Now that’s art!

I was poking through the online Bridgman Art collection for possible images on the peace of Utrecht. For those who need historical background: a new Tory ministry in England secretly negotiated the broad terms of the end of the Spanish Succession war in summer 1711, and the peace conference at Utrecht began in early 1712. The treaty between France, Britain and the Netherlands was ultimately signed in 1713. The exiled Whigs were outraged at its terms, and when they returned to power with the accession of George I, they put the peace’s architects (Harley and St. John) on trial.

I came upon the following image, and I’m not sure how exactly to interpret this particular satirical print.

Whig Satire on Utrecht peace

Whig Satire on Utrecht peace

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a higher-quality image of it, nor much in the way of provenance or even description. It’s from a private collection, which doesn’t bode well for information discovery.

So what does this illustration tell us?

I can make out a devil spouting nonsense (or worse) into the ear of one of the negotiators/signatories. The wall displays mounted asses as trophies – maybe they’ve got it all ass-backwards? The man’s fur-lined clothing and cap in the painting hanging on the wall remind me of a well-known portrait of Erasmus by Hans Holbein Jr. Was this intended to situate the venue in the Netherlands? Unsure.

To add to the confusion, I can’t imagine what’s happening in the top left painting, but I’m pretty sure it’s not family friendly.

I guess I’m just no good at interpreting art.

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2 responses to “Now that’s art!”

  1. Björn Thegeby says :

    The picture on the wall is Bolingbroke/St John who had a reputation for free morals. I think he is also the character on the right, although the other seated one does not look like Oxford. The head negotiator at Utrecht was the Bishop of Bristol, clearly not depicted. Could it be intended to show underhanded agreements with the French? But then, the French counterpart was abbé Gaultier, another cleric.

    On balance, I think it is Matthew Prior on the left, receiving instructions to sell out to the French (as the Whigs would see it).

    • jostwald says :

      Your eye for engraved faces is much better than mine! St. John in the boudoir would make sense, that libertine. Don’t know if he’s cutting her bodice with a knife, or writing on her back, or what exactly. I guess that’s why I’m not an art historian.

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