Henk van Nierop, The Life of Romeyn de Hooghe 1645-1708: Prints, Pamphlets, and Politics in the Dutch Golden Age. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018, 452 pp, 123 b&w illus. ISBN 9789462981386.
Meredith McNeill Hale, The Birth of Modern Political Satire: Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708) and the Glorious Revolution. Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. 304 pp, 44 b&w illus. ISBN 9780198836261.
Romeyn de Hooghe was one of the greatest Dutch printmakers but also one of the most maligned. During his lifetime, he was dogged by rumors about his personal life and professional dealings. Those scandals – along with his large, undefined, and highly erudite oeuvre – have colored his portrayal by scholars. These two outstanding books go a long way to correcting this oversight. While Romeyn retains a reputation for his roguish behavior (especially in Van Nierop’s biography), the value of his work is made explicit as never before, revealing the artist as a major innovator in several artistic and literary genres.
Van Nierop’s book is a rare treat: an exhaustively researched biography that nonetheless remains a gripping and lively tale. Much of the appeal are the tawdry – sometimes outlandish – claims of bad behavior directed at De Hooghe in libelous pamphlets, a novel, eyewitness depositions, and unpublished documents. Readers cannot help but be entertained as Van Nierop recounts these accusations and sorts them into three categories: confirmed by independent evidence, unconfirmed but possible, or completely baseless. Organizing his work into fourteen largely chronological chapters, Van Nierop reveals extraordinary knowledge of a huge cast of characters and a complex series of international political events. He paints a vivid picture of De Hooghe as an extremely intelligent man – highly educated, multitalented, avant-garde in his artistic practice and religious beliefs – but also ruthlessness in his quest for greater wealth and social status.
Chapter One focuses on De Hooghe’s youth. The son of an illiterate button-maker and the daughter of a shipwright, De Hooghe attends Latin school in Amsterdam where his academic brilliance and social ambitions are fostered. Chapter Two charts his rapid ascent to become the most popular Dutch printmaker in just ten years, thriving in a declining market and starting a family. A prolific etcher, he makes numerous newsprints, book illustrations, and other genres, but almost never ‘art’ prints. Van Nierop considers most of De Hooghe’s workmanship to be less refined than that of contemporaries such has Gerard de Lairesse, “let alone…Rembrandt,” although he acknowledges that Romeyn was certainly capable of fine etching when he wanted (67). Instead, Romeyn developed an efficient style to quickly etch dense, theatrical compositions. Van Nierop’s articulation of an alternative set of values for the appraisal of early modern prints is an appreciated insight, as our field continues to overemphasize the ‘genius’ painter-engraver and ‘art’ prints. Chapter Three analyses De Hooghe’s patriotic prints made in response to the political turmoil and social revolution in 1672, including his first satirical prints and newsprints about the De Witt brothers’ murder. As the most prolific visual chronicler of William III’s victories, De Hooghe places his considerable skills toward celebrating the man who will become his most important subject and patron. Chapter Four centers on two publications that upended De Hooghe’s reputation. First, the etcher was accused (probably correctly) of making illustrations for the 1678 erotic novel De Dwalende Hoer (The Wandering Whore). Then, he was (probably unfairly) accused of theft and depravity in the 1681 novel Het Wonderlijk Leeven van ‘t Boulonnois Hondje (The Curious Life of the Bolognese Dog).
