Charing Cross (Westminster)



Travels from France to Italy through the Lepontine Alps, 1800,

Engraver and landscape painter was born at Chambéry in 1755. He entered the engineering school at Mezières and, in 1775, joined the Sardinian army as an engineer. At this time Sardinian territory extended into what is now Provence, and Beaumont was working as a hydraulic engineer at Nice, where he met the Duke of Gloucester who engaged him in 1780 as a teacher of mathematics to his children.

Beaumont then accompanied the Duke on his travels in the Alps. A few years later he travelled through the Maritime Alps from Cuneo in Italy to Nice by the newly constructed road across the pass of Lanslebourg. In the 1790s he went through the Lepontine Alps, from Lyons to Turin. Beaumont’s accounts of these journeys show a lively interest in the classical and geographical history of the area. Published in folio, these accounts are embellished with maps drawn by himself and by drawings in simple and sepia-washed versions, the latter coloured by Bernard Lory the elder.

The books were printed in London by C. Clarke and sold by the bookselling firm of Thomas and John Egerton at their office at no. 32 Charing Cross (opposite the Admiralty). Once settled in London, Beaumont went into partnership with Thomas Gowland and employed Dutch artist and diplomat Cornelius Apostool as engraver. Between 1787 and 1806 he published a series of views Switzerland, Mediterranean France, and Piedmont. He afterwards took to landscape painting. Under the Empire he retired to La Vernaz in the Haute Savoie where he reared sheep. He died in 1812.


Via Appia (Rome)


Terror as subject-matter is common in both art and literature and has a long history. Art tells its own story of horrors. Francisco Goya and Giovanni Battista Piranesi were the outstanding printmakers of their time. Their images of human brutality still resonate in our violent day and age. As court painter to both Charles III and Charles IV of Spain, Goya achieved considerable fame as a portraitist. In 1819, at the age of seventy-three, he had fallen seriously ill. His doctor Eugenio García Arrieta nursed him back to health. On recovering, the artist presented him with a painting entitled ‘Self-Portrait with Dr Arrieta’, the last of many self-portraits which shows the physician ministering to his patient.


The inscription of thanks at the bottom of the painting gives the canvas the look of an ex-voto (a votive offering to a saint or divinity), a type of religious painting which expresses gratitude for deliverance from a calamity. In a further response to his narrow escape from death, Goya decorated the walls of his villa in the outskirts of Madrid, named the ‘Quinta del Sordo’ (House of the Deaf Man), with fourteen ‘black’ paintings.

These are the most hellish visions he ever created, images of a world consumed by hate. One of those paintings is ‘Saturn Devouring his Son’, depicting the myth of Saturn who, fearing that his children would supplant him, ate each one upon their birth. In the depiction of this scene by Rubens (which Goya would have seen in Madrid), Saturn bends his head over the body, sinks his teeth in the flesh and sucks the spurting blood of his screaming child. Goya’s version shows a bleeding remnant of a body, one of its stumps entering the giant’s gaping mouth. The mouth plays a prominent role in Goya’s art. Mouths guzzle ferociously, living flesh as well as dead. Saturn grips his child in his fists and with his mouth tears him limb from limb.


Piranesi’s work is relevant in this context for a different reason. Trained in Venice as an architect, his work occupies an intriguing place in the development of the cityscape. He studied with leading printmakers of the day and settled permanently in Rome in 1745. He created about 2,000 plates in his lifetime and there are two distinct aspects to his work. First there is the series of etchings of imaginary prisons, and secondly there are his famous views of Rome. His collection of Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome) features 135 perspectives on the ruins of the Eternal City in all its decayed glory. Piranesi captured an imaginary cityscape based on real architectural elements assembled in fantastical ways.


Eighteenth-century European writers and philosophers routinely compared the social order to a prison. During the eighteenth century penal institutions such as London’s Newgate Prison and the Bastille in Paris were imposing structures that developed into powerful symbols of oppression. In England, the Bloody Code referred to a system of laws and punishments that was in use from 1400 to 1850. By the early nineteenth century there were more than 200 offences carrying the death penalty. Crimes that were punishable by execution included stealing anything worth more than five shillings, stealing horses or sheep, right through to arson, treason and murder.


