treason. Between 1559 and 1561 a continuous drift of academics and intellectuals to the Low Countries can be observed. The Elizabethan purge of the universities created a remarkable Catholic diaspora in the Southern Netherlands. During the first decade of her reign more than a hundred senior members of the University of Oxford alone left for Louvain and Douai.

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English Catholicism in exile not only survived in the Low Countries, but also found a more distinct and polemical voice. In December 1425, John IV of Burgundy was allowed by papal bull to establish a university in Louvain, the capital of the Duchy of Brabant. The new university had three faculties: law, medicine and the arts. The faculty of theology was added in 1432. It developed into a bastion of conservatism and hence intolerance. Louvain accused Luther of heresy even before the Pope did. The faculty was actively involved in the battle against Protestantism and in listing books that on the index. In 1559, Philip II established the University of Douai in Flanders with the purpose of preserving the purity of the Catholic faith from the errors of the Reformation. Soon there were English, Scottish and Irish colleges and the university became the chief centre for exiles, including many young men from Oxford and Cambridge who remained loyal to the old faith.

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Next to Louvain and its famous university, Douai became the most important recusant centre on the European mainland. Catholics leaving Britain tended to settle in English monastic foundations in the Southern Netherlands where there were over twenty such islands of refuge representing all important orders. It was here that John Heigham started life in exile. The latter had been involved with the shadowy Catholic book trade in London at the close of the sixteenth century before moving to Douai first and later to St Omer, where he commissioned numerous devotional works for an English Catholic audience. His collaborations with printers in the Low Countries made him the most productive Catholic publisher of his day after the English College press. A notable publication was the Venerable Bede’s Historie of the Church of England (St Omer, first edition 1622; the second dates from 1626).

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Students at the English College at Douai (founded by William Allen in 1568) were groomed to undertake missionary work at home. English refugees in Louvain and Douai constituted for the Catholic authorities in Rome and Spain a potential recruitment force. Hence their financial support to those who had fled their country of origin and who found themselves isolated. Only a few English exiles managed to integrate. Refugees made no contribution to the economic or artistic life in the Low Countries. They were a displaced group of people waiting to return home, deliberately avoiding mixing with locals. Integration and tolerance were the last concept that came to the minds of these displaced exiles. A similar observation can be made for Protestant refugees in the Netherlands.

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In 1608, a group of separatists, who would later become known as the Pilgrims, fled prosecution in England and settled in Amsterdam. In 1609 the Pilgrims moved to Leiden where they stayed until 1620. One of the separatist leaders there, William Brewster returned to England in 1617 helping to make arrangements for the Pilgrim migration to America. In 1620 he and his 120 followers of the Leiden congregation set sail on the Speedwell for Plymouth from where 102 passengers embarked on the Mayflower to undertake the long journey to Virginia. It was because of the anxiety of losing their English identity, the fear that their children would become assimilated in Dutch society, and of course because of the threat of war with Spain, that these Puritans decided to sail for America.

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Protestantism has prided itself as being a liberating creed. Yet, it has to face the fact that its founding fathers believed in stamping out the beliefs of nontrinitarians. Toleration was condemned for encouraging erroneous beliefs – the persecuted advocating persecution. The case for conciliation was first made by English separatists who had fled to the Low Countries. The ideal of toleration was born in exile. In 1606, Leonard Busher fled to the Netherlands where he embraced Baptism. This particular tradition had grown out of the merging of English separatism and Dutch religious tenets during the first decade of the seventeenth century. Primary to this development was the figure of physician John Smyth while he was in Holland between 1608 and 1612. Having joined the so-called Ancient Church in Amsterdam, he was in close contact with local Mennonites, followers of Frisian Anabaptist Menno Simons. His flock were given space to hold their services at the ‘cake house’ of sympathizer Jan Munter. Thus the first English Baptist church was born on foreign soil. In 1614 Busher published his classic Religious Peace, or, A Reconciliation between Princes & Peoples, & Nations in Amsterdam. Addressed to James I and the English parliament, the book is a eloquently argued case for religious toleration, resting on the principle that no sovereign or bishop can compel conscience or command faith.

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Baptist leader Thomas Helwys sailed to the Netherlands in 1608, having been a key figure in organizing the emigration to Amsterdam and Leiden of the separatists led by John Smyth, Richard Clifton and John Robinson. In A Short and Plaine Proof (1611) he developed his radical ideas arguing for total religious toleration (he approved of the freedoms allowed by Dutch secular authorities). In his Mystery of Iniquity (printed in Amsterdam, 1612) he opposed all compulsion, even of Roman Catholics and non-Christians, in matter of conscience: ‘Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least’. He bluntly warned King James that he was ‘a mortal man and not God, and therefore hath no power over ye immortal souls of his subjects’. Earlier he had published A Declaration of Faith of the English People Remaining in Amsterdam (1611), it being the first such confession of an English Baptist church. Amsterdam was the chosen place of refuge for English dissenters during the seventeenth century. Such was the Amsterdam tolerant policy towards faith that the phrase ‘an Amsterdam of religions’ became almost proverbial in English. Independent minister and printer John Canne arrived in the Dutch capital in 1632, soon after becoming the leader of the English Brownist refugees there. In 1634 he published his most important book in Amsterdam, entitled A Necessitie of Separation from the Church of England in which he called for a break with the Anglican Church. Canne remained in Amsterdam until at least 1645 where he ran his own printing press bearing the Richt Right impress. It was at this time that dissident thinking started to make an impact. The 1640s are considered a key decade during which the impetus behind tolerationist ideas came from radical Puritanism. London-born Roger Williams is traditionally seen as opening the debate in 1644 when his call for toleration went as far as embracing heretics, blasphemers, Catholics, Muslims and pagans. Tolerationists provided a principled opposition to religious persecution whilst pleading for the peaceful co-existence of a plurality of religions.

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The 1689 Toleration Act was a landmark in this struggle for religious toleration although its idealistic purpose should not be exaggerated. Cromwell did not strive to create a liberal society in which divergent religious opinions were openly tolerated. Both his re-admission of Jews into England and William III’s Act of Tolerance were politically motivated manoeuvres rather than statements of principle. Theirs was a ‘qualified tolerance’. But toleration that calls for exceptions, freedom for some and not for others, is no tolerance at all. Persecution hides around the corner. As indeed was the case. Atheism, blasphemy, idolatry and adultery were excluded from toleration, because they were regarded as contrary to natural reason and public order. As, for many commentators, was Catholicism. Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, and the Levellers were remarkable voices in the toleration debate. During the period of their greatest influence, Levellers were willing to extend toleration to Catholics. They were the real champions of religious freedom voicing the idea of a constitution in which the state has no religious role.

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Even John Locke did not go as far. He published some of his early works in Holland, including the famous Epistola de tolerantia (Gouda, 1689), a plea for toleration in matters of belief. The text was translated in Dutch the same year and published in Rotterdam as Brief aangaande de verdraagzaamheid. Locke was one of several proponents of religious toleration who made an exception for Catholics (including Cromwell and Milton). They were objected to on two main grounds: Catholics were idolaters and disloyal subjects owing allegiance to a hostile foreign prince, the Pope.

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Introduction

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Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) lived in Rotterdam, where he published his rightly famous Dictionaire in 1697. The importance of this book for the dissemination of the ideas of Descartes and Spinoza can hardly be underestimated.

According to the French writer and philosopher Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) there was no country in the world where writers and their publishers enjoyed so much license as in the Dutch Republic. Bayle remarked that Milton would not have written his De typographia liberanda if he had only lived in the Netherlands, as it would never have occurred to him that the press was not free, let alone that it needed to be liberated. In the Calvinist United Provinces catholics and protestants of all denominations used the press to disseminate their views without questions asked and according to Bayle catholics were indeed more free to publish in the Netherlands than in catholic countries. [Nouvelles de la Republique des Lettres. Mois de Mars 1684. Amsterdam, Henry Desbordes, 1684: *2-verso-*3-recto]

By 1684 Bayle had been living in Rotterdam for three years and he must have known by then how the Dutch society functioned, with it’s special form of liberty. A liberty that was in fact circumscribed by unwritten rules that may have been hard to fathom for a foreigner. Indeed Dutch censorship differed radically from the usual practice in other European countries in the sense that it was not institutionalized. From time to time publications were forbidden but for anyone who, like Bayle, compared the Dutch republic to, for instance, France, it must have seemed clear that the press was free and that Holland was indeed an author’s heaven. The grand total of forbidden publications in the period 1570-1720 was about 200: less than 0.1 percent of the number of titles counted for that period in the Short Title Catalogue, Netherlands (that contains about 200.000 editions at the moment).

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Spinoza’s work was published in the Netherland and of course banished. In fact the government took little notice of this book, although it’s invitation to atheism was duly noted. But the author was left alone and was never prosecuted by the government. Imagine how he – an outcast jew and supposed atheist – would have ended up in France.

