In 1622 Jacques Callot published a suite of 25 etchings of beggars that established a more humane image of the vagabond than had been current until then. The title print of Callot’s series is a lanky, insolent figure with a banner reading Capitano de Baroni. Schwartz hypothesizes that in Dutch eyes he would have been seen as a caricature of the "beggar" – the Dutch rebel – who was captain of the Barony of Breda. This was Justinus van Nassau, whom Callot was later to etch, and Velazquez to paint, as the vanquished commander of Breda.
The disabled did not have it any easier in the Golden Age than in the Information Age. Then as now they were dependent on the good will of the healthy and the wealthy. As good Christians the pillars of society were obliged to care for the infirm, but as responsible burgers they were dismayed by the moral messiness this often entailed. People who claimed to be disabled were sometimes faking their condition. Among the 42 categories of professional beggars summed up by Adriaen van de Venne in his Tafereel van de Belacchende Werelt (Picture of the ridiculous world; 1635), quite a few made a specialty of feigning disability. The insurance-company physicians of the day had to learn to distinguish between such Dickensian specialists in beggary as grantuers, who simulated epilepsy, voppers, fake lunatics, and swijgers, who imitated jaundice. (See Arie van Deursen’s classic study, Plain Lives in a Golden Age: popular culture, religion and society in seventeenth-century Holland, Cambridge [Cambridge University Press] 1991.)
The disabled were a manageable problem as long as they stayed in the jurisdiction where they belonged. Where governments and charities drew the line was at traveling folk, sick or healthy. "All forms of charity were … carefully closed to indigent strangers," wrote Joke Spaans in her chapter on charity in the outstanding Geschiedenis van Holland, 1572 tot 1795 (History of [the county of] Holland, 1572-1795; Uitgeverij Verloren, Hilversum, 2002). Vagabonds had few other ways of staying alive than by street begging, which was by and large forbidden. Yet no amount of social regulation could eliminate it.
Van de Venne was not only a writer but also an artist who created mocking images of the satirical stereotypes he described. They fit into a tradition that went back at least 150 years, to the beggars of Hieronymus Bosch, who are often indistinguishable from his demons. In the 1620s another visual vocabulary for beggars entered Dutch art, through the work of the French printmaker Jacques Callot (1592-1635). In 1622 Callot brought out a series of 25 prints of Gueux, beggars who stand tall and are depicted with a certain dignity. Within a few years, Dutch artists like Abraham Bloemaert and Rembrandt were adapting Callot’s disabled beggars in their own work.
Jacques Callot, Capitano de Baroni, from Gueux, 1622
No Dutch artist copied or acknowledged Callot directly. There is a possible reason for this that has not been noticed until now. The first of Callot’s Gueux is a title print, a kind of beggar king leading a troop of the blind and the lame on a country road. He is tall man, no longer young, his arm in a sling, a pack and a pan hanging from his waist. He looks straight at the beholder with a little smile on his face, which with the feather in his cap gives him a cocky air. The man carries a banner on his shoulder with the words CAPITANO DE BARONI. In a kind of Esperanto, with a nod at the commedia dell’arte character named Il Capitano, the words mean simply "the captain of the barony."
Whether or not it was Callot’s intention – and I do not eliminate the possibility – a beggar called the captain of the barony could only have meant one thing to a Dutchman in 1622. The barony was the jurisdiction in Brabant of which Breda was the capital, and of which the head of the house of Orange-Nassau was lord. In 1622 the lord of Breda was Prince Maurits, the stadholder. More to the point is that the military commander and governor of the Barony, since 1601, was Maurits’s half-brother Justinus van Nassau (1559-1631). Justinus was not only the captain of the barony, he was also a beggar – a geus, the slur that became the proud sobriquet of the Dutch rebels against Spain.
A few years later, Callot had reason to depict Justinus in his own guise, in the most dramatic moment of his life. Although he is inside a coach and therefore not visible to the viewer, he is one of the two protagonists in Callot’s monumental, six-sheet figurated map of the surrender of Breda on 5 June 1625. The Spanish commander Ambrogio Spinola had been besieging the city for eleven months. Princes Maurits and Frederik Hendrik were unable to relieve the city, and after lengthy negotiations Justinus surrendered to the Spanish on good terms for his garrison. They left the city "with their colors displayed, the drums beating." A contemporary wrote that Spinola "courteously saluted all the captains at their going forth, and first Nassauius the governor, venerable for his gray hairs." This scene became the subject in 1635 for Diego Velàzquez’s flattered painting of the surrender in the Prado, Las Lanzas.