The century also gave rise to the notion of the Panoptikon (or Inspection House). Jeremy Bentham developed the idea of creating a more effective mode of reforming convicts. Prison was to remain a place of detention, but at the same time it had to become a workshop, in which inmates were to be employed in various trades. Part of the system consisted in placing prisoners under constant surveillance. From a room in the centre of the building, wardens could observe all parts of the prison. A reflecting apparatus enabled them to watch the prisoners in their cells at night. The design was invoked by Michel Foucault as metaphor for modern ‘disciplinary’ societies and its pervasive inclination to control and normalize.


Rome’s most famous prison was the underground Carcere Mamertino (Mamertine prison; the medieval name is most likely a reference to a nearby temple of Mars), known in antiquity as Tullanium, located on the northeastern slope of the Capitoline Hill. It consisted of a vast network of dungeons under the city’s main sewer system connected to the surface via a grand entranceway. Corridors and chambers descended downward, and were marked by the symbol of an upside-down cross. These vaults of horror would have been an inspiration to young Piranesi’s wild and macabre imagination.


Piranesi, a stonemason and builder’s son, arrived in Rome in 1740 as part of the entourage of Marco Foscarini, the Venetian ambassador to the new pope, Benedict XIV. He was trained in architecture and stage design, and had acquired knowledge of the techniques of perspective which are essential to both disciplines. As early as 1741 he was producing small Roman views for inclusion in popular guide books and almost immediately he seemed to be searching for a new and more personal mode of urban representation. His career as an architect went nowhere. The lack of commissions was a bitter blow and made him unsure about the direction to take, that of the architect or that of the artist/engraver. The ambivalence can be traced throughout his career.


From 1745 onwards he produced fourteen of his most disturbing prints, the Carceri d’invenzione or ‘Imaginary Prisons’ which show the interior of vast prisons, littered with arches, stairways, pulleys, ropes and various relics of classical antiquity. The spaces of the Carceri, simultaneously vast and claustrophobic, are clearly based on the vaults of antiquity, but the parts have been jumbled: stairs and drawbridges go nowhere, arches pile up to form an inescapable labyrinth. Using his theatrical set experience and knowledge of architecture, these images are well ordered yet menacingly chaotic, realistic and dreamlike. The ultimate inspiration for these works was not dissimilar from Goya’s experience. Supposedly based on a malarial fever-dream, the Carceri suggest a descent into the subconscious, an extraordinarily detailed nightmare. The particulars are drawn from the vocabulary of ancient Rome. The emotional atmosphere speaks to universal anxieties. Ten years later Piranesi radically reworked the same plates and added two new ones.


He made the architectural forms more elaborate, and introduced new sequence of vaults, arches, and stairs that recede indefinitely. The imagery speaks of a grey world of stone and ritual in which the human factor is utterly insignificant. Tiny figures struggle in these huge interiors, including, according to Thomas de Quincey inConfessions of an English Opium Eater Piranesi himself: ‘Creeping along the sides of the walls, you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little further, and you perceive it come to a sudden abrupt termination, without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him’. The immensity of the architecture seems to embody the workings of an evil supernatural power. The machinery of cables and levers suggests awful horrors. Piranesi’s etchings of imaginary prisons held a hypnotic fascination for later Romantic writers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Edgar Allen Poe (his story ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ is a transcription of the world of Piranesi’s prisons) and artists such as Charles Meryon in his haunting visions of Paris. They had a huge influence on the development of the Gothic novel and the creation of the Gothicscape. Reacting against the Enlightenment idea that society is founded upon rational thought processes, the Romantics injected the drug of dreams and nightmares instead.