A recent study paints a bleak portrait of censorship in the Dutch Republic. Although the author does not deny that the actual number of forbidden books was small, writers and publishers had, according to her, constantly to cope with clear and present danger. This view of the Dutch Republic as a sort of police state deserves to be redressed. It makes heroes out of men who probably saw themselves as honest businessmen and who indeed would have been surprised to find themselves framed as champions of the free word. Probably another Frenchman, who in 1687 called Amsterdam the Mecca for writers was more to the point – especially as he was not the only one to think so. As we will see censorship in the United Provinces was in fact a quirky affair that largely depended on individual whims, on local magnates but also on ambassadors or even on kings and of course on orthodox calvinists who roamed the streets looking for dissident opinions. [Olga van Marion. Verboden in de Gouden Eeuw. p. 31. In: M. Matthijsen. Boeken onder druk. Amsterdam 2011. The  unknown 'frenchman' of Van Marion was the in fact the philosopher Pierre Silvain Regis (1632-1707) who was a follower of Descartes. For those who - like me - are interested in the genesis of footnotes: he is 'a frenchman' too in her source and in the source of that source. Regis never left France and became a respected member of the French Academy in 1699. His observation on the Dutch 'Mekka of authors' was of course wishful thinking of a 'modern' thinker, haunted by reactionaries and not based on any direct experience with the Dutch.]

From time to time the States General or the States of Holland (the province were about 90% of all Dutch publications were printed) would forbid a specific book or even whole categories, like pamphlets that concerned themselves with foreign heads of state, but Dutch booksellers cared little for their placards. In a certain sense it can it be said that they practised self-censorship. When they expected that they might run into difficulties they published their books and pamphlets without the name of the printer or publisher (and of course without the name of the author!). This was explicit forbidden by laws that were repeated time after time but few seem to have cared about it.

[To be continued ...]

PD.

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The Forum Romanum, at the heart of Ancient Rome, was in the seventeenth century populated by cows, goats and cattle traders – hence the name Campo Vaccino, the ‘field of cows’. In his 1636 ‘Vue du Campo Vaccino’, Claude Lorrain painted the hustle and bustle as seen from Capitoline Hill, with the Colosseum in the distance on the left. This is Claude’s only topographically correct cityscape that has been recorded.

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French painter and engraver Claude Lorrain – born Claude Gellée, dit le Lorrain – is one of the great painters of the French Baroque. Along with his friend Nicolas Poussin, he defined the classicizing tendencies of the era. Claude was born into a peasant family in the Duchy of Lorraine which, at the time, was an independent region. His childhood was marred by the mounting hostilities with invading France. Jean and Anne Gellée were the owners of a small plot of land and unable to give their son the privilege of an academic education. His training was not in the art of painting. Young Claude was initially apprenticed to a pastry cook. Throughout his life, he experienced difficulty reading and writing. He left home in 1612 and travelled to Germany, before moving on to Rome where he became a studio assistant to landscapist Agostino Tassi. He visited Naples and returned to Nancy before settling permanently in Rome around 1628.

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Building on the foundation laid for him by northern European immigrant artists such as Titian, Elsheimer, Paul Bril, Claude became a leading seventeenth century landscapist. His paintings are points of reference in this particular genre. He was also a superior draftsman, and his spontaneous sketches of nature are equally appreciated amongst critics and art lovers. Over 1,000 extant drawings have been attributed to him. Some of his most interesting drawings include those he executed for his Liber veritatis (Book of Truth), now in the British Museum. In 1635/6 he had started cataloguing his works, making tinted outline drawings of all his pictures on the back of which he made a note of the purchase’s name. It was a shrewd effort by this French farmer’s son to keep an increasing number of forgers of his work at bay. The Liber veritatis was the first document of its kind in the history of art.

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In Rome, it was not until the mid-seventeenth century that landscapes were deemed fit for serious painting. Northern Europeans working there had made such views pre-eminent in some of their paintings, but it was not until the efforts of Annibale Carracci that landscape became the focus of a major Italian artist. In ‘The Sacrifice of Abraham’ (ca.1600) the subject that justifies the title occupies a minor place.
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The centrepiece is a tree growing at the edge of a precipitous bluff, whilst great attention is given to the mountains in the distance, and to the clouds floating over the horizon. The scene of Abraham about to bring down his dagger over the neck of the kneeling Isaac is lodged in the top left corner, almost as an addition. Carracci’s disciple Domenico Zampieri, known as Il Domenichino, reserved an even more modest space for ‘The Flight to Egypt’ (1621/3). A tiny Mary riding a donkey, followed by Joseph, appears in a corner at the bottom of the composition. Religion seems an excuse to a painter who is eager to depict nature as he sees it. Nevertheless, the stated themes of the paintings remain religious.

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Albrecht Dürer may have drawn some of the most superb landscapes of European art, but most painters rejected landscape as un-classical and secular. The former quality was not in line with Renaissance art which tried to emulate the work of the ancients. The second quality found little patronage in Counter-Reformation Rome, which – with papal interference – demanded grand subjects worthy of ‘high painting’. Landscape for its own sake reflected an aesthetic approach regarded as lacking in moral seriousness. Rome, the theological centre of Italian and European art, fought to hold on to the past. A hierarchy of subjects, which included classical, religious, mythological and allegorical themes, placed history painting above all other genres. Portraits, scenes of everyday life, still life, and landscapes were seen as inferior topics. Even as landscapes became accepted as subjects in the course of the seventeenth century, they were still often created as settings for biblical, mythological, or historical scenes. The narrative was of overriding importance.

Since Antiquity, artists had gone to Rome to complete their training, but by the end of the sixteenth century different developments combined to give rise to a new profane genre. Crucial factors were the presence of a cosmopolitan community of artists (especially from the Low Countries); the attraction of Rome to visitors and the emergence of ‘tourism’; the impact of printmaking on the circulation of images (with Antwerp as a centre of European distribution); the increasing interest in works by Renaissance masters; and the growing commercial success of landscape painting. By the mid-seventeenth century, the genre had become a category in its own right. Claude Lorrain stood at the centre of these changes. His style of painting and the subjects he favoured are consistent throughout his oeuvre, but that is not to say that there is no evolution in his art. His early paintings are steeped in the northern European landscape tradition, complete with a variety of picturesque details. Young Claude spent long days roaming the Roman countryside, making numerous sketches which formed the basis for oil paintings to be completed in his studio. As he matured his paintings became increasingly classical in tone and theme.
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Later works exude a more melancholic atmosphere than his bustling early pictures. He painted a pastoral world of fields and valleys not distant from castles and towns. If the ocean horizon is represented, it is from the setting of a busy port. Perhaps to feed the public’s desire for paintings with noble themes, his pictures include demi-gods, heroes and saints. Even though his sketchbooks prove that he was more interested in pure scenography, Claude cunningly met this demand. Claude’s paintings flattered the culture of his clients by alluding to the Classics or Bible, while at the same time teeming with anachronisms in order to more closely resemble contemporary Roman landscapes for their nostalgic enjoyment.

In ‘Paysage avec l’embarquement de Sainte Paule à Ostie’ (1639), for example, the port is filled with modern ships that sailed around the Italian coast. European painting is full of similar anachronisms in the depiction of historical themes. As late as the early twentieth century Giorgio de Chirico introduced his deceptive ‘exploitations of tradition’ by inserting modern smoke stacks and trains into the background of seemingly ancient cityscapes.
In the second quarter of the seventeenth century, European landscape painting took two opposite directions. Artists like Claude went in for ‘ideal’ views of an eternal Arcadia, while the Dutch masters of the genre (the word landscape is borrowed from the Dutch ‘landschap’) closely observed nature. The introduction of the term was logical because the Netherlands was one of the first places that landscape had become a popular subject for painting.
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The rising Protestant middle class sought secular art for their homes, creating the need for new subjects to meet their tastes. Landscapes helped fill this need. Claude Lorrain’s paintings on the other hand exemplify the genre labelled as ‘idealized’ landscape. They are rooted in a strong naturalism, but at the same time beautified and idealized. A sense of nostalgia is evoked by the presence of ancient ruins and figures in antique togas. The palette is one of blues (using ultramarine, the most expensive pigment of his day made from lapis lazuli, a rare precious stone), greens and greys. Much like the later Impressionists, Claude was fascinated by the effects of light. His preference was for harmonious scenes of dawn or twilight, whilst never showing nature’s brute realities. He searched for perfection, an image of nature as it should be. He created ‘une mythologie douce’, an aesthetic that chooses the bucolic over the shocking, and withdrawal from the world over the torments of war. He desired the peaceful song of the flute rather than the military sound of drums. This kind of approach appealed to his audience. Landscape painting may have been perceived as a lesser genre in certain circles, but Claude Lorrain achieved enormous success in his lifetime, garnering commissions from aristocrats, popes, and the King of Spain Philip IV.
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Scottish and English travellers on the eighteenth-century Grand Tour bought many of his works. As a consequence, Claude exerted considerable influence on English landscape artists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Turner was especially indebted to him, and – in a classic case of creative rivalry – tried to outdo Claude’s grand compositions. The Turner Bequest is the name given to the gift of a large number of paintings and drawings which the artist made posthumously to the nation. Most of these works are now in Tate Britain and some are hung in the National Gallery. In his will the artist specified that he wanted his ‘Dido building Carthage’ to be hung between Claude’s
‘L’Embarquement de la Reine de Saba’ and ‘Le marriage d’Isaac et Rebecca’ – works which formed the prime inspiration for his painting.
The late development of ‘pure’ landscape painting justifies the conclusion that the genre was preceded by the cityscape. In retrospect, that is not surprising. Buildings, streets and cities are man-made, manifestations of human pride and hubris. An inhabitant of Florence, Antwerp or Bruges would be eager to boast the achievement of builders, sculptors and artists who had contributed to the beauty of his/her city. Mankind was on the move – for the first time the proud notion of progress entered our thinking. Moreover, the artist attempting to depict the elegant architecture and buzzing street life of his day was not burdened by this load of religious or mythological baggage that the landscapist carried with him. He was not concerned with moral seriousness or religious high-mindedness. His eyes were focused on the here and now, on the beauty that surrounded him, on the energy that captivated him. Painting was an expression of civic pride. Such urban pride was also reflected in a different type of cityscape. Between the mid-sixteenth and the early nineteenth century, many of the great cities of Europe applied the artistic tradition of the cityscape to their coins and medals – the most circulated art medium. These coins not only expressed urban pride and civic power, but also showcased exquisite skills of engraving. The images feature churches, citadels, fortifications, harbours, and civic buildings, emphasizing military or commercial power, and above all, divine protection and favour. Again, Antwerp stood at the centre of developments.
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The Roman Catholic Roettiers family of engravers, goldsmiths and medallists came to prominence with Philip Roettiers (born in 1596). He was a goldsmith by training and a medallist by specialty. Philip was the founder of a dynasty of engravers and medallists who for two centuries were of service in various capacities to the kings of England, Spain, and France.

