Caesar Boetius van Everdingen: Lycurgus demonstrates the benefits of education (1661-1662)

(Stedelijk Museum of Alkmaar, Alkmaar, The Netherlands)


This painting by Dutch artist Caesar Boëtius van Everdingen (1616-1678) shows an anecdote by Plutarch about the Spartan king Lycurgus. The king assembled a crowd to show the importance of a proper upbringing. He placed before them a bowl with food and a live hare and released his 2 dogs. One dog immediately chased and caught the live hare while the other one stopped to eat from the bowl. Lycurgus explained that the 2 dogs came from the same nest but were raised differently: the dog which chased after the hare was trained for the hunt by Lycurgus while the other dog which ate from the bowl was allowed to go its own way. Lycurgus is seated in the middle while the hunting dog receives an approving pat on the head from Lycurgus. The untrained dog is seen licking the pot in the foreground. This painting was commissioned by the city of Alkmaar to celebrate its role in the upbringing of Prince William III of Orange (the future William III, Prince of Orange, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic and King of England, Ireland, and Scotland) when he was young. The father of Prince William III died before his birth and his mother (Princess Mary Henrietta Stuart of England, 1631-1660) took over of the education of her son. When Mary died in 1660, the Dutch government took over the education (William was 10) and made him a 'child of the State'. A special commission was established (the Educatiecommissie or 'Education commission’) which took care of the education of the child. Among other cities, the city of Alkmaar was chosen to provide teachers for William III in the period 1660-1661. Painting from 1661-1662.

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