When we last left off, we’d just come back from medieval Tolédo, full of New Castilian culture.
From Conquerors to Conquered
Having spent a week spying vestiges of conquistadors in our historical visits around Castile, we spent the second week of our trip looking at the other side of the hill. And a few fortresses.
So it was on to Barcelona. We survived an Ugly American (Brooklynite, actually) incident on the train, but when we arrived in Spain’s northern capital, it almost seemed like there was some sort of disagreement between the two parts of the country. My first clue was the “War of the Flags,” where people proudly hung their Catalan flags from their apartment balconies, far outnumbering the Spanish flags.
Fortunately there wasn’t any rioting after Real Madrid spanked Liverpool in the Champions League final.
My first impression of the city? Central Barcelona is a much more modern city than central Madrid, but with just as many tourists. The bread, I should note, is infinitely better than what we had in Madrid – must be the proximity to France, where they know how to bake bread. Bâtards.
Anyway, Barcelona has its own attractions. We spent the mandatory tourist dollars visiting Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia cathedral – mostly standing on narrow tower steps waiting for the line of people to keep moving down, not wanting to contemplate a fall.
And then we experienced the virtual-reality smartphone-headphone set up of Casa Bottló. I guess I was just fated to be an early modernist.
Speaking of early moderns, I was struck by the predominance of Anglo authors in the early modern Spanish history section of the Spanish bookstores – names you know, like Geoffrey Parker and John Lynch and J.H. Elliot, not to mention authors like John Keegan, and lots of Spanish translations of English-language histories. I’m guessing Franco’s heavy hand might have had something to do with the seeming silence of senior (native) Spanish historians, but that’s just speculation on my part.
History as Catalan Nationalism
Later on, we spent a half-day at the waterfront, and semi-randomly selected the Museum of Catalonian History as our destination. The museum covers the history of the Catalan region(s) from prehistory to today. When you hear somebody say “from prehistory to the present,” you undoubtedly think “so, like a few mannequin cavemen and they jump forward to the 19th century, right?” Well, let me tell you, I never saw so many rooms on medieval history in my life. More Catalan kingdoms and principalities than you could shake that proverbial stick at (again with the sticks? what’s up with those sticks?).
One fun fact of medieval nationalism I came away with: the origin legend for the Catalan flag (the Senyera above) is that, during the 897 siege of Barcelona, a grateful king dipped his four fingers in a mortally-wounded Catalan count’s blood and dragged it across the count’s golden shield, thanking him for his service. If I were the count, I probably would’ve requested some pain killers as a reward instead, but I guess they did things differently back then. Apparently the Austrians have a similar tale for their own crimson-streaked flag dating from the 13C. But for those who prefer stories of the pen to those of the sword, the museum also had a 10 minute video on making parchment, quill and ink from scratch. “Shaving the yak” indeed.
There was even a model of the fortress of Salses, a Pyrenean fort that we had visited several years earlier during our southern France excursion. What a small world.
The Salses gateway (on the left, in the model above) from our visit to the real thing:
There was also an interesting display on the 1640 ‘Reaper’ revolt, where the irregular miquelets rose up against Castilian taxes and governance during Olivares’ Franco-Spanish War (part of the Thirty Years War, for those of you keeping track at home). One of the songs from the conflict, “The Reapers” (Els Segadors), is currently the Catalan ‘national’ anthem.
Unlike Tolédo’s Museo del Ejército, the Museu d’Història de Catalunya clearly considered its history very important, and its experience in the War of the Spanish Succession as particularly relevant to today. They have a whole online exhibition on the war, if you’re interested.
For those who aren’t already familiar with the two-minute narrative: over the course of the war, Philippe’s forces managed to repulse two separate Allied occupations of Madrid, and went on to recapture most of its territory after the battlefield victory at Almansa. Obligingly, the British facilitated this reconquest by choosing to abandon their Austrian and Catalan allies after getting most of their Spanish contingent captured at Brihuega.
