Van der Hoef was an important Dutch battle scene painter active in Haarlem and in Delft at the time when the creation of a free, Protestant Dutch Republic was finally recognized by Spain and by all major European powers.
Our painting represents a cavalry battle between Dutch horsemen and Spanish foot soldiers.
About Abraham van der Hoef
Haarlem 1611/12 – 1666 Haarlem
His name is sometimes spelt van der Hoeff or even Verhoeve(n).
Painter of battle scenes and of military encampments.
Dated paintings known between 1640 and 1655.
Van der Hoef was active in his native Haarlem and between 1644 and 1651 he is documented in Delft.
Abraham van der Hoef and Jan Jacobsz. van der Stoffe are considered the most important Dutch battle scene painters of the 1640-ies, that is of the last years of the Eighty Years’ War, which ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia or Munster, and thus with the final recognition of an independent Dutch Republic.
About the Eighty Years’ War and about the evolution of battle scene painting.
1. The Eighty Years' War, the Dutch war of independence from Spain, was a long, slow war that lasted from 1568 until 1648. It had started as a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces of the Low Countries against the Spanish, Habsburg empire.
In the 16th century the Low Countries had become part of the Spanish empire. As had so often happened over the centuries, attempts to strengthen the grip on the government of the Netherlands met with resistance from the nobility and the merchant class who had little wish to surrender the freedoms and privileges they had acquired.
In the second half of the 16th century emerged a new source of discord: Protestantism. It was the repression of this Protestant reform movement that led to a bitter confrontation with the (very) Catholic king, Philip II.
The war ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648: Spain recognized an independent Republic of the Seven United Provinces, Holland, while Flanders remained Spanish.
The War can be divided into four phases:
- 1568 until circa 1600: this period ends with Prince Maurice taking a lot of towns from the Spaniards.
- 1609 – 1621: the Twelve Years’ Truce.
- 1621 – 1625: important Spanish successes, for example the fall of Breda in 1625, six weeks after the Dutch Stadtholder Prince Maurice died.
- 1625 – 1648 : the new Stadtholder Frederick Henry besieged town after town, a relatively slow system that paid of well. The Dutch were lucky: while Spain was regularly in great need of money, with soldiers and mercenaries that could not be paid, they had captured under Admiral Piet Hein the famous Spanish silver fleet in Cuba in 1628. All this money could now be used for the war.
An offensive and defensive treaty sealed with France in 1635 proved to be very successful and finally forced Spain to accept peace with an independent Dutch Republic: the Treaty of Westphalia or Munster of 1648.
During the first years of the revolt it became rapidly clear that the Southern Low Countries, that is Flanders, until then the cultural and economic hart of the Low Countries, would remain Catholic and Spanish.
Therefore many Flemish intellectuals, writers, artists, businessmen, not only Protestants, fled to the Northern Low Countries, to the Netherlands. The Dutch blocked the river Scheldt and thus the port of Antwerp, which severely damaged Flemish economy.
Meanwhile the Dutch Republic rapidly grew to become a world power through its merchant shipping and it experienced a period of economic, scientific, and cultural growth.
2. Both in the Southern (Flanders) and in the Northern (Holland) Low Countries there was an important market for subjects related to the War: specific sieges (which were rare), unspecified battle scenes, resting soldiers, attacks on travellers and convoys, village plunderings, army camps and guardroom scenes. A lot of specialists were active in every of these specific domains.
Our painting belongs to the unspecified battle scenes. It might seem strange to you but almost all battle scenes have no references to time or place. The painters visualised current events in a general way. As their clients, from nobility and the higher middle classes, belonged to the cavalry (which made out a quarter of the army) they mostly painted cavalry battles, much less engagements between cavalry and infantry.
The best known specialists in cavalry battle scenes were:
- in Flanders Sebastiaen Vrancx, Pieter Snayers and Pieter Meulener;
- in Holland Esaias van de Velde, Palamedes Palamedesz., Jan Martsen de Jonge, Abraham van der Hoeff, Jan Jacobsz. van der Stoffe, Jan Asselijn and Philips Wouwerman.
The simplest difference between both regions is that the Flemish battle scenes painters often use a high horizon line, the Dutch a low one. Exceptions to this rule are the later paintings of both Snayers and Meulener.
3. Cavalry used two different tactics of attack:
- closed formation, that is ‘en haie’, against cavalry. Cavalrymen would try to approach as close as possible their opponents and then they would fire their one bullet pistol or riffle. The rest of the battle would be fought with a sword.
- in a line, that is ‘à la caracole’, against infantry. That infantry was formed of several rows of soldiers carrying long pikes of 5/6 meters long, with musketeers shooting their rifles from behind them.
Seventeenth century painters preferred representing cavalry attacking infantry ‘en haie’ for aesthetic reasons.
4. During the Eighty Years’ War foreign troops joined the Spanish or the Dutch side for religious or for political reasons, but finally also just for the money, as mercenaries :
- the Spaniards used Flemish, Walloon, German and even Croatian soldiers;
- the Dutch were helped by French, Irish, Scottish, English and Swedish troops.
5. Typical in these battle scenes from the Eighty Years’ War is the lack of uniforms. These appeared only at the end of the 17th century. 16th and 17th century soldiers recognized each other by colours: orange (sometimes also blue or black) for the Dutch, red for the Spanish. These colours appeared in sashes, worn round the middle, and in plumes, attached to the hats and helmets.
About our painting
Van der Hoef’s cavalry battle scenes are easily recognizable as our painter often used the same elements to build up his compositions. These striking, re-appearing ingredients he actually lent from Jan Martsen de Jonge (Haarlem circa 1609 – after 1647 Amsterdam):
- a white horse in the middle of the composition, surrounded by darker horses;
- the fallen horse and a dead or wounded horseman in the foreground.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a typical example of a Dutch battle scene from the 2nd quarter of the 17th century.