Callot created his depiction of the surrender in 1627, upon the well-paid commission of Infanta Isabella, the Spanish archduchess of the Netherlands. He spent some time in the Southern Netherlands in 1626 and 1627 on this job. His presence there was known to his colleagues in the north, and it inspired new interest in his work. His Surrender of Breda became the model for a Surrender of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (partly by Adriaen van de Venne), when the Dutch recaptured that city in 1629.
Callot’s beggars had an ironic reception in the Northern Netherlands. While the title print could only be read as a caricatural insult to the captain of the Barony, the rest of the series helped to humanize the image of the beggar in Dutch art – indeed it helped Rembrandt attain his not altogether deserved reputation for kindliness.
This column is dedicated to the memory of H. Diane Russell (1937-2004), my dear study companion at Johns Hopkins University in the early 1960s, curator of prints at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and a leading specialist on Jacques Callot.
© Gary Schwartz 2004. Published in Loekie Schwartz’s Dutch translation in Het Financieele Dagblad, Amsterdam, 6 November 2004.
23 October: Simon Schama and James Runcie visited Maarssen with a film crew making a Rembrandt program for the BBC. I had been helping out with locations and contacts; we had the crew to our house for a glass of wine, and they then took us out to lunch at a pleasant restaurant down the street, Zuster Francina. Simon was buoyant; we talked about old times. That evening we had tickets for Arrigo Boito’s opera Mefistofele in Amsterdam. This completely escaped our minds. I did not think of it until ten days later, when I woke up with a shock in the middle of the night in Boston. Loekie and I decided to leave the excuse halfway between Alzheimer and Freud.
24 October: Spoke at De Pont in Tilburg in a series called "A good story," as accompaniment to an exhibition of paintings by the Flemish artist Raoul De Keyser, whose son and daughter-in-law were in the audience. The talk was entitled "Leonardo’s Last Supper and my first breakfast in Milan," but it was mainly – excessively, according to some – about the cathedral of Milan. I couldn’t help it; the building intrigues me endlessly. We were received by the director, Hendrik Driessen, who introduced me graciously.
26 October: Henk van Os delivered the fifth Rembrandt Lecture, organized by the Rembrandt Society and Het Financieele Dagblad. He spoke about Dutch still-life paintings, as a prelude to launching a campaign to raise money to buy a splendid example by Jan Davidsz. de Heem. The painting shows two oranges, a whole one above on a branch and a peeled, somewhat yellowish one below on a Chinese plate. The stone niche in which the ensemble is installed is inscribed Vivat Oraenge. The idea is to buy the painting and present it to a Dutch public collection in honor of the 25th anniversary of Queen Beatrix’s reign next year. Nice painting, nice idea. The professor of Dutch literature, Riet Schenkeveld, added an illuminating interpretation of the iconography of the painting.
28 October: Buyers from De Slegte, the largest chain of second-hand books and remainders in the Netherlands, came around to examine the 1200 books we removed from our overfull bookshelves. Although we thought that paperback detectives and mysteries by the great masters of the genre, Dutch, American and English fiction and non-fiction, would have been attractive, we ended up having to pressure them into removing them for nothing. The only books in which they were interested and were willing to pay (a pittance) were those on post-war Dutch art, philosophy and history. Periodicals they would not take at all. We achieved our main aim – making space for my art-history library, especially the Rembrandt books I need to write my own – but were left with a sour feeling about the transaction. A lesson not to fill our shelves again with books of the kind we have now had to throw away. I suppose I could have done better by taking parts of the discards to different bookshops, but Loekie argued plausibly that the returns would not have paid for my time.
30 October: The president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was received by Queen Beatrix for a state dinner in Noordeinde Palace. Loekie and I were among the 120 guests. This interesting invitation came about because CODART ZEVEN was dedicated to Dutch and Flemish art in Poland. In March we held a congress on the subject in Utrecht and in April a study trip to Gdansk, Warsaw and Kraków. The dinner was tightly organized, which I suppose is the way to do these things. You enter through the back, garden entrance and wait without drinks in a downstairs antechamber until the announced time of 7:15, then are led past the receiving lines: Her Majesty, Mr. President and others, whose hands you shake and with whom you exchange the briefest of formal greetings. Loekie and I were flattered that the queen recognized us from an evening we spent with her and Prince Claus at the home of Barbara and Jules Farber – in 1979! – and greeted us personally. You then stand in a reception hall for half an hour with drinks and minuscule morsels before being led upstairs by the lackeys to the splendid Empire dining room. (The palace dates from the 16th and 17th centuries but has been modernized over the centuries.)
