Claes Jansz Visscher: Leo Belgicus (1611)


A famous map made by the Dutch artist Claes Jansz Visscher (1587 – 1652). The map shows the Netherlands and part of modern Belgium in the form of a lion - the Leo Belgicus (latin for 'the Belgium Lion') - the term Belgium/ Belgicus/ Belgica was the common term in the Middle Ages until the 16th century to identify the entire Low countries (Modern Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg) and was the usual Latin translation of the Netherlands. The idea of depicting these countries in the form of a lion comes from Austrian Michael von Aitzing in his book De Leone Belgico (1583). In the preface von Aitzing explains that Caesar mentioned in his "Commentaries" that the 'Belgae' were the strongest tribes of all. Because of this and the Dutch war of independence against Spain, von Aitzing introduced the Netherlands in the shape of a lion - the lion being a symbol of strength and bravery. This map was made on the occasion of the 12 years truce (1609-1621) during the Dutch war of independence (1568-1648). The map shows the liberated Netherlands and the 'Spanish Netherlands' (modern Belgium) and a whole serie of symbols relevant to this event: in the right lower corner is 'Slapende Oorlogh', an allegorical figure of a Sleeping Mars, the Roman god of war. The god of war is sleeping but behind are the 'frontier wacht' - the border guards which are enforcing the security of the country's national borders. On the left side of the lion are 2 ladies sitting next to each other: t'Vrije Neerlant (The Liberated Netherlands) together with t'Neerlandt onder d'Aertshartogh Albertus (The Spanish Netherlands under Archduke Albertus) trample d'Oude Twist (Old Conflict, the war between the 2 countries). Above the ladies are representations of the benefits of the truce: In the sky a cherub named Zeghen (Blessing) strewing Rijckdom (Wealth), Veilighe Tijdt (Safe Time), Const en Wetenschap (Art and Science) and Kennisse Goodts (Theology) over the town and country below, where inscriptions refer to t' Lants Welvaert (Prosperity of the Country), t Vergrooten der Steden (The Growth of the Towns), Coophandel (Trade), t'Vredich Lantbouwen (Peaceful Agriculture) and t Veijlich Reijsen (Safe Travel) and t'Overvloedich Vee (Abundant Cattle). Another cherub is on the top right with a trumpet of fame and the words Bestant voor 12 Iaer (12-Year Truce). The lion himself is holding the sword of war - sheathed and sealed with two seals, one with the seven arrows for the northern provinces (the liberated Netherlands) and the other with the Burgundian cross for the southern provinces (the Spanish Netherlands) , and the inscriptions of Duodecim annos and voor twaelf jaren (for twelve years). On the left and right side of the map are the main cities of the 2 countries: those of the liberated Netherlands on the left and those of the Spanish Netherlands on the right. The top border shows the coat-of-arms of the 17 regions of the the liberated Netherlands & Spanish Netherlands. the latin text reads: 'Novissima, et Accuratissima Leonis Belgici, seu Septemdecim Regionum Descriptio' (latin for: the latest and accurate Belgium lion, or a description of the 17 provinces'). The shield in the upper right corner shows the number of towns and villages in each of the 17 provinces. Engraving from around 1611.