I hope those EMEMHians among you are taking some time out of your busy summer schedule to watch some of the Rio Olympics coverage. In addition to the requisite soccer (aka “football”) and basketball viewing, I’ve decided to dip into the (European) martial arts. Which means adding a bit of fencing (I think I prefer sabre over foil and épée), archery, shooting, equestrian, and, of course, the pentathlon.
All of which makes me absolutely astounded at all the individual (or team, with a horse) skills a good early modern military officer was supposed to have. Presumably there are big differences between modern single-event sport specialists and early modern jack-of-all-trades military professionals. And the skills of the average army officer were likely far below what might qualify as “expert.” But it’s interesting to speculate about what historians might learn from such modern echoes of the martial past. As a few historians have done already: skulkers Erik Lund and Gavin Robinson come to mind.
I do wonder, though, what English longbowmen would have done with clickers, sights and stabilizers. And did a cuirass provide as much protection to cavalry troopers as those inflatable vests modern cross-countriers wear?
And I hope you military medical types out there are slightly amused that old-school cupping has joined space-age-polymer kinesio tape as the latest athletic fad:
So who wants to start a petition to get horse archery as an Olympic event? Maybe parade ground evolutions? Or perhaps add ramming to the rowing competitions, followed by some boarding and hand-to-hand: a new triathlon of rowing, followed by jumping/rope climbing, followed by cutlass fencing? (Sounds like Ninja Warrior, now that I think about it…) The possibilities are endless!
As usual, us academics are in frantic end-of-summer research clean-up mode. So in the meantime I’ll mention some recent(ish) works of EMEMH interest.
First up, the latest Journal of Military History has two articles of note:
Tzoref-Ashkenazi, Chen. “German Military Participation in Early Modern European Colonialism.” Journal of Military History 80, no. 3 (July 2016): 671–95.
Abstract: The article examines the military participation of Germans in early modern colonialism, focusing on their service to colonial trading companies and colonial powers. It shows that the German colonial empire had a long pre-history, since German mercenaries provided a vital “tool of empire” for European colonial powers. The article argues that the extensive participation of German soldiers in early modern colonialism demonstrates a hybridity in European colonialism in that national colonial empires relied on trans-national European human resources in addition to local manpower. The article examines German soldiers’ identification with their colonial employers and shows that soldiers recruited as a group retained a stronger sense of separate identity.
Rommelse, Gijs, and Roger Downing. “Victims of an Ideological Rift? Dutch Prisoners of War during the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654).” Journal of Military History 80, no. 3 (July 2016): 649–69.
Abstract: Dutch prisoners from the sea battles of the First Anglo-Dutch War of 1652–1654 were held in England under generally inhumane conditions. It has recently become accepted that ideological differences, as much as commercial, led to the deterioration in relations that led to the conflict. English public opinion had been inflamed by a vicious anti-Dutch propaganda campaign, suggesting that ideological demonization could provide the explanation for the dire treatment to which the prisoners were subjected. It is concluded, however, that logistical problems associated with their reception, plus the chronic lack of money of Cromwell’s regime, provide a sufficient explanation.
For my money, if you ever needed a single diagnostic test to whether a scholar qualifies as a “traditional” military historian, check to see whether their preferred explanatory variable is military, e.g. technical or logistical or tactical constraints, rather than cultural or social. A non-traditional military historian? They’re the ones who use terms like “hybridity”!
And then from a new collection on early modern primary sources:
Younger, Neil. “Warfare.” In Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources, edited by Laura Sangha and Jonathan Willis. Routledge, 2016.
And did I mention that Brian Sandberg’s new book is out?
Sandberg, Brian. War and Conflict in the Early Modern World: 1500-1700. Malden, MA: Polity, 2016.
Abstract: In this latest addition to the War & Conflict Through the Ages series, Brian Sandberg offers a truly global examination of the intersections between war, culture, and society in the early modern period. He traces the innovative military technologies and practices that emerged around 1500, exploring the different forms of warfare including dynastic war, religious warfare, raiding warfare, and peasant revolt that shaped conflicts during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He explains how significant social, economic, and political developments transformed warfare on land and at sea at a time of global imperialism and growing mercantilism, forcing states and military systems to respond to rapidly changing situations. Engaging and insightful, War and Conflict in the Early Modern World will appeal to scholars and students of world history, the early modern period, and those interested in the broader relationship between war and society.
