Spectacle, Rhetoric and Power by Stijn Bussels is certainly a valuable, praiseworthy contribution to the growing literature on Netherlandish festivals. It offers a thorough monographic study of the most elaborate entry in Charles V’s and Prince Philip’s journey across the Netherlands: the Antwerp Triumphal Entry of 1549. This series of Triumphal Entries was celebrated to introduce Philip as the next sovereign of the Netherlands. The common characteristic of all these entries, starting with Brussels and ending with Antwerp, was their fusion of different traditions and their adaptation to the new imperial concept. But Antwerp executed a full assimilation of the classicist style and the imperial concept that Charles V tried to promote. As such, the Antwerp Entry of 1549 is fundamental to any understanding of the development of the Joyeuse Entrée in the Low Countries: to the interweaving of the Italian humanistic tradition of the imperial Triumphal Entry with the local tradition of the vow-taking ceremony, i.e., the Joyeuse Entrée or Blijde Inkomst. It is indeed remarkable – not to say astonishing – that researchers have until now mostly overlooked this important and grandiose event. This book thus fills a much needed gap and brings the reader an exhaustive, well founded and important case study.
Bussels’s hypothesis, based on Max Hermann, the German literary historian and theorist of theatre studies, is that Joyous Entries in general, and tableaux vivants in particular, can and should be analyzed as a theatrical performance. Following Hermann, he posits a collective pageant in which the relation between the actors both established and reflected the social order. From this initial hypothesis, Bussels explores the power relations between the Habsburgs and the ‘city fathers’ of Antwerp, as well as between the Habsburgs and Antwerp’s populace. He assumes that the event was taken as an opportunity to open these relations for discussion – and to change them, thus seeking to pinpoint the strategies they employed in the process. These strategies, he argues, involved drawing from various theatrical genres in an effort “to bring about a renewal in the existing power relations” (11-12).
As the subject requires, the study is based on textual sources describing the ephemeral event and monuments, primarily those created by Antwerp’s city secretary Cornelius Grapheus, the author of the official report. Grapheus, according to Bussels, was also the chief organizer of the entry. Along with sources by the Spanish courtier and humanist scholar Calvete de Estrella, Bussels also refers to other, more concise descriptions: by Vicente Alvarez, pantry master of Philip’s royal household; by Josse de Weert, Antwerp’s pensionary; and by Lodovico Guicciardini, Italian writer and merchant (Chapter 1). All these sources are used to trace the progress of the entry through the city and to present and analyze the themes and iconography of the various monuments, centering on the power relations between the monarch and the city. Bussels demonstrates how Antwerp used the entry as a ‘bargaining’ opportunity in its acceptance of the monarch (Chapter 2). He continues to examine the political ideas and power relations identified in the previous chapter in comparison to other contemporary and later entries in the Low Countries, Genoa, and France (Chapter 3). These comparisons allow Bussels to evaluate the 1549 Antwerp entry’s distinctive contribution to the development of the Triumphal Entry as a visual discourse. In his final chapter Bussels focuses on the crucial point that since the entry is a humanistic product, it relates to, and is based on classical rhetoric, which he considers as an underlying structural model. Accordingly, the author claims that the humanist who organized the event followed rhetorical handbooks such as Cicero’s De Oratore or Quintilian’s Instituito oratoria, thus following specific classical characteristics of argumentation. Furthermore, the political arguments, expressed through the ephemeral monuments, follow the disposition, that is, the rhetorical precepts for structuring an argument. These models are thereby used by the author to expose different layers of meaning in the creation of the Triumphal Entry.
Doubtless, these last arguments and Bussels’s emphasis on the important relations between the studia humanitatis and the entry’s design and visual imagery indeed hold great value. Bussels, however, does not seem to apply these same paradigms to his sources (i.e. the textual descriptions) as an ekphrasis, which is, after all, the rhetorical genre they belong to. Indeed, one can find in the documentation of these entries many parallels to the tradition of ekphrasis, above all the attempt to visualize the event and its monuments for the reader. Consequently, one may question whether Bussels’s structural model, i.e. ‘viewing’ and analyzing the actual event by classical rhetoric, can be truly valid while it disregards the actual descriptive text as an ekphrasistext, which by definition is also classical rhetoric.
A second consideration may be suggested in light of the clear, basic differentiation Bussels makes between Grapheus’ ‘official’ book and the other accounts, which he rightfully describes as ‘eye-witnesses.’ Unfortunately, he does not further elaborate on these sources, other than to make formal comparisons. But one may ask, for example, whether De Estrella’s own distinction between his and Grapheus’s book, cited on page 48, does not require also a methodological differentiation, since he acknowledges the superiority of Grapheus. In other words, Grapheus, the designer of the event’s book, not only provides a more detailed description, but he also uses an ekphrastictext to reconstruct it, whereas De Estrella and the other eye-witnesses use the same rhetoric ‘only’ to describe it.
Nevertheless, the book presents for the first time a thorough, well documented, wide-ranging study of a prototype entry, which, no doubt will be of great value to both students and researchers of the renaissance triumph in the Low Countries.
Tel Aviv University