Chapter five follows De Hooghe after his reputation was severely diminished, when a timely inheritance enabled him to move to Haarlem. There he obtains his goal of joining the regent elite, serving on the governing board of orphanages, as a minor judicial magistrate, and cultivating an asymmetrical friendship with Pieter de Graeff. Most impressively of all, he founds a drawing academy, which unfortunately remains shrouded in mystery in terms of its teachers, pupils, and curriculum. Chapters Seven and Eight address De Hooghe’s satirical prints, first those targeting Louis XIV and James II to promote the Glorious Revolution and then the subsequent ones attacking Amsterdam regents who opposed William III in 1690, especially the man who would become Romeyn’s nemesis, Joan Huydecoper van Maarsseveen. In Chapter Nine we learn about the 1690 Pamphlet War, which pits William III against Amsterdam regents concerning the stadholder’s right when in residence abroad to select city sheriffs from a shortlist. Working with Govert Bidloo and Ericus Walten, De Hooghe and others attack the regents for threatening Dutch liberty and aiding the French – with this work encouraged and probably funded by William III’s collaborators. Supporters of Amsterdam’s regent elite accuse the stadholder of wanting to rule the Republic and rehashed the 1678 and 1681 libelous attacks against the De Hooghes.
Chapter ten recounts how De Hooghe very nearly faced serious consequences for vilifying Amsterdam elites after the lawyer Nicolaas Muys van Holy assembled and had printed the Memorandum of Rights: depositions accusing the etcher of blasphemy, theft, and wanton behavior. Thanks to the unauthorized, premature publication of this document and Romeyn’s Orangist protectors, he barely escaped punishment. Chapter eleven recounts De Hooghe’s scheme to entrap Huydecoper into providing evidence of his bribing witnesses against the etcher. In Chapter twelve, De Hooghe betrays his ally Walten to continue his service for the stadholder-king, including running a spy network, only to see his plans for social climbing thwarted by his daughter Maria Romana’s plans to marry an unsuitable partner. De Hooghe prevents the match, only for her to die prematurely. Chapter thirteen covers Romeyn’s work as a designer of statues, triumphal arches, stained glass, public works, medals, and his creation of a satirical periodical. This includes a professional highpoint and financial boon for the artist: his role as designer and contractor for the triumphal procession for the Stadholder-King entering the Hague. The last chapter explores works by Romeyn produced after the death of William III that commemorate States Party favorites such as the De Witts and Republican ideology. It also explains De Hooghe’s religious beliefs as articulated in the posthumously published Hieroglyphica, which Van Nierop follows Joke Spaans in characterizing as Spinozist and in keeping with the Radical Enlightenment in the late-seventeenth-century Dutch Republic.
My only criticism concerns the appraisal of the accusations of illicit affairs (and worse) that Romeyn’s enemies leveled at his wife, Maria Lansman, and other salacious claims about his daughter Maria Romana. Because women in the orbit of powerful men were – and are – frequently harried with such attacks, I prefer an attitude of “innocent until proven guilty” rather than “we’ll never know” when claims aren’t substantiated.
This matter aside, Van Nierop’s book is a success and a revelation. The huge array of sources marshaled, overwhelmingly astute assessments of them, and extraordinary readability of the biography will make it make it a vital and enjoyable tool for early modernists for generations. Few studies reveal this level of sustained engagement and critical analysis, condensing copious and complicated material into a manageable and entertaining account.
Meredith McNeill Hale’s book focuses on Romeyn de Hooghe’s most important artistic contribution: his political satires. Although her book ostensibly concerns a modestly-sized topic – works from 1688 to 1690 – the scope of the endeavor turns out to be huge, encompassing Europe, Russia, and Viceregal Mexico and subsequent works indebted to De Hooghe. One of the most remarkable aspects of this cogent volume – and there are several – is its well-crafted prose. Hale marshals an extraordinary array of primary and secondary sources in a manner that is at once succinct, sophisticated, and virtuosic. In a mere 258 pages she makes a lucid and convincing argument for the revolutionary quality of De Hooghe’s satires, which affected major political events and established the modern form of a genre that persists to this day.
