Most multi-media spectacles of the early modern period, especially with a performance component, have been lost to history. Among the most lavish of these, dating back to the Burgundian dukes in the fifteenth century, is the “joyous entry” of a ruler into a major city of his realm. Often that ceremony marked an initial mutual contact and a binding contract with that city for the ruler, who promised to respect local, inherited privileges in return for civic allegiance as subjects. Fine recent scholarship has appeared on such entries as a general public spectacle in the Low Countries, notably by Mark Meadow (edited NKJvolume, 1998), Margit Thøfner (A Common Art: Urban Ceremonial in Antwerp and Brussels during and after the Dutch Revolt, Zwolle, 2007), Emily Peters (Renaissance Quarterly, 2008), Stijn Bussels (Spectacle, Rhetoric and Power: The Triumphal Entry of Prince Philip of Spain into Antwerp, Amsterdam, 2012; reviewed in this journal April 2014) and soon to be published by Brepols, Tamar Cholcman, Art on Paper, Ephemeral Art in the Low Countries: The Triumphal Entry of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella into Antwerp, 1599. Of course, this particular entry has been well studied in the initial Rubenianum volume by Jack Martin (London, 1972) and in probing analyses of content by Elizabeth McGrath (e.g. JWCI, 1974).
This book, then, grows upon strong foundations. But it ranges far, in both depth and breadth, to consider different aspects of the Pompapageantry: 1) Historical Background and Intellectual Milieu (essays by Jonathan Israel and Peter Miller); 2) Music, Vernacular Theater, and Performance (Bart Ramakers on the latter; Louis Grijp on the former, with an accompanying CD recording of likely contemporary music); 3) “Art and Enlivenment” (Frank Fehrenbach and Caroline Eck); 4) Classical Antiquity (Michael Putnam and Carmen Arnold-Biucchi); and, finally, like Martin’s original study of the monument’s genesis, 5) Rubens’s Oil Sketches (Anne Woollett). Ivan Gaskell completes the volume with a characteristically reflexive essay on museum presentations of such material.
About the music, I must suspend judgment, but along with Anna Knaap’s Introduction, which retraces the stages of the procession in the city, Grijp’s essay reminds us of the multi-media apect of the event in the lives of both honorand and citizens of Antwerp alike. Moreover, any study confined to the Rubens oil sketches and their translation into vivid etched commemorative illustrations by Theodoor van Thulden will neglect one unrepresented element of the Pompa ceremony: tableaux vivants, which became animated at the advent of the regent. Ramakers foregrounds those tableaux as well as the presence of named allegories, as he fruitfully underscores their joint origins in the heritage of local vernacular chamber of rhetoric presentations in Netherlandish cities.
Other understudied formal components of the Pompa include classical imagery, both literary and visual. Putnam’s learned investigation of Virgil imagery underscores the coded significance of not only Latinity per se, but also the implied equation by Gevartius of Archduke Ferdinand, the incoming regent and military hero of the recent battle of Nördlingen, with mighty Caesar Augustus, Virgil’s own patron. Specific themes from the Aeneid – Neptune Calming the Tempest and the Temple of Janus – are already familiar, but the Latin program by Gevartius rings changes on the original as it bestows compliments on Ferdinand as both the new Aeneas as well as Augustus. Here, one may recall the foundational study about mythic Habsburg ancestral claims by Marie Tanner, The Last Descendant of Aeneas (New Haven, 1993; not cited). Besides this classical equation, Carmen Arnold-Biucchi uses a different visual source, classical coins – avidly collected and studied by Rubens, Gevartius, and their intellectual circle, including Charles de Croy – as sources for specific allegories and personifications used in the Pompa.
Perhaps the most conceptual and interpretive essays discuss further aspects of the spectacle, “enlivenment.” Frank Fehrenbach’s “Unmoved Mover” considers the dynamic tension between movement by the visiting dignitary (the subject of his title) and his temporary halts before newly enlivened scenic stages of arches or tableaux in his honor. But Fehrenbach also notes that now the previous balance in such ceremonies tilts considerably in the direction of those static stages, designed and supervised by Rubens, our usual focus as art historians. The arches, in turn, were decorated with sculptures as well as giant Rubens canvases (which, Knaap reminds us, formed a post-event gift to the new regent in lieu of tapestries to decorate his Brussels Coudenburg Palace; most of them burned in 1731). Yet Caroline van Eck goes further, to read between van Thulden’s etched lines and notice the three-dimensional supports of the arches themselves, viz. those sculpted supports, such as herms and animal heads, which also animate the scenery. She provocatively notes how this imagery depends on the Italian tradition of grotteschi, discussed and used by artist-designers such as Serlio and Pirro Ligorio in Italy and Bernard Palissy in France, where Primaticcio’s designs at Fontainebleau adopted some of this fantasy into the very frames of gallery pictures. One is also reminded of elaborate garden grottoes, where sculptures are linked up with such figures-coming-into-being as the Michelangelo “Slaves” and Giambologna animals in Medici grottoes. These conceptions were surely familiar along with their rusticated architecture to the court artist Rubens during his time in Italy. In an era where Palissy practiced aspects of alchemy, these rich cultural forms that van Eck observes in the Rubens arch designs may yet yield further significant, even fecund insights.
What can Anne Woollett add to the insights of Martin concerning Rubens’s oil sketch preparations? By focusing on the Stage of Welcome, after she invokes the artist’s 1634 letter to his friend Peiresc (subject of Miller’s essay on context) to describe his huge burden of responsibility on the short-term project, Woollett can focus on changes and expansion of designs. She considers the entry location of the stage beside the city Keizerspoort and how Rubens expanded it from his original oil sketch of an adapted classical Adventus into a giant triptych, including the Neptune. In the process, she highlights the added modelli: Neptune (Harvard) and Ferdinand’s Meeting at Nördlingen (Getty), including revisions during the process itself that resulted in what she terms a novel, “cinematic” viewing experience.
This review can hardly do justice to a rich range of material and approaches, from Israel’s thoughtful historical context overview to Gaskell’s display experiment. But all who are interested in Rubens and this sophisticated and learned multi-media project will find much serious yet also provocative scholarship in this important volume. To Knaap and Putnam and the contributors we owe “spectacular” thanks.
University of Pennsylvania