And, in case the Catalan bent of the museum had eluded you up to that point, the museum had a rather large exhibit on the Catalan catastrophe that was the fall of Barcelona in 1714. The War of the Spanish Succession had largely ended in 1713. But those crazy Catalans kept on fighting long after their Austrian candidate ‘King Carlos III’ abandoned them for the Imperial throne in 1711 – becoming Holy Roman Emperor Karl VI. It appears that Karl’s former Spanish digs would remain on his mind, since he refused to acknowledge Felipe as King of Spain for decades. And clearly the memory of Barcelona in particular stayed with him, at least in death, as my wife and I witnessed when viewing his crypt at the Kapuzinergruft in Vienna a few years earlier. Here’s a close-up of his tomb, which celebrates his 1706 liberation of the city:
But I digress. Since Barcelona wouldn’t surrender after fighting had ended everywhere else, that meant that the Duke of Berwick – you know, the English one in French service loaned out to the Spanish – had to besiege the fortress, exposing the city to a third siege in a decade, fourth, if you include a brief, unsuccessful Allied attack in 1705.
At siege’s end, after a year-long defense, a peeved Philippe ordered his commander to slaughter the population for their rebellion. Instead Berwick decided to give them a capitulation on the 11th of September. Catalan privileges were revoked, and it was all downhill from there.
So I guess the Catalonians had their 9/11 long before the U.S. had ours. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Overall the museum was very well done, lots of interesting maps and more descriptive text than you can imagine. Somebody spent a lot of time on this museum. And it’s been noticed, witness this hot-off-the-press study I just saw:
Another day, another fortress.
In case you had any more interest in Catalan history, you could always visit one of the sites of these many Barcelona sieges: Montjuïc castle, pronounced Mont-JEW-k. And you would be correct if you thought that it was named that because of its initial use as a Jewish burial ground. Fast forward to 1640 and this outcropping overlooking the Mediterranean would be transformed from a lighthouse to a small fort, built up over successive decades into a more formidable fort.
It’s one of the better-maintained fortresses that I’ve been to. As you can see from the Google Maps screenshot below, it’s on a hill and surrounded by a park – access is either via a cable-car and funicular, or a walk through said park.
The Art of War
An aerial view to give you your bearings – the main citadel complex is on the right:
The fortifications themselves were well maintained, with flower beds in the ditch.
I’ll let the photos do most of the talking, otherwise you can zoom around the fortress using Google Maps’ Street View, or find any number of descriptions on the various sieges the citadel underwent.
And there were moat monsters guarding the ravelin.
Or, if you seek interactivity, you can figure out what this says, and learn about who was involved in the 1697 and 1705 sieges:
And what does an occupying force do with all this stone overlooking Barcelona? Well, just about any early modern citadel garrison would tell you: use it to intimidate the town into submission. You think it’s a coincidence that the Castilians decided to build a fort there in 1640, when the Reapers’ revolt broke out? So every once in a while over the next few centuries the Spanish military would bombard the restless Barcelonans back into submission. And, starting in the Spanish Civil War, it became the site of a few human rights violations, including the imprisonment, torture and execution of dozens, including political prisoners. With this history, it’s no surprise that the castle’s exhibition on the history of Montjuïc ends with a quotation from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 5 on freedom from torture.
Other random, slightly-less depressing, facts about the citadel:
- Montjuic was one of the locations where measurements were taken to establish the meter in 1792 – there’s a plaque commemorating that.
- It hosted some of the events of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. And as if on cue, when we were there an archer, possibly a holdover from their Olympics team, was at the butts in the dry ditch.
So definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re with someone who wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead tramping around a fortress. Fortunately for me (but not for my wife), our fortress tramping was just beginning.
But that’s for part 3.
Where I’m at now, after reading more on GIS, historical and Quantum. Here we have the beginnings of my Low Countries theater map, for operational military history.
Features include rivers, the (modern) coastline, capital cities, fortifications (fortresses and forts) by side of garrison, a light tracing of the pré carré fortresses in northern France, and, for kicks, the woods of northern Belgium traced from the Austrian Ferraris maps, c. 1770s.
And more to trace, e.g. from the Pelet 1837 atlas:
Still lots of work to do, cleaning things up and adding additional features, like army marches and camps. Eventually, I’ll even work up to Print Composer and stop taking screenshots.
But in the meantime, progress moves forward.
So now I have to add another letter to the abbreviation – Early Modern European Military Digital Historian. We are approaching LGBTQIA territory here – except narrowing instead of broadening.
And who leads the pack in this exciting sub-sub-sub-subfield? For my money, it would be Spanish scholar Xavier Rubio-Campillo, who’s already published an article using GIS for early modern siege reconstruction (Barcelona 1714), which I highlighted here several years back.