Now that I’ve dipped my proverbial toe into the weird cult world of art museums, I’ve found a few more items that might be of interest for fellow EMEMHians who are procrastinating from their many research projects. I’ve accumulated a few museum exhibit guides that give the reader the opportunity to read the background of Karl V’s Tunis tapestries, and get more background on each of the pieces on display (see online Zotero group). Admittedly, it’s not the same as being there, but, still, these catalogs allow you to look silly and pretentious pointing at art in the comfort of your own home (or library).
Since we’ll be going to the Frick to check out Watteau’s French soldiers, I thought I’d check out the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) online, remembering that they have quite the collection of arms and armor – largest in the Western hemisphere they claim. Turns out they have a fair number of art pieces in their online catalog – or ‘catalogue’, if you think ‘theater’ should be spelled ‘theatre’. So, for example, if you were ever wondering what great-grandpa Louis le Grand gave to Prince Luis of Asturias for his fifth birthday c. 1712, you can, thanks to the Met:
But to make a short story long, I’ll circuitously wind back to the title of the post. Turns out Europe and the U.S. both have rich people who pay lots of money to buy artwork. While in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (Vienna’s Military History Museum) a month back, I came across a collection of large prints of the ‘greatest Austrian hits’ of the War of the Spanish Succession, such as they were. The intimidating Latin title of the volume is Representatio Belli, ob succesionem in Regno Hispanico auspiciis trium potentiis. Invictiss. et gloriosiss. Caesarum Leopoldi. I. Josephi. I. et Caroli VI. intra 14. annos (Der Spanische Successions Krief unter drei Gossmächtigst. Unüberwindlichst-und Gloruwürdigsten Kenssern Leopoldo I. Josepho I. und Carolo VI. innerhalb 14 Jahren…), c. 1714, published by Jeremias Wolff. You’ve likely seen the format before, you can find similar illustrations of individual triumphs from the English, Dutch and French sides: triumphal engravings of battlefield victories (battles, sieges, naval victories) textually explicated on cherubim-suspended drapery and humanized by likenesses of selected participants. And don’t forget the marginal panoplies (martial cornucopia?) and allegorical figures. Something like this, in other words:
If so inclined, you can download the whole book, in all its gory detail, at several places online.
Adding the work to my list, I just now happened upon an even more interesting variation in the Met’s collections. Turns out somebody wasn’t happy just looking at the pictures in a book, or maybe they wanted to look at the pretty pictures while having their cuppa and were afraid of stains. So the market, always efficiently satisfying demand, led one Ignaz Preissler to create a tea set with some of these same images. The Met acquired most of the tea service (and tracked down the rest), a researcher wrote up a description for art fans and the occasionally-interloping military historian, and Bob’s-your-uncle:
(Note that Figure 10, the upper-right bowl, illustrates soldiers stripping a body.) For details, you can read all about it in Cassidy-Geiger, Maureen. “Repraesentatio Bell, Ob Successionem in Regno Hispanico…: A Tea Service and Garniture by the Schwarzlot Decorator Ignaz Preissler.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 24 (1989): 239–54, available here.
The Met has other publications online as well. Those of interest to EMEMHians include catalogues of fencing manuals, early modern crossbows, and of arms and armor more generally. So if you’re interested, head on over to the MetPublications page and choose the Thematic Category of European Art 17C-18C. Undoubtedly you can find similar online resources at other major museums. But, unfortunately for me, my research projects won’t finish themselves, so it’s back to the grind.
I’ve been writing up personal summaries of our recent trip to Vienna-Salzburg-Munich (and sprinkling them with photos off the web, which are usually far better than what we can manage), lest the memories fade from view too quickly. Pursuant to this task, I started looking up a bunch of early modern artists’ works in Google image search. Concurrently, my RSS feed alerted me to Amy Herman’s Visual Intelligence, which I acquired and have been reading with interest. In a suitably artistic state of mind, I thought I’d look up the Frick Collection (where Herman worked), just to see what kind of museum it was. Turns out, it’s in New York City (a few hours from me), and has some early modern works. So on a further whim, keenly aware of the fortuitous timing that allowed us to see the ephemeral Feste feiern and Kaiser Karl V erobert Tunis exhibits in Vienna, I checked to see what special exhibits the Frick had coming up. And, lo and behold, I find this exhibit, starting July 12 and running through October 2: Watteau’s Soldiers: Scenes of Military Life in Eighteenth-Century France. The description of the exhibit:
It would be difficult to think of an artist further removed from the muck and misery of war than Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), who is known as a painter of amorous aristocrats and melancholy actors. And yet, early in his career, Watteau painted a number of scenes of military life. They were produced during one of the darkest chapters of France’s history, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), but the martial glory on which most military painters trained their gaze held no interest for Watteau. Instead, he focused on the most prosaic aspects of war — marches, halts, and encampments. The resulting works show the quiet moments between the fighting, when soldiers could rest and daydream, smoke pipes and play cards.
