Noble families in Europe of old provided the diplomats, politicians and military leaders in society. Chivalry was a highly esteemed virtue ever since the Middle Ages. Making a military career was more than a boy’s dream; noblesse oblige meant that no young nobleman could evade this duty as a matter of honor. Some eagerly sought to prove their courage in war. Quite famous in Holland is the tragic but heroic story of the English poet and courtier Sir Philipp Sidney who served in the army under Robert Dudley, Duke of Leicester. He had come to the aid of the Dutch in their war against the Spaniards. Sir Philipp was highly esteemed for his poetry and diplomatic skills. In 1586, only thirty-two-years old, he fell in battle during the siege of the town of Zutphen. Later a monument was raised to his memory.
Christian von Braunschweig (1599-1626), whose portrait in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, is the focus of the exhibition and publication under discussion, also sought eternal fame on the European battlefields. In 1619 he went to Holland, ahead of a small army, to fight against the Spaniards. With much ceremony he was welcomed by the States of Utrecht and he stayed for a while in that town. It was then that the leading portrait painter Paulus Moreelse (1571-1638) painted his portrait.
The portrait shows Christian von Braunschweig in military equipment. In his right hand he holds a gun, and his red plumed helmet is placed on a table covered by a red cloth. Red is also the color of draperies and sash, which makes it the dominating color in the beautiful portrait. Probably, as is stated in the book, this has a meaning; Karel van Mander in his Schilderboeck (1604), among others, assigns the following qualifications to the color red: greatness, courage and boldness. Undoubtedly, Christian von Braunschweig had a hand in the choice of this color.
The gun that is prominently carried by Christian belonged to the most modern shooting equipment at the time. They were of course handmade and not many examples are known today. One similar specimen is in the collection of the Royal Armoury in Stockholm, but the loan of it unfortunately was not feasible for the exhibition. Another important detail is the ring with a lock of hair in Christian’s left ear, possibly from an unknown love. However, it is added that also other protestant military leaders often carried a lock of hair to serve as some kind of amulet.
Most military portraits of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are rather formal, depending on the abilities of the artist and the wishes of the sitters. The present portrait of Christian von Braunschweig is a highlight in Dutch portrait painting and also one of the best works by Paulus Moreelse. With its dominating red colors it would have stood out in any portrait gallery. Its first owner was Herman Otto van Limburg-Stirum (1592-1644), commander in the Dutch army and the right-hand man of Christian von Braunschweig. Perhaps the portrait was a gift of Christian to Count van Limburg-Stirum who kept it in his Schloß Gemen, near Borken in Westphalia. The furnishings of this castle were sold in 1820. Via several intermediaries the portrait became the property of the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum in Braunschweig in 1892, and that is certainly the place where it belongs.
The facts about the life of Christian von Braunschweig, his stay in Holland and his military deeds are discussed in detail by Marten Jan Bok. From archival sources and literature rises the image of a young and eager nobleman – perhaps also a Rosecrucian – who had an unconventional anti-clerical view of the Church. As a military man he was feared for the atrocities his troops caused and the looting they committed. This is how he got the nickname ‘de dolle,’ meaning the mad one or the wild one. His reckless behavior resulted in many casualties and the loss of life. During the battle of Fleurus (Hainault) in 1622, Christian was hit by a bullet and his arm had to be amputated above the elbow a couple of days later. This and other set backs, however, had no influence on his decisiveness. Christian kept on leading his armies into war, mostly with a negative result.
In the meantime he had set his mind on the duchy of Braunschweig that was ruled by his brother Friedrich Ulrich. And indeed in 1626 Christian took over the power from him, but only for a short while. He died on June 16 in that same year after a short illness. With these facts in mind it is possible to recognize something of Christian’s temperament in the portrait by Moreelse. The intent look and the tight-set lips give the impression of a self-conscious and determined young warlord, who in 1619 was only twenty years old.
The catalogue gives a complete overview of the history of Christian von Braunschweig and of the portrait by Paulus Moreelse. Eric Domela Nieuwenhuis has written Moreelse’s biography and I hope that before not too long the monograph with catalogue raisonné will appear. Paintings, books, maps and prints are discussed at length, in most cases by Nils Büttner. It is remarkable how many portraits were made of the young duke, not only during his life as well as afterwards. There are also many laudatory poems written in his honor. His military contemporaries and members of the Braunschweig family are also given attention to.
The exhibition was made with modest means. The result, however, is a valuable addition to our knowledge of the history of the Eighty Years’ War and the conspicuous role that was played in it by Christian von Braunschweig.
Paul Huys Janssen
Noordbrabants Museum, ‘s-Hertogenbosch