Piranesi’s prisons not only recall Rome’s Mamertine, but also medieval ways of physical punishment. Grates, hooks and pulleys suggest a hellish mechanism in which the prisoner is subjected to the various instruments of torture. In literary terms such images date back to medieval vision literature which initially consisted of stories handed down by word of mouth. The stories describe experiences of people who allegedly had been taken to hell. A famous example is the ‘Vision of Tundale’, an Irish knight who had been in a coma for three days from which he returned to urge others to repent. The tale dates from the middle of the twelfth century (over 150 years before Dante’s Inferno) and was written in Latin by a Benedictine monk. His experiences are divided into ten Passus or ’paces’ (a division of parts in medieval narrative) which are a neatly arranged as a catalogue of sins in which every crime has a ‘fitting’ punishment. The worst the sin, the more severe is the pain. Piranesi offers an elaborate and corresponding set of torture instruments in his images. A wheel with spikes around its circumference; a post with more spikes; a kind of chandelier suspended from a beam ringed with meathooks, etc. The act of torture does not take place in these prints, but Piranesi is a master of suggestion. There are just glimpses of the damned, a couple of men digging a grave in the middle of the prison, a person being pulled on a rack, or naked figures chained to posts. While prisoners undergo mysterious torments, luckier souls pass by on parapets or bridges that in the context of the image have no logic or necessity. Piranesi seems less interested in the plight of the prisoners than in an unsettling fantasy of space. His prison is a place without limits, the interiors have no outer walls, and each vista is cut off only by the frame of the image itself. They may not even be interiors because they are integrated into a cityscape where – even if certain settings are recognizable – interior and exterior are no longer definable.


Although these prison scenes were produced in Rome, they belong to a Venetian tradition. The capriccio was developed as an art form in early eighteenth century Venice. Influenced by Italian theatre, the genre grew as a result of the Grand Tour when capricci were offered as an addition or alternative to the townscape. Piranesi built on the work of two other Venetians, on Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s playful Capricci and on the set designs of Ferdinando Galli Bibiena, a master of Baroque scenography and founder of a dynasty of stage designers. In painting, capricci are a playful mixture of architectural and sculptural elements – both real and fictional – in which tombs and urns, pillars and pyramids, are decorated with inscriptions. Locations are rearranged and peopled by mythological beings and symbolic animals. Such scenographic presentation perfectly suited the theatrical character of Rome’s public spaces, but Piranesi’s series of etchings of imaginary prisons remain Venetian in spirit. He could never free himself from his native city’s air of decline. In the haunting visions of a doomed city one recognizes the source of his gloomy inspiration. He produced a cityscape in which Kafka seems to embrace Escher.

The Romans created a vast network of roads across the Empire, initially to move troops to trouble spots, but also for speedy communication and ease of travel. Roman viae were the arteries of the military system. The Via Appia was the ‘queen of long roads’ (‘Appia teritur regina longarum viarum’), stretching across southern Italy and joining Rome with Brindisi at the Adriatic coast. It was named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who completed the first section as a military road to the south in 312 BC during the Samnite War. In one of the frontispieces in the four-volume Le antichità Romane (1756), Piranesi’s vision of the intersection of the Via Appia and the Via Ardeatina is piled high with mausoleums, gravestones, marble busts and body parts, and a stone she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus.