Presented exclusively at The Frick Collection in the summer of 2016, Watteau’s Soldiers is the first exhibition devoted solely to these captivating pictures, introducing the artist’s engagement with military life to a larger audience while exploring his unusual working methods. Among the paintings, drawings, and prints will be four of the seven known military scenes — with the Frick’s own Portal of Valenciennes as the centerpiece — as well as the recently rediscovered Supply Train, which has never before been exhibited publicly in a museum. Also featured will be thirteen studies of soldiers in red chalk, many directly related to the paintings on view, as well as a selection of works by Watteau’s predecessors and followers, the Frick’s Calvary Camp by Philips Wouwerman among them.
An accompanying book by Anne L. Poulet Curatorial Fellow Aaron Wile, published by The Frick Collection in association with D Giles, Ltd., London, will be the first illustrated catalogue of all Watteau works related to military subjects.
So if you’ll be in the region this summer, make some time to check it out. I know I will. And if you can’t, at least consider checking out the catalog. Hopefully it’ll explain why Watteau’s short career should be divided into “early” and “late” works.
More posts on the military art to come.
Just got back from a two-week excursion to central Europe, with a quick turnaround for other familial obligations.
But lest you think I was merely reading Georg Scherer’s sermons at a Viennese café while drinking my Wiener Melange (more like eating apfelstruedel mit schlagobers and reading reports of yet another act of hate/terrorism/gun violence in the U.S.), I was actually hard at work, traipsing across the historical flotsam and jetsam of what once was the crown jewel of the Austro-Hungarian empire. But that’s for another time.
To tide you over, in case you’re in Vienna over the next couple of months, and are interested in all things Karl V, the Kunsthistorisches Museum has a top-floor exhibit on Charles V’s capture of Tunis in 1535. There are apparently some tapestries of his successful North African campaign in the Prado, but Vienna has the “cartoons” (the paintings which were the basis of the tapestries) currently on display.
For a brief (English-language) overview of the exhibit, you can look here.
The KHM also has a (German-language) catalog of the exhibit. Which makes me think there really should be some art museum listserv to alert interested parties to military history-themed exhibits. Though something like this might be a start.
In case you need to add anything to your summer reading list, the following (recent and not-so-recent) publications are available for your perusal*:
- McInally, Thomas. “Missionaries or Soldiers for the Jacobite Cause? The Conflict of Loyalties for Scottish Catholic Clergy.” In Jacobitism, Enlightenment and Empire, 1680-1820, edited by Douglas Macinnes and Douglas J. Hamilton, 43–58. London: Routledge, 2014.
- Szechi, Daniel. “Jamie the Soldier and the Jacobite Military Threat, 1706-27.” In Jacobitism, Enlightenment and Empire, 1680-1820, edited by Douglas Macinnes and Douglas J. Hamilton, 13–28. London: Routledge, 2014.
The essays explore at length why and how the captain became the subject of a series of new discourses. The present volume therefore proves an extensive insight into an understudied, if not neglected, subject. It investigates the rise of the captain in early modern Europe through a wide variety of sources: treatises, poems, books of precepts, translations from the classics, and visual sources. While the focus of this collection is mainly on Italy, the articles here collected stress the relevance of cultural transfer to and from Germany, while taking into account also other countries, such as France, Poland and Spain. The interdisciplinary approach allows the successful reconstruction of the figure of the captain, in order to understand the reasons of its rise, and to explain its multifarious representations. This collection of studies also enables us to investigate some of the most crucial historiographical questions concerning early modern Europe (i.e. the role of the Counter Reformation or the issue of social mobility) from new perspectives. Books for Captains and Captains in Books will certainly pave the way for future research into this fascinating and complex topic.
In less than a month we’ll be heading to Vienna and Munich (oops, Wien and München) for a couple of weeks. Spanish dancing horses and a few palaces/museums are on our list, but feel free to leave suggestions in the comments about places of particular interest for early modern military history. Intact star fortresses are particularly appreciated (I’ve got a video to record). And no, we won’t be venturing out to Blindheim.