Dirck van Delen: Iconoclasm in a Church (1630)

(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

The destruction of Islamic cultural heritage sites in Iraq in the last few weeks reminded me of an event in Dutch history. In the period August-October 1566 there was an iconoclastic fury (Dutch = 'beeldenstorm) in certain areas in The Netherlands and Flanders. In the 1550s Flanders en The Netherlands became increasingly Protestant, despite penal sanctions. Together with harvests which were failing and an negative economy, unrest was brewing in the Low Countries. A focal point for this unrest became the Catholic faith and priests. People viewed the Catholic priests as corrupt and totaly unfit for their duty. In the minds of a lot of Protestants, the Catholic church was the cause of all their problems. On 10 august 1566 things escalated. In Steenvoorde, a town in today northern France, there was a sermon by Sebastiaan Matte about the commandment 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images' (Exodus 20:4-6). After the sermon the people attacked the nearby Saint Lawrence Monastery and destroyed all the statues. This Iconoclastic attack spread rapidly Northwards with Antwerp being attacked on August 20, Ghent on August 22 and Amsterdam on August 23. The attacks didn't reach every town in the Netherlands and in some places the attacks were repulsed by the local Civic Guards. When the news reached Philip II, King of Spain and lord of The Netherlands he send his army under the command of Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Grand Duke of Alba to restore order in The Netherlands. This was the start of the Dutch War of Independence (1568-1648). This painting is from 1630.

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