The Via Appia typifies his Roman views that became as much a tourist attraction as the city’s sights themselves. In the early fifteenth century, Flavio Biondo created a guide to the ruins and topography of ancient Rome for which he has been called an early founder of archaeology. However, it was only during the eighteenthth century that the systematic study of the past through its physical remains began to be carried out. The excavations of Pompeï and Herculaneum during the late 1730s and 1740s made an impact throughout Europe. By the time Piranesi arrived in Rome nevertheless, the city’s ancient temples and arches were used as cheap sources of raw materials. Over a period of time the Colosseum had been stripped of usable stone. Maffeo Barberini, who reigned as Pope Urban VIII, had carted off the bronze of the Pantheon. Rome was either plundered or neglected – the Roman Forum was known as the Campo Vaccino (the cow field). Piranesi, the Venetian, found his calling in Rome’s ruins. He was outraged by the city’s decay. Regretting that the ancient buildings were gradually reduced by vandalists who used ancient rubble to built modern houses, he decided to preserve their memory in art. While ancient Roman urban planners introduced the rational grid to cities across the Empire, the city of Rome itself remained topographically a chaotic assemblage of spaces that were shaped haphazardly against the background of its seven hills. The artist took delight in the city’s irrationality. In the Vedute di Roma and Antichità he captured the ruins in all their decrepit glory. Piranesi the antiquarian was shocked by the state of ancient Rome. Piranesi the salesman explored and exploited the potential of a newly discovered art market. Few works can match his Vedute for artistic influence, commercial success and political impact. He was also a polemicist who claimed Roman sovereignty in ancient architecture. In works such as Della magnificenzo ed archetettura de’ Romani (1761) he opposed fashionable Grecophilia that was inspired by Winckelmann’s aesthetic theories.

Piranesi’s powerful prints were produced in large quantities and, just like Canaletto’s paintings, conceived as souvenirs. This mass distribution inspired the ‘ruin lust’ that gripped European art and literature in the eighteenth century and reached its height in the romantic period. Piranesi’s business enterprise also included dealing in antiquities and publishing ‘pattern books’ such as Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcophagi (1778), an artifact catalogue, and Diverse maniere d’adornare i cammini (1769), decorative schemes based on pastiches of antique styles. In Diverse maniere Piranesi gave prominence to the design (sixty-one in total) for chimney-pieces. This form of interior feature did not have a precedent in antiquity. He applied the ancient Roman approach to design to contemporary demands which allowed his flamboyant fantasy to run free.


Egyptian and Etruscan elements merge with the myths of antiquity and the Renaissance. These works had widespread influence on eighteenth-century design. Not in the least on Scottish architect and decorator Robert Adam who spent five years in Rome studying with him. The latter went on to become a principal exponent of British and European Neoclassicism. Horace Walpole was attracted to his work. John Soane, an extremely successful neoclassical architect, was also an admirer of Piranesi, acquiring fifteen drawings of the Italian master which are now part of the rich collection of Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. What was the specific appeal of his work? From a stylistic and technical point of view his engravings were highly original. Piranesi created images by etching with a stylus on a waxed copper plate after which this plate was set in an acid bath where the sharp lines would be etched away. This method gives his prints a hand-drawn look. He worked exclusively in black-and-white, but he was a master of re-creating the effects of shadow, sunlight, and the movement of clouds. Just as important was the psychological effect of his images. During the first half of the eighteenth century Rococo was at its height. Piranesi’s work is a reaction to the soft elegance and sugary optimism of Rococo art. Instead of images of ideal forms, he shed light on the débris of a doomed metropolis. Ruins register both the termination and the survival of matter. These fragments of the urban past symbolize transience and durability, dissolution and survival. Piranesi produced etchings of Roman ruins and deliberately enlarged them suggesting both the might of ancient civilization and the inevitable fate of human hubris in the face of a remorseless cosmos. The Roman views of Giovanni Battista Piranesi have lost none of their power over the centuries. Because he was depicting the city before proper excavations were undertaken, his Roman cityscape was genuinely ancient. His craftsmanship made his images transcend their immediate circumstances to become evocative expressions of the grandeur that once was Rome.


A Serious Game of Hide and Seek


[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?


[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.

[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.


[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.


[ 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.


[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.


[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.


[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.


[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.


Antoine Pluvinel on horses

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’.


Illustrations from Spigelius. De humani corporis libri decem. Venice 1627

The remarkable engravings in this book are based on the work of Guillio Casseri – who was professor of anatomy in Padua with the shortest tenure ever: he fell sick and died after one lecture.
The designs for the engravings were made by the manieristic artist Odoardo Fialetti, a student of Tintoretto. They were copied for centuries.

[photos: Special Collections Amsterdam 2011]