Now he’s applying computer modeling to early modern field battle tactics, during the War of the Spanish Succession, ‘natch: “The development of new infantry tactics during the early eighteenth century: a computer simulation approach to modern military history.” To reproduce his abstract from Academia.edu:
Computational models have been extensively used in military operations research, but they are rarely seen in military history studies. The introduction of this technique has potential benefits for the study of past conflicts. This paper presents an agent-based model (ABM) designed to help understand European military tactics during the eighteenth century, in particular during the War of the Spanish Succession. We use a computer simulation to evaluate the main variables that affect infantry performance in the battlefield, according to primary sources. The results show that the choice of a particular firing system was not as important as most historians state. In particular, it cannot be the only explanation for the superiority of Allied armies. The final discussion shows how ABM can be used to interpret historical data, and explores under which conditions the hypotheses generated from the study of primary accounts could be valid.
Link at https://www.academia.edu/2474571/The_development_of_new_infantry_tactics_during_the_early_eighteenth_century_a_computer_simulation_approach_to_modern_military_history?auto=download&campaign=weekly_digest. Though it may require a subscription.
Maybe someday we military historians will collectively set our sights a little higher than tactics (note the military metaphor), and a little lower than grand strategy? Though, admittedly, that’ll require a lot of hard work at the operational level of war. And maybe even a better sense of what we call these different levels.
More samples of maps I made in a few hours. These are drawn from my War of the Spanish Succession siege dataset, derived from the research appearing in my Vauban under Siege book. In that book I created some maps of the Low Countries theater using Adobe Illustrator – some were decent, others not so much. I’ve posted a few other examples of early modern European military maps here, mostly from the Iberian theater, which I discussed in a Spanish-language article I authored (some examples here).
But now, with QGIS in da house, I can make them a lot quicker. So here are a few examples of my entire WSS siege database mapped, with a few mistakes and a few errors, of course. Ideally, maps like this would’ve been in my dissertation, but that would have meant me graduating in late 2003 instead of late 2002.
The process, for those playing at home: I took my Excel spreadsheet listing 116 sieges (I deleted a few fort sieges because I didn’t want to have to research their lengths and locations), added a column identifying the modern country of each place, converted the spreadsheet into a UTF-8 csv file, then used QGIS’s MMQGIS Geocode plugin to get the lat and long coordinates from Google for each place, placing it as a new layer on top of the Natural Earth base map. I then had to change a few of the coordinates in the QGIS attribute table, mostly because either a) I didn’t specify which Castiglione (or Reggio or Aire) was besieged, or I thought it was Haguenau, Germany, when it was actually Haguenau, France. Fortunately, most of these were pretty obvious from looking at the map, given my knowledge of where the campaigns were conducted. You use the Numerical Vertex Edit plugin to edit coordinates – they cannot be edited in the attribute table. And, fortunately, changing the feature on any level updates it on all other layers.
Then I had to make a new calculated field for the siege length values, because they were imported in as a text string field rather than a decimal numerical field (‘3.8’ instead of 3.8). Once the data was cleaned up, I either used rule-based formatting or graduated symbols to display various attributes about the sieges. Now that I know the procedure, it’ll take just a few minutes to make variations of the map. No more calculating circle diameters in Excel and manually placing them on the map!
First, a map showing 116 siege locations during the war, with black circles indicating those sieges where the besiegers managed to capture the fortress (about 85% overall).
Next, the same map (sans the Layers Panel), but with rule-based symbolism where red circles indicate Allied-conducted sieges, and blue circles indicate sieges undertaken by the Bourbons.
Now, the same basic map, but this time we’re using the numerical siege length field to create graduated point symbols, so we can see the relative length of the sieges. I could, of course, define any min-max diameter for the circles, but if they get too large, you lose the smaller sieges.
Of course, if you just want to be goofy, or simulate what my vision will be like in another ten years, you can make a raster heat map, using the Layer Style-Heatmap option, create your own color ramp from transparent to red, and make a smaller radius. That gives you a map that emphasizes regions which saw many sieges:
I turned on the modern political boundaries, which helps distinguish the Iberian vs. Spanish sieges. Digitized early modern boundaries, and other features, will have to wait until sabbatical.
I haven’t offset those siege symbols for towns that were besieged more than once. Thus, for the first two maps, only one symbol is visible. This is particularly germane for Landau near the Rhine, which saw four sieges, but even the third map doesn’t help much, since three of the sieges lasted between 2.3 and 2.8 months and therefore all three have the same-sized point symbol stacked on top of each other. The heat map, however, emphasizes Landau’s four sieges.