There was one long table following the length of the dining room, at which the queen and president sat, with the Dutch prime minister, the ambassadors of both countries and other official guests. Commoners were seated at six round tables in a row. At my table, number 6, I sat among guests whose spouses had been placed, like Loekie, at table 1.
There were two speeches, by the queen and the president, on Polish-Dutch relations, with emphasis on the Polish troops involved in the liberation of the Netherlands in May 1945. The queen spoke in her perfect English. We were provided with a Dutch translation of the speech in Polish by the president. When the queen rose from the table, after quite a good meal, we all rose with her and were led to an upstairs reception room, where more drinks were served. At 10:30 we were kindly requested to take leave of our hostess, and we filed past her and Princess Margriet and Peter van Vollenhoven toward the stairs and the garden exit.
I took advantage of the opportunity to speak to Max van der Stoel, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the 1970s and 80s and one of the Dutchmen who made me want to belong to this country. Thinking I would never again get the chance, and regretting that I had never told the late Joop den Uyl how much I admired him, I told van der Stoel that under him and den Uyl I felt for the first time pride in the government of the country in which I was living. He seemed a bit embarrassed, but I did not let that stop me. Chatted for a minute with Prime Minister Balkenende about our exchange of letters concerning a trip he took to Sibiu, Romania. He is a polite and attentive man. Talked about the Netherlands and Europe with Paul Scheffer, the publicist who has made the faults of the Dutch multicultural society "discussable," and Atzo Nicolaï, state secretary for foreign affairs, who had just returned from Rome, where he attended the signing of the European Constitution. Would have gone more intensely with them into a discussion about Berlusconi, with whom they have no problem, but it was not the kind of occasion at which you raised your voice.
1 November: Two sturdy young men came from De Slegte to load a van full of 2-3 cubic meters of book. The art magazines they didn’t want I brought to the library of Utrecht Art School, where they were very happy to have them.
2 November: Theo van Gogh murdered by a fanatic Muslim, George Bush re-elected by gullible Americans. Bad day. More some other time.
4 November: Flew to Boston, for the first time with Icelandic Airways, with a stopover in Reykjavik. Quite pleasant, good seats, nice airport, good to stretch your legs halfway across the ocean.
6 November: Bat-mitzvah celebration and party of my niece Anneke. About 150 people in the Bnai Brith synagogue in Somerville, about 150 at the party that evening. It was all a great pleasure. The congregation is very close; much of their social life seems to be tied up in community activities. This adds an element or religiosity, even spirituality, to music, culture, sport. I felt genuine warmth and found myself being perversely thankful that the congregation in Utrecht of which I am a dues-paying but dead-dormant member is not attractive in that way at all. The big difference is that the Somerville congregation does not have a real rabbi. The spiritual leader is a layman with extensive Jewish knowledge. Utrecht has a lebavitcher rabbi from Brooklyn who treats the congregation like a mission post among the semi-heathen. His phenomenal insensitivity helps me to maintain my position as a lapsed believer (Loekie has occasional fears I may experience a relapse) without renouncing my Jewish background.
Anneke lived up to her new status as a grown-up while still enjoying herself like a child. She stopped the show with her very musical chanting from the Torah and the Prophets. Got to spend time over the weekend with both sisters and their children, cousins, aunts and close friends who came to Medford for the occasion. My own children and our granddaughter also flew over from Amsterdam. I read the portion for which Loekie and I were called up to the Law. Practiced hard, added a bit of drama to the dialogue between Abraham and his servant about getting a wife for Isaac.
9 November: Meeting at the Straus Center for Conservation with some befriended specialists helping me compile an Illustrated Glossary of Techniques for the Rembrandt book. Progress on the sales front: at the Frankfurt Book Fair the publisher spoke to an impressive roster of potential co-publishers, which he is going to try to reel in.
10-11 November: Flying home via Reykjavik, with a break in the middle of the night, was somewhat less of a pleasure. Yet, after a wrecked day of arrival, Loekie and I slept normally in the days to come.
12 November: Met with Boris Dittrich, head of the D66 faction in the Dutch parliament, to lobby on behalf of CODART. The essence of my argument was already published in Schwartzlist 220 and Het Financieele Dagblad. Dittrich understood my arguments and concerns. My hope for the early reversal of State Secretary van der Laan’s proposal to re-evaluate the application of CODART for funding rests with him.
Flying to Israel on Friday the 19th to take part in an interesting symposium on the history of Dutch Jewry. Should not be doing things like this during my Rembrandt leave from CODART, but I had accepted the invitation before the leave came through and I hate to back out of commitments. Besides, I really want to visit Israel and our friends there.
Responses to Gary.Schwatrz@xs4all.nl