nigredo

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The architectural splendour of cities such as Liverpool in Britain or Middelburg in the Netherlands bears witness to the financial rewards of the slave trade, the largest forced migration in global history. The main slaving nations were European powers with coasts on the Atlantic Ocean or North Sea. They were the dominant colonial states of the early modern period: Spain, Portugal, England, France, and the Netherlands.

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However, the organisation of the slave trade was concentrated in relatively few places. In the two decades preceding abolition, Liverpool was responsible for 75% of all slaving voyages across Europe. In France, Nantes sent 45% of all the ships in the slave trade. In Spain, initially Seville and later Cadiz were central to slaving initiatives. In Holland, after the monopoly of the West Indies Company was lifted, the ports of Flushing and Middleburg accounted for 78% of all Dutch voyages. Most of those harbour cities had earlier trading links with the Americas before they became involved in slaving. The specialist slave trade necessitated a comprehensive infrastructure in which shipbuilders, ship-owners and suppliers were all involved. The lucrative voyages were generally financed on credit by consortia of several merchants. The entire mercantile community was involved and the whole region profited from it. There are similarities between the ports.

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Slaving merchants built impressive town houses and apartments. Liverpool’s Town Hall is known for its frieze including African heads, elephants and crocodiles. Similar decorations are found on buildings in Nantes and Bordeaux. Street names reflect not only the names of slave traders such as Earle, Tarleton, or Cunliffe in Liverpool, but also in names like Goree (the slave island off Dakar which name is derived from the Dutch Goeree at the time when it was ruled by the Netherlands from 1588 to 1664) and Jamaica Street, and in Bristol again Jamaica Street, Guinea Street and Black Boy Hill.

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Although the nature of the trade was triangular and Africans were transported to the Americas where their labour was needed, some people of African descent were brought back to Europe. All slave ports had black populations to varying degrees. Lisbon is estimated to have had 10,000 black slaves in 1620. In England, the largest black population was found in London, probably numbering between 5,000 and 15,000 at the end of the eighteenth century. Bristol has its famous tombstone to Scipio Africanus in Henbury churchyard. Nantes, too, had a significant black population. At the beginning of the Revolution the city was able to raise a black battalion known as ‘les hussards de Saint-Domingue’.

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The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery holds a painting dating from around 1785 which is called ‘Broad Quay, Bristol’. The work is attributed to Dutch immigrant Philip Vandyke who had settled in the city and classified as an example of ‘naïve’ art. The label is supposed to imply such qualities as naturalness, innocence and ‘artlessness’. This is a misnomer. The unfortunate term also carries with it associations of the primitive, the amateur, and the non-academic (i.e. lacking formal education). This is a value statement, underlining the inadequacies of our critical jargon. There is no such species as naïve art. Art history, more than any other academic discipline, suffers from the snobbery of its subject and the pomposity of its practitioners. There is probably more waffle in art criticism than there is in psychoanalysis (and that takes some doing).

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The study of European art has been suffocated by its long classical legacy and the overwhelming riches of its heritage. Ever since the Grand Tour, which was an education at best and an expression of sophisticated boredom at worst, fine art has become the realm of aristocrats and scholars who have thrown up barriers of taste that persist to this day. However, when it comes to the genre of town- and streetscape, ‘naïve’ painting has made a substantial contribution to its development, influencing artists such as John Atkinson Grimshaw and culminating in the work of L.S. Lowry. They continued a tradition that preceded the cult of individuality and originality that dates back to Romanticism. The ‘naïve’ artist used whatever was available to him, freely lifting details or compositional aspects from various sources, either painted or printed. Technique and virtuosity always remained subordinate to the subject matter of the picture. In order to supply as many details as possible in his townscape, the artist would be totally unconcerned to distort perspective and optical facts in order to enhance the effect upon the mind’s eye.

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We have inherited our critical jargon largely from the nineteenth century. In Britain, John Ruskin was the pre-eminent art critic of his time. He provided the impetus that gained respectability for the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1870, he was appointed the first Slade Professor of Art at Oxford and then, removing to the Lake District, he helped to start the Environmental Movement out of concern for the deformation of the landscape caused by the cancerous expansion of industry. Ruskin’s linking of art and social reform struck a chord at the time. The tension between two interpretations of art persisted throughout his day. On the one hand there is the theory that claims that creative activity is an end in itself. Art should be independent of all claptrap (in the words of Ruskin’s great opponent James McNeill Whistler); it should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye and ear, without confounding this with such emotions as devotion, pity or patriotism. This stance is opposed by those who regard the creative act as a means, a vehicle for carrying a religious conviction, a social program, or a moral message.

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Art serves society. Ruskin’s belief in the power of art to mitigate the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution led him inexorably into the political arena. The ambition to link aesthetics to public commitment was based on the presumption that a just social order would inspire new depths of artistic expression, and that a flourishing of creativity in turn would deepen the desire for a more ‘beautiful’ society. In this clash of ideas between grand aesthetic ambitions there was no place for the practitioner of naïve art. His work was side-lined, hidden in the dusty attic of amateurism, banned from the glossy magazines of artistic fineries. As an artist, he was doomed to remain an outsider. And yet, there is plenty of aesthetic pleasure and factual information to be gained from the contemplation of such works of art. What these paintings may lack in composition, they gain in observation. There is delight in detail, love for signs and lettering, a keen eye for human enterprise and activity. Many of the urban images are snapshots of the here and now. They do not pay tribute to some grand aesthetic theory or academically defined ideal of beauty. The education of such artists differed fundamentally from what was taught at the academies.

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Harp Alley, Shoe Lane, formerly called Harper Alley, was for many years the centre for sign painting and sign-irons (the carved grapes or gilded sugar-loaves that served as pendants). Hogarth loved to visit the sign painting shops in Harp Alley for the purpose of introducing some of their original and unorthodox subjects into his pictures. Sign and coach painting offered aspiring artists an effective training and education in their art and craft. The importance of being educated in the vernacular language of art is exemplified in the careers of a number of academic artists. Royal academician Charles Carton was in early life a coach and sign painter and Robert Smirke, also a member of the Royal Academy of Arts, served his time under a herald painter of the name of Bromley. John Baker, another Royal academician, was well known for decorating coach panels with borders and wreaths of flowers.

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George Morland also painted signs. He is credited with sign for the Goat in Boots, an alehouse on the Fulham Road; one for the White Lion at Paddington; and for the sign of the Cricketers near Chelsea Bridge. For Morland painting signs was a way of settling his outstanding bills. In one instance he charged a fee of ‘unlimited gin’. In contrast to this sort of empirical training, art academies focused on correct ways of drawing and on theoretical issues of aesthetics.

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Until the Industrial Revolution urban skylines were punctuated by their churches in towns and by their cathedrals in cities. Vandyke’s view shows the town centre of Bristol with the towers of St Mark’s on the left and those of St Michael’s in the distance. Ships were once able to sail right into the heart of the city on a section of the River Frome (which is now surfaced). The shipping in the river reflects the large amount of trade into and out of the docks. Workers are unloading a ship using the dockside crane, and merchants stand discussing business amongst the workmen and shoppers. The depiction of a sled being used for carrying merchandise was peculiar to Bristol: wheeled vehicles were not allowed in the streets of the old city, because their weight could cause damage to the storage cellars just beneath the roads and pavements.