That being said, I did change the render oder (Symbol Levels) on map 1 to have the white circles be drawn on top (Layer Order, white = 1, black = 0). I also put a white outline around each black circle for both maps 1 and 3, so you can see when the circles of several proximate, successful sieges overlap each other (for map 3, Layer Order with smallest/shortest circle drawn on top, with largest circle drawn on the bottom).
Most importantly, I haven’t yet figured out how to combine two attributes into one point symbol (e.g. size of circle as length and besieging side as color of the same circle), but you always need to have goals.
But wait, there’s more! There’s probably some way I could split the Allied and Bourbon into separate layers, make a raster heat map for each of those, and then overlay them.
Just spitballin’ here, but you could also calculate a siege index (maybe number of siege-days) and map that, possibly as a raster heat map. If you run the raster heat map on the siege length layer, you get a rasterized version of map 3:
And, of course, the beauty of GIS is that you can combine this data in any way you’d like, combine it with other data, and focus on subsets of the data. Maybe you want a separate map for each campaign year. Throw in field battles, or the amphibious landings. Add in roads, fortresses, logistical centers, and so on. Maybe you want to spatially analyze these features. The world’s your oyster. Mine too.
Since the whole US seems to be aflutter with today’s solar eclipse, I might as well jump on the bandwagon, and introduce an earlier solar eclipse and how it was interpreted. That would be, of course, the eclipse of the Sun King – le Roi Soleil himself, Louis XIV – during his annus horribilis of 1706.
In a way, Louis XIV asked for it. After all, he was the one who choose to dance as the sun god Apollo in ballets at Versailles, and he was the one who bestowed upon himself the moniker of the Sun King. (Even before twitter, it was still a good idea to think about how your brand could be twisted by your opponents.) Appropriately, the Sun King would see his most visible eclipse in the twilight of his reign, during the exhausting War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714).
France’s Sun King saw his military forces eclipsed most spectacularly in 1706. The failure of the Bourbon attempt to recapture Barcelona lead to the occupation of Madrid by mid-year. The 23 May battle of Ramillies allowed Allied forces under the Duke of Marlborough to sweep through the poorly-defended Spanish Netherlands and then conduct a series of successful sieges of Franco-Spanish fortresses along Louis’ northern border. As if these two reversals weren’t humbling enough, the Bourbon siege of Victor Amadeus of Savoy’s Turin capital turned into catastrophe when Prince Eugene of Savoy attacked French defenders in their trenches in early September. Within months, the French were forced to abandon Italy.
And what did early modern Europe make of such sudden and unprecedented reversals of fortune in multiple theaters? Helpfully, the deistic Supreme Being himself prophesized the upcoming eclipse of the Sun King. It just so happened that 12 May of that very year witnessed an actual eclipse of the Sun. The path of totality passed through Montpellier, France, encouraging a local professor of mathematics there to publish his own calculations of the event against empirical observation:
scientists natural philosophers, the events offered more than just an opportunity to improve the astronomical sciences. Contemporaries hardly needed the excuse of astrology, or of Huguenot prophecies, to draw the parallel between a real solar eclipse and a metaphorical Sun King eclipse. With the irrefutable proof of post hoc ergo propter hoc, literal and figurative solar eclipses became intertwined – a Protestant God couldn’t have provided a better PR opportunity, nor could anti-Bourbon powers ask for a better one. The parallel was obvious to all. One letter from Spain, published in the Present State of Europe, noted the connection:
“But what is remarkable, too, according to the course of the Planets there is no wonder in [the victory], is, that this Morning about a quarter past 9 a Clock, when the Enemy’s Army was in full march and Confusion, the Sun was eclipsed for 6 Minutes, so that the Day look’d like Night. Thus the Crown of France, which has the Sun for its Device, loses its Force before Barcelona; and must at last restore to the King and lawful Sovereign of Spain all the Monarchy usurp’d from him.”
Those of a more cynical bent placed more faith in Man than Heavenly constellations, one skeptic noting that on the retreat from Barcelona the French march “was overcast this morning with the darkest eclipse of the sun as almost ever was seen, by which the superstitious here portend the eternal setting of the Bourbon son, but I believe the attendance of the enraged Miguelets [Catalan partisan bands] from the mountains will prove most fatal in their way to Girone, whither we hear they are marched in very great confusion.”
