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.
Has the 1711 siege of Bouchain faded from view? The town itself certainly hasn’t stood the test of time well, if Google Ngram Viewer is to be believed.
This should be surprising, since the August attack on Bouchain was one of the more distinctive sieges in the Low Countries. Though a weak town, its investment required Allied troops to ferret out the French from their boggy trenches sheltering the town before they could carry on their trench attacks.
This impressive maneuver would later be commemorated in a well-known portrait of Marlborough and his engineer/quartermaster John Armstrong:
Bouchain 1711 was also distinctive among the Flanders sieges because the Allied and French commanders disputed whether the garrison had surrendered honorably or as prisoners of war after its capture – spoiler alert: the garrison ended up as prisoners. Then, after the town was in Allied hands, Marlborough’s army was forced to idle nearby for almost a month while its fortifications were repaired. To top it off, the siege was also the last major military operation conducted by the Duke of Marlborough. Attempts by his chaplain (Francis Hare) to describe Bouchain as a masterful siege failed to prevent Churchill’s ouster at the end of the year.
The town would be recaptured by resurgent French forces under Marshal Villars a year later, in half the time.
If the 1711 attack has faded from view, perhaps that is due to the faded view of the most famous representations of the siege, the three tapestries at Blenheim Palace commemorating the victory at Bouchain. Yet perhaps there’s hope. For as the linked Daily Mail news story (with lots of photos) indicates, this faded view of the siege has been cleaned and restored, with its brethren to follow.
While good news, even a newly-restored Bouchain Tapestry gives us minimal insight into the siege. The tapestry, like all of the Victory tapestries, provides little more than a stock representation of Marlborough and his entourage on horseback in the standard wooded foreground, with an ornamental border composed of vines and captured arms and the countryside receding into the distance. Hopefully the restoration will make the background, the actual siege itself, a bit more visible. Now if we could only get close-up photographs of those newly-laundered threads.
NPR had an interesting article on a tumblr blog, People of Color in European Art History. The topic raises some interesting methodological questions about historians’ use of art. And it made me immediately think of this painting:
I’ve always wondered about this portrait. Not the center of the painting: the Great-Captain-holding-a-marshal’s-baton-wearing-a-fancy-silk-sash-on-a-Rearing-Mount is standard iconographical fare (see a collection here). I mean the black attendant in the left corner. Uninitiated in the arcana that is art history, I wonder why he was included. Did Marlborough actually have (a) black servant(s)? Did most generals? Most English gentry? Did early modern blacks campaign in northern Europe, as later colonial troops would? Did Marlborough pick up some African slaves/servants from his early service at Tangier? I recall that in Caribbean siege capitulations, black slaves were included as property that evacuating garrison troops were allowed to take with them.
Or maybe the artist added this individual to evoke some Spanish (e.g. Moorish) connection or connotation? Or was the African page intended to simply provide variety among Marlborough’s many portraits? Did this insert an element of the exotic into an otherwise monotonous genre of great captain portraiture?
I can’t recall seeing any other black figures in the (admittedly mostly north European) military art I’m familiar with, which makes me curious.
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.
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.
I thought I had exhausted Google’s Image search on Malplaquet, but I apparently missed this image.
It’s a bit more interesting because it’s a later 18C engraving of the original painting (c. 1713). Its higher-resolution and more stark lines provide a bit more detail. Noteworthy tidbits:
- There’s definitely fighting in them thar’ woods.
- The naked bodies are apparently being picked over by a woman (note the dress), who is fending off a pistol shot from a cavalier. Now I’m imagining women sneaking around the battlefield, dispatching the wounded to more easily acquire their plunder.
- I’m assuming a large part of this particular nakedness relates to the composition of the work, as the woman and the bodies (along with the tree behind it) pretty neatly divide the image into two parts. The divider is more clear in Laguerre’s original, and is a bit muddled in DuBosc’s image because of the checker-red standard.
- DuBosc changed the colors of some of the clothing, even reversing the blue and red on occasion, as with the cavalier shooting at the plunderer. Not sure how to interpret this. Laguerre, for example, has blue coats and red coats working together to lift the logs, whereas DuBosc turns them all red. I’m not sure if Laguerre’s buff coats around the cannon are supposed to be civilians (i.e. wagoneers), or just had different uniforms on…
- The defender’s flag on the right appears to have changed from some kind of large white cross in Laguerre to small (presumably fleur-de-lis) in DuBosc’s engraving.
- The officer on the far left (pointing) also apparently has a horse of gold now. Nice. Alternately, it looks like a lot of the white objects were turned yellow in the engraving (yet the clouds and perruques remain white).
So is all this artistic crap random? Thoughts?
I’m trying to finish up one of my main projects this semester (the West Point military art textbook), and have come across yet another example of the dead (and wounded) on early modern battlefields.
In a few near-contemporary paintings illustrating field battles during the War of the Spanish Succession (when else), there are several very prominent dead bodies, stripped naked. I want to use one (of the paintings, not the dead bodies) in my chapter, but will undoubtedly need to explain in the caption why those naked bodies are there.
Here’s one of Ramillies:
Note the dead bodies (at least partially stripped) in the foreground right and the proximate sword and pistol play around the tree. The (presumably dead) body with arms sprawled ‘up’ appears to be totally naked, his privates shielded from view by a conveniently-placed bush. Presumably the other victim’s blue pants link him to one of his still-living compatriots fleeing for his own life, sans shoes or any other accoutrements. I’ve heard of throwing down your weapons and equipment to flee, but that’s a bit much.
Here’s one from Malplaquet, perhaps giving a little more insight:
Notice on the left how a female camp follower is taking the shirt off of a wounded/dead soldier with some combat in the background. I knew that the wounded/dead were often stripped after the battle; I guess I didn’t appreciate how quickly such wealth was redistributed. The early bird… I guess.
Finally, another from Malplaquet:
This last one is a bit more surprising to me, given how close the dead bodies (center left) are to the fighting. If accurate and not simply an artistic convention, it suggests the possibility that stripping the dead might have happened even in the midst of combat, presumably by soldiers.
Is that likely? Or is there some other explanation? There is clearly some significant fighting going on around it, which makes one think it isn’t the mop up phase of the battle, unless there was a lull and then a return to fighting. Perhaps it’s noteworthy that there appears to be a soldier over the bodies and not a female camp follower? Perhaps the wooded terrain of Malplaquet made it easier for people to avoid the heaviest fighting yet still claim their prizes?
Any thoughts, examples or parallels? If anyone has access to those expensive books on war in early modern art, they might give some guidance too.
Come with me
Into the trees
We’ll lay on the grass
And let the hours pass...
To add yet more digital resources for those looking for illustrations on the early modern period, you can check out the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) Digital Gallery, particularly its “Uniforms and Regimental Regalia: The Vinkhuijzen Collection of Military Costume Illustration” collection. To crib the description: “Nearly 20,000 prints, drawings, watercolors, and printed book and magazine illustrations of military costume as well as military medals, regalia, insignia, coats of arms, and regimental flags, from most times and places except the United States.”
As with so many of these collections, some of the EM holdings are contemporary images while others are 19C lithographs. I’m not pledging for their authenticity or verisimilitude (I can barely spell verisimilitude), but take a peek if you wish.