Sleds ‘to carry all things about’ are already mentioned by Celia Fiennes in the journal notes of her visit to Bristol in 1698. The daughter of a Colonel in Cromwell’s army, she had already been travelling England’s roads for more than a decade before she set off on her ‘Great Journey to Newcastle and Cornwall’. She worked up her notes into a travel memoir which she never published, intending it for family reading only (an issue for feminists to comment upon). Robert Southey published extracts in 1812, and the first complete edition appeared in 1888 under the title Through England on a Side Saddle (a scholarly edition titled The Journeys of Celia Fiennes was produced by Christopher Morris in 1947). Fiennes describes commerce, industry, bustling cities, and emerging fashionable spa towns such as Bath. She showed a lively interest in the ‘productions and manufactures of each place’ she visited. Her curiosity in urban economic activity anticipates the claims with which Daniel Defoe would advertise his travelogue A Tour through the Whole Islands of Great Britain (1724/6). Fiennes was a dispassionate observer, but Defoe turned travel writing into a professional enterprise, a formal survey and accounting of the national stock. His book founded the modern genre of ‘economic tourism’. Breaking with the antiquarian tradition established with the 1586 publication of William Camden’s topographical survey Britannia, Defoe highlighted trade and industry as the foundation of the nation’s wealth. He looks to the future, whilst Camden contemplated the past. Patriotic commitment to progress and reform was a staple of this approach.

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The Industrial Revolution forever changed the face of the city. Expansion in trade and manufacture required centralized places of production, distribution, exchange, and credit, as well as a system of communication and transport. All these demands led to a vast increase in urbanization. In 1801 about a fifth of the British population lived in towns and cities of 10,000 or more inhabitants. By the year of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, the census recorded three-quarters of the population as urban. In the course of a single century a largely rural society had become an urban one. The Industrial Revolution changed every aspect of human lifestyle. The application of coal fundamentally altered social and environmental history. The Industrial Revolution produced more goods for consumption, but in the production process natural resources were ruthlessly exploited, industrial waste polluted both street and soil, and harmful fumes darkened the sky. Factories, warehouses and chimneys blocked out most natural light in cities and towns. Steam was used to power the factory machines and the burning coal produced an ‘ink-sea of vapour, black, thick, and multifarious as Spartan broth’ (Thomas Carlyle). The streets of the industrial cities were covered with greasy dirt. A rise in urban population exacerbated the effects of pollution. Increased consumption in turn led to new levels of waste. City life became unbearable. Industrialized Britain produced a new cityscape, one that was broken by smoking factory chimneys. It took some time for artists to incorporate the grim reality of urban living into their art. It was left to Gustave Doré, a regular visitor to Britain from France, to depict the horror of London’s slums.

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Vandyke’s ‘naïve’ view of Bristol, like Fiennes’s travelogue, is an attempt at social documentary. In documenting the development towards urbanization Vandyke and other painters occupied a largely unexplored territory. They had to express new spectacles of city life and urban activity in an idiom without clear precedent. In those days preceding photography, the artist strove for topographical completeness – which is not entirely the same as accuracy – as if creating a document of record. This attempt is illustrated by a telling detail in Vandyke’s painting. From the late 1300s to the mid-eighteenth century, Bristol’s main income was related to seaborne trade, and ship owners were always looking for lucrative new routes and additional business opportunities. By the eighteenth century Bristol was England’s second port, and as a result of growing prosperity a building and investment boom took place in the city. Local merchants lobbied King William III to be allowed to participate in the African trade which was a crown monopoly granted to the Royal African Company. They were given the right to trade in slaves in 1698. From this year to the end of British slave trade in 1807, just over 2,100 Bristol ships set sail on slaving voyages, amounting to around 500,000 Africans who were forced into slavery on the British-owned islands in the Caribbean where they were put to work on the plantations.
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Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade peaked between 1730 and 1745 with the city becoming the leading slaving port. Only a few Africans ended up in Bristol while the trade was active, mostly as servants or as crew on board ships. Vandyke’s painting includes a black figure in a frock coat and wig at the quayside which suggests that these black Bristolians were accepted into the local working class community. The fate of black people in London and elsewhere deteriorated after the arrival of a substantial number of slave soldiers who had fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War (Black Loyalists). These former soldiers were deprived of pensions and forced into beggary due to a lack of work and racial discrimination.
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The high visibility of deprived black people in London is evidenced by William Hogarth’s 1738 engraving ‘Four Times a Day: Noon’. Hogarth also seems to suggest a degree of ‘integration’ of blacks into the society of white poor. So much so that in 1768 magistrate John Fielding complained that black slaves who had run away from their owners were difficult to recapture since they gained the protection of London’s ‘mob’. In 1786, botanist Henry Smeathman proposed a plan to ‘remove the burthen of the Blacks from the public forever’. The government adopted his Sierra Leone Scheme in which black people were encouraged to sign a ‘repatriation’ agreement. On 9 April 1787 three vessels left London with 350 black passengers on board. During the voyage itself thirty-five of them died, many others succumbed in the grim and hostile surroundings of their ‘new’ home. By 1791, there were only sixty survivors.

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[Amsterdam about 1600]

The year is 1609 and the place is Amsterdam, a city that has arrived on the threshold of what we now call the Golden Age. The VOC – the Dutch East Indies Company – has been functioning for seven years, but its greatness is still something for the future and the riches of the East are – as yet – nothing but a tempting promise. By now, the eighty years struggle of the Dutch with their Spanish overlords is halfway its lifespan. The Dutch have been fighting the Spaniards for 41 years, but a truce has finally been declared. A truce that was designed to bring twelve years of peace to the tired and war-weary contestants.
 
In fact the Spanish government turned against a part of their own population that had long been suspected of heresy. The expulsion of the moriscos, christians of muslim extraction, was an action that would in time have grave economical consequences, as the most productive and successful members of the population were banished to Afrika. A few years later the Spanish Empire also became embroiled in the bloodiest conflict of the seventeenth century, the German 30 years war that started in 1618.
 
Only a few relatively quiet and peaceful years had passed, when the Dutch went after each other’s throat in a social conflict that has been called a ‘cold civil war’. The religious background of this conflict is too abstruse to expound on here. Although religious differences were at the core of the conflict that almost destroyed the state, it was actually fueled by fundamental disagreements about the future of the young republic. How was the government to be organized? Should it be centralized from The Hague, where the Stadtholder held court? Or, alternatively, should it be decentralized in a typical Dutch way with local oligarchs taking charge, like they had done for centuries?

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[Counterremonstrants attacking their opponents in 1617]
 
The champions of decentralized government were the States of Holland, dominated by Amsterdam. Until 1618 the States with its pensionary Johan van Oldenbarneveldt were in charge, together with the more liberal minded oligarchs who preached religious tolerance. Stadtholder Maurice was the servant of the Republic, but also a hereditary Prince of Orange in his own right. In 1618 Maurice sided with the intolerant diehard Calvinists, changed the government and had Van Oldenbarneveldt beheaded. This amalgam of feuds is of great interest to the bookhistorian, since printing played a major role in spreading conflicting ideas and arguments.
 
Pamphlets informed an increasingly engaged public on current affairs and swayed the public opinion of the high and the low in an unprecedented way. Hundreds of these pamphlets appeared each year. Many of those were written by articulate authors who knew how to entertain and to persuade their readers at the same time. Booksellers published most of them without the name of either the writer or the printer, although the government forbade this in a virtually endless series of placards that promised to punish the culprits and pay handsome rewards to those who turned them in.

One of the peculiarities of the Dutch governmental system was its particularism. A city like Amsterdam was a city-state. The seat of the government, The Hague, was divided into two jurisdictions that were each jealous of their prerogatives. The city of Delft is located just an hour’s walk from The Hague. From there William of Orange and the States had ruled the free provinces in the late sixteenth century. A printer living and working in Delft was outside the jurisdiction of the burgomasters of The Hague, but he could send his apprentices with recently printed pamphlets right into the heart of the government buildings without impediment, and no questions asked. Cities were jealous of their privileges and the rights of their citizens.

 
The decentralized system of government in the Netherlands made the placards futile. More often than not they were published by the central government in The Hague to please an ambassador or a foreign prince or government. Placards can certainly not be considered as acts of a government that was ready to apply a vigorous censorship. The States General knew that their words carried little weight in a city like Amsterdam. Placards had in fact the effect of an advertisement: ‘get this pamphlet.’

 In the seventeenth century Amsterdam presses churned out hundreds of books and pamphlets each year. Although every town, whatever their size, counted some booksellers, most of them lived in Amsterdam. Their output dwarfed the combined work of all others in the Netherlands and later in the century they would indeed publish about a quarter of all books published in Europe. They formed a well-defined community where each had its role: Christian books of different denominations were published by two big booksellers. To one of them, Marten Jansz Brandt, I will return later. There were publishers of maps and travelogues, specialists who catered for the lovers of poems and plays, and there were a few publishers who produced the very first newspapers, setting an example soon to be followed in Britain and elsewhere.