Whether through powers divine or human, the outlook remained dark for Philippe V’s Spanish forces for months afterwards.
Meanwhile, to the north, an English soldier fighting in Marlborough’s Flanders army was unaware of the great events to come, and therefore chronicled more prosaically that “over a great heath there happened a greate eclipse of the sunn wch. begann about 9 o clock in the morning and held till half an hour after 10, vizible unto us and was the strangest and greatest that ever I beheld or could heare of by any souldier or officer amongst us.” Within weeks, the victory of Ramillies would make the eclipse’s meaning for the northern theater clear.
Since war is fought with pens as much as with swords, the eclipse was also enlisted into service in the visual war for hearts and minds. Yet perhaps interpreting visual metaphors isn’t as simple as it might seem. Two examples of how propagandists used the eclipse metaphor will suffice. The first is an English copy and translation of “cuts from beyond the Sea,” illustrating the symbolic eclipse, with Louis presciently commenting to his wife: “The Sun, my Dear, Is now eclips’d, and bodes some Ill, I fear.”
The second, more interesting example, comes from the Dutch,* whose had a long pedigree of mocking the pretensions of that tyrant Louis (see: Romeyn de Hooghe). The top half of the page consists of an image illustrating England’s Queen Anne siting on her throne, surrounded by courtiers and action scenes from the year’s military victories.
(See a version of the entire page here.)
The accompanying text, in both Dutch and French, first situates the event within the growing age of Enlightenment. It starts by noting that:
“Although it seems that we are no longer in the time of miracles, and that in such an Enlightened century as this, we know that everything that occurs on earth results from natural causes, nevertheless people naturally stray into superstition, seeing in the eclipse of the Sun which took place May 12 much similarity to the Eclipse of the grandeur of Louis XIV who take the Sun as his emblem…”
It continues by extending the metaphor: the Sun is being eclipsed by his “sister” the Moon, just as the terrestrial Sun King is eclipsed by his “soeur” Queen Anne:
L’Eclypse qui parut au Ciel l’autre semaine,
Fut aux yeux des Mortels un parlant Phenomene
D’une terrestre Eclypse, un Divin Precurseur
C’est celle de Louis, le Soleil de la France
Qu’aujourd’huy nous voyons tomber en defaillance
Par l’entremise de sa Soeur
But deconstructing the imagery takes a bit more work, which the editor is happy to assist us with, at least to the best of his abilities. Obviously enough, the editor suggests, the lunar eclipse of the sun drives the successive events. “You also see two astrologers who, with the assistance of a telescope, attempt to teach us some kind of new discovery” [Unfortunately, the editor remains silent as to whether a mirror, held by two characters on the opposite side, can serve the same protective purpose as eclipse glasses.] Queen Anne sits on her throne underneath the royal coat of arms adorned with English lions, Irish harp and French fleur-de-lis. She appears to be clipping the wings of the French coq “so that it cannot fly so high and so far from its own home.” What exactly all those courtiers want is admittedly uncertain, presumably something more than just clipping wings. Even less certain is the point of the fleet scene, though it “seems to me to represent those of Admirals Leake and Wassenaar” generically preventing the Comte de Toulouse from ruling the Two Seas. And we know that the combat scene has to represent the battle of Ramillies “because I see the Judoigne village church tower.” After another sonnet on the neutralization of the universal hegemon’s plans, we come to the final frame. What do you see happening with those people in the upper left? “I see,” continues our guide, Madame de Maintenon lecturing her husband (and his court) about the courage, strength, and abilities of his enemies, and of the need to extricate France from its losing war. Which, I suppose, is as good an interpretation of that single-frame snapshot as any.
So what, pray tell, is the lesson for those of us dealing with our own solar eclipse in 2017? Can we hope to interpret our celestial event and predict our own future with any greater certainty than our struggling art critic interpreted his?
My takeaway from the eclipse of August 21, 2017?
* It’s worth noting that the imprint at the bottom claims the print is based on a copy from London (and Jean Mosse), raising the possibility that this Anglo-centric illustration is, in fact, an English (Huguenot-exile-related?) creation being translated for dutcho- and franco-phone audiences, which might explain the [editor’s?] rather curious inclusion of the Dutch admiral Wassenaar alongside the English Leake. Undoubtedly, further research on the source would turn up additional details and context. Boy, History can be complicated.
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.