Holland eighteenth century, beautiful as never before

A pedestrian who made a trek through Holland around 1740 should not be surprised if he saw a gentleman sitting on a folding chair somewhere in the town square. This can also happen to him or her near a castle or on the bank of a river with a view of a city on the other side. Here sat a topographer who traveled to town and country to record towns, villages, castles, country estates, monasteries, and former monasteries in his sketchbook. He did this on behalf of Amsterdam’s Isaac Tyrion (1705-1765), a wealthy Mennonite bookseller who had a large and ambitious project in mind. This project was a multi-part pictorial description of the Netherlands. He employed not only these types of painters for this purpose, but also authors. The names of these artists will be known only to enthusiasts, but they still regularly appear at auctions and exhibitions: Cornelis Pronk and his pupils Abraham de Heene and Jean de Beijer.

These men systematically roamed the country and writers, including the famous historian Jan Wagnar, wrote their texts on the history and current status of the district, city or village. The entire project followed the tradition of country, city and region descriptions, which had been popular since the beginning of the seventeenth century. But none were as widespread as Tyrion.

Jan Caspar Philips, Market Square and Grote or Saint Eusebius Church in Arnhem, 1741.

Illustration from “The Current State of the Netherlands”

Work progressed slowly. After Tyrion’s death, his widow continued the business for another ten years, and then the booksellers’ union continued. The monumental publication appeared in 23 volumes between 1738 and 1803 under the title The current country of the Netherlands† The series was completed in nine parts with several hundred images under the name He glorifies Holland† Itinerant painters made their drawings in the studio, after which sculptors converted the drawings into engravings that were used in books. Now rearranged in one volume, 875 topographical editions and 77 city maps and plans have been exquisitely reproduced and provided with contemporary annotations. Historical texts have been deleted. So it is not a replica.

encircles children

The “glory” from the title sums up the entire project well. Because what we see is a glorified, idyllic and peaceful Holland. The topics are presented in a practical documentary style – which is sometimes useful for restoration – rather than atmospheric or picturesque. The painters chose a consistent pattern: a low skyline, above which rise town halls, churches, militia targets, markets, city gates, former monasteries, and countless castles or their ruins obliquely from the side. Leaves and shadows indicate that it is spring or summer. It never rains. The sunny atmosphere is an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. To give the scene some liveliness, engravers added matching textiles, i.e. small human figures. For example, we see pedestrians walking around pointing at each other’s privacy. In other places there are children, hunters, street vendors, pigs, a rider on horseback, and a cart. All of these characters remain subordinate to the architecture and protect the images from some fading routine that can perpetuate the image of the so-called fading wig era. The detailed and often colorful drawings of these artists are more vibrant.

Right: Hendrik Spielmann, Monkendam City Council.

Illustration from “The Current State of the Netherlands”

The public letter is a form of nationalism, which is depicted in the title plate. There sits on her throne the personification of the Seven United Republic of the Netherlands. Products are supplied from east and west. Surrounded by women who represent unity, justice, religion and civil freedom. Just look how prosperous and peaceful our country is, according to this record. Nobody is in a hurry, nobody argues. Prosperity is everywhere. It is already noticeable that the cities had extensive fortifications, but in the years of those drafts there was peace in the republic. The downside of this sunny weather was intentionally omitted. We did not encounter any slums, nor muddy roads in which the wheels of your wagon drowned, nor a beggar or unfit, which were swarming anyway. In short, it is the clean Holland that is presented to us here.

topography of home

Providers of Tyrion’s work provided detailed introductions to the creation of 32 parts in total. In this way, they show that – unsurprisingly – the Netherlands, Zeeland and Utrecht have better pictures and that the north is only scant. They also show that Cornelis Bronck, who made most of the drawings and which we might call the country’s topography, worked mainly in Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, Jan de Beijer in Utrecht and Gelderland and Abraham de Heine in the southern regions. However, he also stayed close to home. There is a drawing of him on a hill near the village of Larin depicting the broad view of the Em Valley. He had a nice career, I think.

Read also: The ingenuity of 17th century painter Matthias Withus

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