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[one of the most popular pamphlets of the truce. Printed in Delft in 1612 this allegory was printed time after time] 

There were outsiders as well, who were shunned by the traditional community of printers and publishers: Willem Jansz Blaeu, now of international fame, was one of them. This nephew of an Amsterdam burgomaster was parachuted into the world of the book by his uncle to become the foremost printer of his time. Blaeu was a loner, without any of the traditional contacts with his colleagues. Most publishers that were comparable to him had extended networks reaching all over the Netherlands and beyond. Blaeu had no such thing.
 
Blaeu was also a printer of catholic books. He published these under the false name of Van Egmond, a printer that was supposed to live in Cologne. The whole city knew about this and it is easy to see why: Blaeu used the same initials and ornaments in those imprints that could be found in the books that he published under his own name. The same goes for the works of Hugo Grotius that were supposed to be printed in Paris.

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[One of the more than 100 woodcut initials Blaeu used in his catholic books]
 
Next door to Blaeu the printer Joannes Janssonius or John Johnson ran his shop. He too published Catholic books using the imprint of Van Egmond. He is now famous – or notorious – for the editions he pirated from Blaeu, including a book on sea-faring that Blaeu wrote himself. Janssonius also published anonymous pamphlets. He was one of the great publishers of pamphlets who broke the law year after year. His output is easy to recognize, again by the initials and ornaments he used. In the conflict that broke out during the truce he played a dubious role, publishing the propaganda of both sides, although in public he posed as a Calvinist.
 
I have made some passing remarks on the initials and ornaments that can be used to trace the printers of almost any book. It is time now to take a closer look at them. Almost every printer from 1480 up to 1750 used ornamented letters that can be used to identify their output. From the beginning these were cut in wood, but early in the sixteenth century they were also cast in lead. Most, if not all of these are interesting in themselves as they reflect the art of the time in which they were created. But they can also be used to find printers.

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[ a beautiful initial of Van Ravesteyn, also used in his 'anonymous' work. It shows that wood engraving was invented long before Bewick]
 
A few fellow bibliographers have – with some justification – argued that identification with the help of ornamentation should be carried out with caution. Printers used to lend each others materials. Although I have never observed this in seventeenth Dutch printing I have noticed that sixteenth century Venetian printers and printers from Cologne in Germany were in the habit to do so, making the identification of their output an interesting puzzle for some and a nightmare for many of my colleagues.

And then there are the cast initials. These are small slabs of lead, cast in sand or in some kind of matrix and nailed to a piece of boxwood. They were common in the seventeenth century and in fact any printer in the Netherlands could buy the same initials and ornaments. Lucky enough for the bibliographer they are nailed to the wood in different places and the rough handling of the presses made the nails come up through the lead in different ways.

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[a nail sticking through a cast initial. This is one of Willem Jansz Blaeu]

The identification of printers with the help of their material was tried as early as the sixteenth century. The well-known specialist Paul Valkema Blouw noticed that printers who published controversial texts – and this were the days when the inquisition burned its victims on the stake – took great care to hide their traces. They did not use any ornamentation and when Margaretha of Parma had printer’s shops in Brussels and Antwerp searched no proof could be found. From the early sixteenth century on printers tended more and more to use the same typefaces so these could not be used to trace the culprits.
 
Back to Amsterdam and the crisis brought on by the temporary peace. As I mentioned before, the controversies spawned thousands of pamphlets without the printer (or the author) bothering to put their name on them. I have studied these in detail and I have established some patterns in the publishing which I will now put before you.
 
I mentioned Blaeu and his Catholic books. When in 1672 one of Blaeu’s printing houses burned down – causing damages of the staggering amount of at least 70.000.000 euro in today’s currency – people were saying that this was God’s punishment. Everybody in Amsterdam knew that he published catholic works and indeed these books are easy to recognize for nowadays researchers. 
 
When I researched anonymous pamphlets published in the years 1600-1625 I was able to trace about 80% of them to a printer without much difficulties. All of them were of course ornamented. Some of them with cast initials that were a little bit more difficult to trace to their owners, but often with wooden initials and ornaments that are unique. Soon it became clear that there was a publisher hiding behind some of these printers who printed virulent attacks on remonstrant preachers but also on the head of the government Johannes van Oldenbarneveldt himself.

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[a virulent attack on the head of the state, Johan van Oldenbarneveldt]
 
I already made a passing remark on Marten Jansz Brandt. He was a staunch Calvinist with a populist streak who published any attack on his adversaries, how far fetched or even outright crazy they might be. His opponents seem to have been well aware of his activities were and answered him in kind, often poking fun at his fanatisicm. As a publisher he employed Amsterdam printers of different creeds. All of these also published anonymous pamphlets that were more in line with the opinions of Brandt than with their own inclinations. Some printed pamphlets for his opponents too and if you take a look at their normal output it seems that this was more in line with their point of view. The overall picture seems to show us a publisher who orchestrates attacks on his adversaries using the printers who printed the books that bore his impressum.

 I identified 80% of all anonymous printed pamphlets and that leaves us with 20%. Let me confess immediately that I have not tried to identify those leftovers. Most printers in the Netherlands used the same typefaces and these are thus almost unusable for identification. Almost: the time-honored practice of looking for broken type would probably tell us who the printers were of some of them. The study of lay-out and printing house practices will turn up a few more. But this kind of research fell beyond my scope. I will say something about them though and then pass on to the point I wish to make today.
 
The 20% or about 400 pamphlets that have not been traced have something in common – apart from the obvious absence of initials and ornaments. They were, for instance, rarely if ever reprinted. It is also clear to me that most of them did not come from the great Amsterdam presses, but were printed in the provinces. This is a notion that yet has to be formalized in research – through study for instance of the lay-out. And then there is the most interesting group: pamphlets by writers who were critical about the the East Indian Company or about the kings of Britain and France and their kin.
 
In fact, it seems that the authorities cared little about the slandering of parsons, university professors, or even themselves. They cared a lot however about the sensitivities of foreign allies – and their own purses. And so it has the appearance that early seventeenth publishers, their public and the authorities were in fact playing a game of hide and seek. Authors and publishers were hiding, but – at the same time – they were easy to find. The many satirical poems that were published as broadsheets bear this out. The activities of publishers like Janssonius who published everything controversial as long as it sold, point in the same direction.

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[Oldenbarneveldt on the scaffold]

It was a game indeed – until 1619. When Van Oldenbarneveldt was beheaded, it became clear that the stakes were higher than many had thought. From then until the death of Stadtholder Maurice in 1626 the number of pamphlets dropped significantly. The percentage of publications that cannot be traced rose sharply. The tone changed too – for a while. An author who did not see the change in time was in danger of losing his head. Pastor Henrikus Slatius was the only Dutch writer who lost his life on the scaffold, in 1622. He was condemned for plotting against Maurice, but the accusations were a fabrication and his confession the result of torture.

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[pastor Henricus Slatius tried to escape from the Netherlands dressed as a farmer but his soft, white hands betrayed him. Anonymous broadsheet, printed by Govert Basson in Leiden]
 
After the death of Maurice the Dutch Republic slowly returned to the more tolerant course that has been its trademark almost ever since. But perhaps indifference is a better word for what defined the Dutch stance. The Dutch were merchants. They were hardly interested in the habits or thought of other peoples, let alone that they would ever put any effort in trying to change these. This pragmatic view of the world shows in the way they handled censorship. When a writer threatened the peace or the economic status quo the authorities stepped in. Otherwise writers, publishers and booksellers were more or less free to do as they liked. And that is exactly what they did. Sometimes booksellers were partners of the inteprid authors they published. They were facilitators, activist dreamers who went into publishing to promote their own ideas or those of others, and some were prepared to sell their souls if necessary in order to make a profit.

Pamphlets have been compared to modern newspapers for the impact they had on public opinion, but that is a false comparison. To print a newspaper one needs machines that cost millions. A writer will have to convince an editorial board of his ideas, and if he is lucky he will find them edited if not emasculated on the backside of an advertisement somewhere at the back. In early modern Amsterdam all you needed was twenty guilders in cash to have 300 pamphlets of some 5,000 words printed. This was the normal size of an edition for this type of publication. For a printer it was an afternoon’s work. Knowledge of a certain pamphlet could spread like a wildfire. Some pamphlets were printed time after time and copied by a dozen other printers. For that reason, the comparison with a blog, or even facebook, is a better one.

PD

A pamphlet is a short piece of polemical writing, printed in the form of a booklet and aimed at a large public. The character of a pamphlet is oppositional, its contents more often than not politically subversive. Pamphlets are circulated for their impact upon public opinion. The English word pamphlet entered the vernacular in the fifteenth century. Early printers used black-letter (or Gothic) type for news pamphlets, a typeface generally reserved for ballads, proclamations, and other publications intended for a wide audience. Pamphlet writing rose in importance with the growth of the letterpress. Pamphleteering thrives in an atmosphere of controversy. During the mid-seventeenth century French Fronde more than 5,000 political pamphlets appeared (called ‘mazarinades’ after their usual subject, Cardinal Mazarin). One legacy of the French Revolution is a substantial body of pamphlet literature. The most effective political pamphlet ever produced was Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (1776). This passionate plea for American independence sold 100,000 copies within a period of three months. Until the emergence of the mass media, the pamphlet remained an important vehicle for shaping public opinion and expressing political dissent. In the history of censorship, it was the pamphleteers who suffered the most vicious attacks on both work and body.