The first chapter summarizes the state of the literature, De Hooghe’s biography, and Hale’s ambitions, proclaiming the book to be “the first chapter in the history of modern political satire, one that is critical to the story of the media’s convergence as the ‘Fourth Estate’… [positioning] de Hooghe at the birth of modern political satire and political satire at the very heart of the modern media” (17). Chapter two explores themes pertinent to De Hooghe’s work in Revolt, Reformation, and Commonwealth prints, which incorporate animals (fables, beast epics, human-animal hybrids, etc.) and individuals (allegorical figures, bodily integrity, monsters, etc.). Chapter three addresses De Hooghe’s satires that upend the rules of aristocratic portraiture as enshrined by Louis XIV to ridicule that same monarch, attacking the sanctified royal body to undermine the notion of the divine right of kings. Hale argues that modern satire emerged with the rejection of monarchy, as De Hooghe was working to support efforts to curb absolutist regimes in England and France. Throughout the book Hale decodes references to literature, theater, and current events, without which the prints are largely unintelligible, and translates the texts into English. Recovering this iconography and its many nuances and making these texts accessible to English speakers for the first time is another major contribution of this study. Chapter four examines satires meant to convince tight-fisted regents that France as duplicitous and William III’s military strategies were essential and achievable. They accuse Amsterdam regents – especially Republican burgomasters Joan Huydecoper van Maarsseveen and Gerard Bors van Waveren – of colluding with France for financial gain. When Amsterdam regents withheld funds, Orangists unleash a media campaign in which De Hooghe’s prints play a starring role. Eventually, William triumphed with the help of moderate regents who prioritized the prosperity of the ruling class over political ideology.
Chapter five examines the relationship between text and image in De Hooghe’s satires. Foregrounding the distinctiveness of those prints, Hale explains how news was conveyed in pamphlets, ballads, and broadsheets, once again harkening back to Revolt and Reformation publications to place De Hooghe within the broader visual and textual trajectory. Hale explains how De Hooghe evolved in his thinking about text and image. Initially, inscriptions in the image evoked the spoken word and the letterpress text was descriptive. By 1688-1690, there was minimal text in the picture and dialogue was printed underneath. Those witty discussions “are textual accompaniments to the visual chaos of the satire, urgent utterances, and breathless dialogues between the figures that are crowded into De Hooghe’s compositions” (201). Chapter six argues that viewers expect satirical prints to express the beliefs of their maker. Attacking De Hooghe’s character undermined not only his honor but also his credibility as a political commentator, as did later criticisms of William Hogarth and James Gillray. This expectation is the logical outcome of a genre that juxtaposes the protagonist/observer with the antagonist/observed. If the satirist is a mercenary, the ‘truth’ revealed by their work is suspect. The chapter puts the 1690 Pamphlet War in a new light. Rather than assessing the accusations leveled against De Hooghe, it reveals how the printmaker’s integrity – especially as it concerned his alleged authorship of the anti-Williamite satire Holland’s Running Cow – affected his appraisal by contemporaries and subsequent scholars. The seventh chapter reviews major findings and briefly describes artwork indebted to De Hooghe, including Dutch, English, Mexican, and Russian prints, paintings, and other works.
De Hooghe created ‘modern’ satire. His etchings portray characters inspired by commedia dell’arte and François Rabelais’s novels. James II is Panurge, a shady, pathetic cuckold dependent on the warlike, womanizer Harlequin (Louis XIV). Letterpress dialogues enlist the viewer/reader to participate in the performance and make meaning from the seemingly endless allusions. De Hooghe frequently undermines the bodily integrity of his subjects – fragmenting, violating, and fusing bodies. One of the most surprising findings of this study is that these satires were intended for a small group of pragmatic regents who constituted a “middle party” between staunch Orangists and Republicans. In general, early modern political prints serve to rally existing supporters or reinforce a partisan reading of events. They do not persuade a moveable middle. Hale’s book is befitting of these remarkable prints; it is as original, erudite, and gratifying as the satires themselves.
We are the fortunate beneficiaries of Van Nierop’s and Hale’s exhaustive research and delightful books. Together, they have established that De Hooghe deserves a place among the pantheon of the greatest Dutch artists.
Krannert Art Museum