Queen Elizabeth never married. Until bearing a child became impossible, she considered several suitors. Her last courtship, ending in 1581 at the age of forty-eight, was with François, Duke of Anjou, who was her junior by twenty-two years. In August 1579, Cambridge-educated Puritan pamphleteer John Stubbe wrote The Discoverie of a Gaping Gulf whereunto England is like to be swallowed by another French Marriage, in which he objected to Elizabeth’s proposed marriage with Anjou. He argued that it was against God’s law for a Protestant to marry a Catholic. Moreover, English values, customs and morality would be undermined by mixing with the French. National identity is a serious matter – then and now. The book was printed by Hugh Singleton. Elizabeth was incensed by the publication and a proclamation was issued prohibiting its circulation. Copies of the pamphlet were publicly burned. On 13 October 1579, writer and publisher were arrested. Elizabeth wanted to hang them both by Royal prerogative, but agreed instead to their trial for felony. The jury refused to convict. The accused were charged with conspiring to excite sedition. They were sentenced to have their right hands cut off, though it appears that Singleton was pardoned because of old age. The sentence was carried out at the market place in Westminster. It took three blows to chop off Stubbe’s hand. Surgeons were present to prevent him bleeding to death. He subsequently signed his name ‘John Stubbe, scaeva’ – the left-handed.

Why were punishments so severe for pamphleteers who responded critically to public or political affairs? The authorities lived in fear of the ‘lethal power’ of the printing press. Writing rebellious pamphlets was a criminal act to be punished by public humiliation and physical marking. The aim of punishment in general was to set a disturbing example to others to restrain from criminal or subversive activity. The legal spectacle was designed to shock and prevent. The law was about impact. Early descriptions of hell gave precise descriptions of punishments for specific sins. These were detailed catalogues of crime and its consequences. Temporal and ecclesiastical courts followed a similar line of proceedings. Every potential criminal knew exactly what to expect if he/she was caught. Punishment was a public affair. It was a spectacle, a drama, attended by large crowds who were there to witness that justice had been done. To the pamphleteer, writing controversial documents was a serious and dangerous undertaking. It did not stop authors from expressing their criticism or concern in print. Far from it. The seventeenth century was the age of the pamphlet. London was the centre of printing activity. There, during the time when censorship laws were enforced, twenty formally licensed printers were the only authorized publishers. Of course, there were far more than just twenty printers at work. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the capital housed several hundred unlicensed printing presses, and by the middle of the century, printing facilities were to found in a range of locations outside London. However, the cost of printing remained relatively high. It was not until the 1620s that less expensive type-face technologies reduced the cost of production. This coincided with the revolutionary unrest that would lead to the Civil War. The printing press played a significant role in the outbreak of armed conflict.

The most direct form of expression was the pamphlet. Once printed, a pamphlet would be sold on street corners and in coffeehouses. Pamphlets could easily be transported to more distant locations. The ever increasing level of literacy allowed the messages of printed pamphlets to spread to all corners of the country. It became impossible to maintain the rigid censorship of old. Regulations dating from the sixteenth century required that every prospective publication must be licensed by a censor and then recorded in the Stationer’s register. After 1637 printed materials had to include the name of the person who authorized the publication. Enforcement of these laws went under the jurisdiction of the Star Chamber (a Soviet sounding name if ever there was one) which sat at the Palace of Westminster. The court was set up to ensure the enforcement of laws against prominent or wealthy people who otherwise may escape justice. Court sessions were held in secret and evidence was presented in writing. There was no right of appeal, there were no juries. The court could punish offenders with fines, imprisonment, or corporal mutilation. King Charles I used the Court of Star Chamber as a political tool during the eleven years when he ruled without a Parliament. The Chamber became notorious for judgments favourable to himself and to Archbishop Laud. Their Puritan critics were treated brutally. In his campaign for church uniformity, Laud dismissed nonconformist ministers and suppressed Puritan preachers.

In November 1630, Alexander Leighton was brought before Star Chamber for circulating a petition that demanded the abolition of episcopacy. He was sentenced to be flogged, mutilated and imprisoned for life. Leighton was the first of many Puritans to be punished for their beliefs during the 1630s. In June 1637, lawyer William Prynne, clergyman Henry Burton and physician John Bastwick were prosecuted by the Chamber for publishing pamphlets that criticized Laudian doctrines. All three were sentenced to be stood in the pillory. The letter S and L were branded on William Prynne’s cheeks (Seditious Libeller: he would later say that the letters stood for ‘Stigma of Laud’). So large was the crowd which flocked to see William Prynne branded that Sir Kenelm Digby complained that even the appearance of royalty would bring out fewer people. The Chamber also ordered the physical mutilation of Burton and Bastwick. They had their ears cut off. An account of the execution has been left by John Rushworth, Oliver Cromwell’s personal secretary: ‘The executioner cut off [Burton’s] ears deep and close, in a cruel manner, with much effusion of blood, an artery being cut, as there was likewise of Dr Bastwick. Then Mr Prynne’s cheeks were seared with an iron made exceeding hot which done, the executioner cut off one of his ears and a piece of his cheek with it; then hacking the other ear almost off, he left it hanging and went down; but being called up again he cut it quite off’.

The punishments became the focus for popular demonstrations against Laud and made Prynne, Burton and Bastwick into Puritan martyrs. The practices of censorship and punishment became hotly debated issues. Early in 1641 Parliament decided to dissolve the Star Chamber. From that point until the Royalist regained control over the press in August of 1642, England witnessed a participation in national politics as never seen before. The statistics are staggering. The British Library holds the so-called Thomason Tracts, one of the most important sources relating to the English Civil War. These are a vast collection of printed pamphlets, books, and newspapers, printed in London between 1640 and 1661, originally brought together by bookseller George Thomason. An analysis preserved in the collection shows that although only twenty-two pamphlets were published in 1640, more than 1,000 were issued in each of the succeeding four years. Once censorship was abolished, fear of repression and mutilation disappeared, and all brakes were taken off. The age expressed itself in a flood of hostile pamphlets and an unprecedented violence of words. In contemporary terms, the pamphlet was a petrol bomb of controversy.

In everybody’s life there are defining moments. The first time one falls in love is such an occasion – the actual moment often being a matter of hindsight and/or nostalgia. I remember sitting on a curb in the dusk of an early summer’s day waiting for a girl who didn’t show up. She told me later that she loved someone else. It is the sudden understanding of feelings that must have been there for months and at the same time the agonizing pain of the heart ‘that even a bullet cannot cure.’

Then there is the first encounter with truly great fiction. In my case it was Joyce’s Ulysses. I took the novel from the shelf in a friend’s study and was bowled over by the first sentence about stately plump Buck Mulligan coming down the stairs. It changed my life forever.

I experienced a similar sensation when confronted with 17th century books. Twenty-five years ago I was not enthused by my master-course in Dutch literature. I was going through the motions of a study I did not appreciate. We were taught analytical bibliography. The teaching up till that moment was limited to the discussion of rather boring texts. However, one day we were each presented with a book in order to do a simple autopsy. The volume on my desk was a play by Joost van den Vondel, published in 1648, and bound in a cover made of white vellum. I had never touched a similar book before.

This was the first of some 100.000 books I have opened since. For a number of reasons I have been able to read only a few of them. Lack of time, leisure and linguistic knowledge – I know a little Latin, but no Greek or Hebrew, nor am I fluent in the early versions of modern European languages – prevented me from reading more widely. But I have handled the books. The best way to study typography is by trying to understand the structure of books you are unable read. There are no facts, opinions or other challenges to distract the mind from the real subject-matter of typography, i.e. the way information is organized in book form.

It seems at times that we restrict attractiveness to looks, ignoring the fact that the beauty of a face is made up of intelligence and gentleness as well. The same applies good design. My initial love for books was all about the mise-en-page, but it was the underlying content that came to appeal to me just as much, even if I was unable to read the book. I did not know this at the time, just as I did not realize that the design of books was a conscious process, practised by people who had gone to school to study it. Early printers were certainly not educated in that manner. They learned their trade in the workshop by imitating the books that were printed by earlier generations. Historically speaking, all innovation in design came from outsiders, from scholars and businessmen who had turned to printing, questioning the how and why of age-old methods.

On Dutch books
When I started my career as a professional book-historian and bibliographer I worked exclusively with 17th century Dutch books. During its golden age (ca 1625-1670) the Netherlands produced almost half of the total European book-output. Nowadays most of these books are not widely known – with the exception of those printed by the Elzevir-dynasty. The Dutch Republic counted many outstanding printers: Blaeu (world famous as a mapmaker, but little known as a printer) Van Ravesteyn, the Van den Rade family and many others. About 2,000 printers are known to have worked in Holland during the 17th century. They published books for the local market, they catered for an international circle of scholars, and smuggled Bibles to England. Enjoying relative freedom, they printed books that were forbidden elsewhere in Europe. The design and style of books printed in the Netherlands were derived from printers who had fled Flanders out of fear for the Spanish inquisition during the late sixteenth century. These Flemish printers had in their turn been influenced both by the great French masters of their age, and by Swiss publishers who printed the works of theologians like Calvin at Geneva and Basel.

Dutch printers gave the elegant books of the French a twist of their own. Their preferred format was a broad quarto (about 24x20cm), they liked their ornaments big and their fat typefaces well inked. The quality of both printing and paper was excellent, at that time better than the books produced elsewhere in Europe. Their books were cheaper too. Thanks to the foundation of the University of Leiden with its high standards of teaching, the level of scholarship was outstanding. It inspired the quality of academic texts that came from the Dutch presses. The works of Descartes and Spinoza were published in the Netherlands, together with those of all the lesser luminaries who are presently forgotten but who were famous in their own time.

French books
Having studied Dutch books for about ten years, I turned my attention to those printed elsewhere. This initial lack of involvement was not only caused by my professional activities – I catalogued Dutch books for a living – but also by the problems that a different approach of design creates. A different taste has to be acquired. It almost seems that a liking for the subtle and beautiful is more difficult to develop than an appreciation of the simple and crude. Today I love incunabula – the earliest printed books that show the struggle of printers to liberate themselves from the style and methods of the manuscript era – but I remember disliking, almost hating them for their primitive pages and for their lack of such essentials as a title-page, headlines and page-numbers.

The same goes for 16th century French books. Their style is subtle yet bold. In France, printers started out in a medieval mode. Early 16th century French books have the flavour of their cathedrals. They are filled with all the trappings of Catholicism and decorated with the stone gargoyles that have become famous ever since. Within a decade all this changed half way in the 16th century. After the fifties nearly all books printed in Lyons or Paris were in the austere style that we identify with the Estiennes, Vascosan or the De Tournes.

Ornaments became simple arabesques, the severe initials found themselves in a black field dotted with white pinpoints and slightly decorated with some almost abstract plant-forms. The typefaces – still familiar to us – were created by Garamond and the lesser known type-cutters that in time have been absorbed into his great name. The lay-out of the pages had been brought to perfection with headlines that were set in spaced small-caps, the indents that replaced the paragraph-signs and most of all of course the perfect typefaces that were set and printed by masters unsurpassed in their art. In fact a 16th century book of one of the great French printers looks more familiar to us than any book that dates from before or after it. Their style and typefaces were adopted by Stanley Morison in the early 20th century. His work stayed in vogue well into the fifties. And even though the avant-garde has opened up new ways of thinking, mainstream book-design is still done in a way that was first explored almost four centuries ago.

An international style
The first printed books were made to look like the most valued manuscripts of their days. In its first stage, the invention of printing was certainly not as revolutionary as many people think it may have been. Most of the work on a book remained done by hand, especially that on the decorations. Less than 20% of the creation of a book was done by printers. It was not until the end of the 15th century that printing really took off. Nevertheless, the 1,100 printers that were active in Europe in the early days opened up vast domains of knowledge. Their books were often as original as they were beautiful. Those were the days that an expanding printing industry started to find form and style.

Although printing, especially printing in the vernacular brought about a more patriotic awareness among European nations, the printing community of booksellers, printers and type-founders established a truly multi-national trade. With it came an international style. The writers of these books belonged to a cosmopolitan circle of scholars, Erasmus being the prime example of such a thinker. In fact, the Dutch publications mentioned in an earlier paragraph form the epitome of this international style. The works printed by the Elzevirs are the supreme example of this kind of book. Authors and editors of their books were eminent figures in their respective fields, the printing was superb. The same applies to the ornamentation, which in comparison to books produced in France, Germany or Italy at the time, was subdued but effective.

During the early 18th century a new French style ruled supreme once more with a rococo-decoration that was based on marine life and constituted of small ‘fleurons’ instead of the woodcuts that characterized the books of an earlier era. Less frivolous and more in tune with modern taste are the well-known books of Bodoni and the Didots. The style of the Elzevirs returned for a short period in the 19th century when the collector’s craze for their books resulted in a revival of some of their designs.

19th century books and their critics
The demise of modernism has not yet led to a reappraisal of 19th-century book-design. We tend to consider these books over-decorated and lacking in originality. They are the mindless products of early industrialism. This point of view was propagated by William Morris in particular. He wanted to create books that were treated as works of art and handcrafted instead of machine-tooled. A different line of attack was undertaken by modernists who considered all decoration as an almost criminal form of primitivism.

By trying to understand 19th century books on their own terms one will be able to discern their individual beauty. There is undoubtedly an affinity with the magnificence of operas by Rossini or Bellini, or with the novels of writers like Walter Scott or Alexandre Dumas. The 19th century reproduction and printing techniques were used to create books that were as haunting as any story written in those days, their gothic revivals having a singular beauty of their own. In our post-modern days we may perhaps be able to absorb their lessons again. William Morris was a formidable critic of such books, although the work of Stanley Morison in the early 20th century has been more influential. As a designer and theorist the latter has done more to give to the book the face we now consider as familiar. It is a rather austere face, but not as forbidding as the works printed in the late 18th century by Baskerville or Bodoni and their kin. The typefaces designed by Morison were modeled on earlier, and to our eyes: friendlier designs of Garamond and Granjon. The decoration is minimal – a line or a single fleuron is considered sufficient. Lately this is changing again, especially in the United States, and to a lesser extent in Europe.


And now
Opinion makers in our own age tell us that the book as we know it has reached the end of its lifespan. Is this indeed the case? I think not. Perhaps some types of book will expire soon. After all, for our factual information we all check the internet. Then there is the poorly designed paperback we read on the beach. This book will disappear as soon as computers can be dropped in the sand and read comfortably in the full blast of the sun. The well-designed book, whether fictional or academic, will continue for a long time to come. Computerized books on the other hand will continue to be much better designed. The art of design has become more democratic. The instruments we need to make books and typefaces are now available to a broad community of practitioners. To give a single example: in the fifties there were three type-designers in the Netherlands, now there are hundreds of them. Fifty years ago it was virtually impossible to become a type-designer. One had to know the right people to get access to the instruments or contact the specialists who handled them. Learning the trade was restricted to insiders only.

Many beautiful books are produced at present. Each day brings new type-designs and exciting visions of how we can distribute information on the page and throughout a book. Thanks to the revolution in design on the one hand, and to the internet on the other, splendid books from previous centuries have become more visible than ever before and are influential once again. The internet exhibits a wide range of books from different epochs and, in doing so, unites new communities of readers and designers – the people who love and deserve the beauty of books.

The large number of paintings Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, assembled for his family home at Houghton Hall in Norfolk formed one of the eighteenth century’s most exceptional collections. Rebuilt during the 1720s with work continuing into the 1730s, Houghton Hall required the original house to be demolished and the village of Houghton to be moved (!) to accommodate the new park. The rebuilt Hall was vast in order to accommodate all large-scale paintings and tapestries. The core of the collection included works by Dutch, Flemish and French masters such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Poussin, Murillo and Lorrain. Walpole also commissioned many works from living artists. Busy with political affairs of state, he employed specialists to purchase works of art on his behalf and make recommendations. Members of the Walpole family (his sons Robert, Edward and Horace, or his brother Horatio) travelled on the Continent where they bought for Sir Robert. The organisation of the collection at Houghton Hall was left to his youngest son Horace who wrote a catalogue of his father’s collection entitled Aedes Walpolianae (1747/8) in which he supplied a detailed and scholarly description of the collection which became a model for cataloguing country house collections for the remainder of the century.

When Robert died in 1745, his considerable debts were passed on to his eldest son Robert who set about raising capital through the sale of some 130 paintings from their London properties. The proceeds did not come near to settling the debts. Robert only survived his father by six years. The estate – along with its debts – passed to his only son George who was a wayward character. He used Houghton for wild parties and mixed with unsavoury characters. He then suffered a dramatic mental illness and made various suicide attempts. The house fell into disrepair and it was left to Horace to impose a degree of order on to the household. Once recovered, George decided to sell the entire Houghton Collection. The possibility of a private sale caused outrage. The collection was considered to be a perfect foundation for the establishment of a national gallery which, at the time, was very much an undertaking of national pride. After all, London had to compete with the success of the Louvre in Paris.

The loss of 204 outstanding works to the flamboyant Catherine the Great of Russia was a blow to morale and interpreted as a sign of British decline. Horace despaired in private at the prospect at his father’s legacy being destroyed. In the battle of words even some of the more outrageous contemporary rumours of Catherine’s sexual appetite were used to define her as an undeserving recipient of England’s finest collection. Ironically, in 1789, ten years after the collection arrived in Russia, the north wing of Houghton Hall was destroyed by fire. The collection at least was saved for future generations to enjoy.

Horace Walpole was a man of many talents. He was an author, bibliographer, publisher, collector, and a very odd character. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he became MP for Callington (Cornwall) in 1743, held the seat for thirteen years, but never set foot in the place. A confirmed bachelor, he drew about him a circle of cultured ‘dear friends’, a semi-erotic camaraderie of sensitive aesthetes. His biographers have described Walpole as an effeminate, asexual, or passively homosexual character. Horace Walpole does not quite fit the eighteenth century mould, being more akin to Max Beerbohm’s and Oscar Wilde’s late nineteenth century style. Horace was a decadent, given to dramatic and aesthetic indulgence – an eighteenth century Oscar Wilde, a prototype for Huysmans’s fictional hero Des Esseintes. As an author, he is remembered for his extensive correspondence which is of significant historical interest. He was a prodigious writer of letters, corresponding with many outstanding cultural and political figures of his time. His fame rests upon the novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled ‘A Gothic Story’, of which melodrama and parody were to become long-standing features of the style initiated by him. Published anonymously, the first edition of 500 copies sold out quickly. The world was moving on, but fiction turned to the past. The castle of Otranto is riddled with dark vaults, subterranean passages, trap-doors, caverns and ghosts. The novel was published on Christmas Eve in 1764. That same year James Watt perfected the steam engine, thus laying the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution. Literature dripped of medieval blood, while London and the big industrial cities were about to be covered in grease and oil. The gap between fiction and life was widening. Literature became divorced from reality. Escape was the name of the game.

In 1747, Walpole leased a small suburban house in fashionable Twickenham, south-west of London. Built in 1698, it was called ‘Strawberry Hill’ after the area of land on which it stood, known as Strawberry Hill Shot, and in its time had been occupied by the actor and dramatist Colley Cibber. Walpole set about transforming and extending the dwelling into a Gothic castle. He wanted the house to look like a medieval manor, without sacrificing any modern luxuries or refinements. The house became an odd mixture of papier-mâché friezes, fireplaces copied from medieval tombs, a Holbein chamber evoking the court of Henry VIII, traditional Dutch tiles on the floor, contemporary carpets throughout and modern paintings on the walls. Strawberry Hill was built for theatrical effect. The house was a stage set on which Walpole performed his life. To some, it was the manifestation of a gay aesthetic. Strawberry Hill was the most famous house in Georgian England. It fuelled the vogue for all things medieval. For Victorian Gothic purists such as Augustus Pugin, it was a sham. For modernists, it indicated the failure of the age to build anything of stylistic significance.

Strawberry Hill was filled with art, antiquities and curiosities of every period from the ancient to the modern. Walpole wrote and printed his own catalogue, A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole in 1774, which he revised and enlarged in 1784. His collection of miniatures which included works by Holbein, Hilliard and Isaac Oliver, was one of the finest anywhere and his ceramic collection (over 1,200 pieces) ranged from ancient Greek pots to contemporary porcelain. Not all of the collection was of artistic merit, but Walpole delighted in his eclectic array of objects of historical curiosity from a pair of gloves belonging to James I to the spurs worn by King William in the Battle of the Boyne, and a lock of hair of Edward IV. In the Great Sale held in 1842, described by many observers as the sale of the century, Walpole’s collections were dispersed world-wide. The auction lasted thirty days.

To bibliophiles Walpole is the person who started the first successful private press. The term ‘Private Press’ refers to a movement in book production which flourished at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It started with the founding of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press in 1890. Those involved created books by traditional printing and binding methods, with an emphasis on the book as a work of art and manual skill, as well as a medium for the transmission of information. Morris studied incunabulum from which he drew inspiration for manufacturing his own paper, ink and type design. If Morris turned his personal ambition into a ‘movement’, Walpole had set an early example of the notion of a private press. He founded his Strawberry Hill Press in June 1757. It is the most celebrated of the early English private presses, unique for the importance of the books, pamphlets, and ephemera it produced. Walpole called it the Officina Arbuteana and employed Irishman William Robinson as his printer. Walpole was an admirer of the Elzevier publishing dynasty, referring to his private press as the ‘Elzevirianum’. On 16 July 1757 he wrote to George Montagu: ‘Elzevirianum opens to-day; you shall taste its first fruits’. His cousin Field Marshal Henry Seymour Conway called him ‘Elzevir Horace’. Many of the first editions of his own works were struck off within its walls. The first works printed at Strawberry Hill, on 8 August 1757, were two odes of Thomas Gray, ‘The Progress of Poesy’ and ‘The Bard’. Several books of interest were printed at the press, such as Hentzner’s Journey into England, Mémoires de Grammont, The Life of Lord Herbert of Cherbury, etc., and several of Walpole’s own works. The emphasis of the press was on the physical quality of the book produced. The publication of Lucan’s Pharsalia is a notable example.

Hugo Grotius’s text edition of this particular work was published by Raphelengius in Leiden in 1614 with reissues in 1626 and 1627 (and probably also in 1639). A revised edition was published in 1643 by Blaeu in Amsterdam. The house of Blaeu also brought out two Grotius editions of the Pharsalia in small format in 1619 and 1627; these editions were reprinted in 1626 and 1636 by Blaeu’s neighbour Janssonius. Walpole sought the support Richard Bentley, classical scholar and Master of Trinity, Cambridge, to supplement the notes supplied by his Dutch predecessor. After two laborious years of preparation, the volume appeared in quarto, M. Annaei Lucani Pharsalia. Cum notis Hugonis Grotii et Richardi Bentleii, etc. (Strawberry-Hill, 1760). Five hundred beautiful copies were printed on paper marked J.W. (= James Whatman), the outstanding papermaker of his day.

German physician and botanist Engelbert Kaempfer, having entered – like many of his countrymen – in the service of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), arrived in Batavia in September 1689. Eight months later he left for Japan to take up the post of physician to the Embassy at Deshima. His diplomatic tact and medical knowledge gained the trust of the population, allowing him to gain an insight in the local culture and customs, and learn the language. He compiled one of the first records of the Japanese alphabet (‘t Japansch ABC).

During his stay he accumulated an impressive dossier of botanical notes, drawings and samples. He returned to Amsterdam in October 1692 and, subsequently, took a medical doctorate at Leiden University in April 1694. His first book Amoenitatum exoticarum was published in Germany in 1712. In it he gave detailed descriptions of plants that had not been seen or recorded in Europe before. When Sir Hans Sloane, whose collections were to form the nucleus of the British Museum, heard of Kaempfer’s death, he purchased the latter’s manuscripts, notes, drawings and maps. Sloane instructed his librarian John Gaspar Scheuchzer to translate this legacy into English, resulting in The History of Japan, a book that has been hailed as a landmark in the study of that secretive country.

Anabaptist printer and publisher Crispijn de Passe was born in 1564 in Arnemuiden (Zeeland) in the Netherlands. He was educated in culturally vibrant Antwerp, the outstanding printing and graphic centre of sixteenth century Europe. There he started his artistic career. By 1585 at the latest, he became a member of the prominent Guild of St Luke and worked as an engraver for various publishing houses. When Catholic Spain conquered Antwerp in 1588, reducing this cosmopolitan centre to a stagnant religious backwater, Crispijn de Passe, like tens of thousands other intellectuals, fellow artists and craftsmen, left the city with his family. He went into exile in Cologne where he founded his own publishing house. He specialized in portraits and genre graphics which were destined both for the European and English markets. His work was in demand.

In 1611, Crispijn left Cologne for religious reasons and relocated his studio to Utrecht. There he teamed up with Aernout van Buchell (Buchelius) and continued his highly successful career. His sons continued in his footsteps, working on their own in Paris, London, and Copenhagen, and carrying the international fame of the De Passe studio with them. In 1623, Crispijn II produced a series of outstanding engravings for one of the classic seventeenth century work on the art of horse-riding. The author of the book was Antoine de Pluvinel. In its complete form Le maneige royal was published posthumously in 1625. It was edited by Pluvinel’s friend Menou de Charnizay, and given its definitive name L’Instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval (Teaching the King how to ride a horse). The author had been riding instructor to Louis XIII.

Antoine de Pluvinel was born in Crest, Dauphiné, France, in 1555. He learned riding in Italy and was educated according to the Neapolitan school under Giovanni Pignatelli, who introduced the Italian style of horse-breaking with strict and forceful methods. Pluvinel, on the contrary, became a proponent of less brutal ways. His practice was based on understanding the character of the horse and motivating the animal’s cooperation through patience and praise. He applied subtle training methods, insisting that a horse moves more gracefully if he enjoys being ridden. The principles of the Neapolitan school of riding however did persist. One of the English noblemen who studied in Italy was William Cavendish, a nobleman and a royalist, who was obliged to live in exile after the defeat of Charles I. He was to become the first Duke of Newcastle and is credited with introducing school riding in England. Whilst in exile, he taught the schooling of horses in Antwerp and drew on his experiences of the disciplines of the Neapolitan School to publish A General System of Horsemanship in 1658.

In 1594, Pluvinel founded the Académie d’Équitation near to the place now known as the Place des Pyramides. There, the French nobility was trained not only in horsemanship, but also in all the refined accomplishments demanded of a gentleman (dancing, dressing, etiquette). Pluvinel’s influence on the aristocracy endured well into the seventeenth century. Richelieu, the future Prime minister of King Louis XIII was one of those who attended the Académie. Pluvinel’s book was a massive success. It was re-printed several times, and translated into many languages. He died on 24 August 1620 and is remembered and recognized by many as the ‘Father of French Horsemanship’.

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