Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne: Fishing for Souls (1614)


(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

A painting by the Dutch artist Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne (1589 – 1662). This painting is an allegory regarding the zealousness of religious groups to convert as many people as possible during the 12 years' truce (1609-1621) during the Dutch war of independence (1568-1648). Depicted are the protestants on the left and the Catholics on the right with in the middle a large river which is filled with people. Each side is filled with the corresponding (political) supporters: on the protestant side are the Dutch prince Maurice of Orange, prince Frederik Henry of Orange, king Louis XIII of France and his mother Marie de' Medici. On the Catholic side are the Spanish general Don Ambrogio Spinola Doria, 1st Marquis of the Balbases, Archduke Albert VII of Austria, and his wife Isabella Clara Eugenia, pope Paul V who is carried by a number of cardinals in red. both groups have fishing boats in the river with which they are trying to get as many converts as possible in their nets (this is a reference to ' fishing for people' in Luke 5:10, Mar 1:17 and Matthew 4:19). The fishing boats of the protestants are on the left bank and the Catholic fishing boats are on the right bank. although both groups are united by the rainbow (symbol for peace), the artist apparently had a preference to the protestant side: the protestant side is has more details, its sky is blue and its trees are also greener. On the Catholic side there are dark clouds and withered trees. This contradiction refers to Psalm 1:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither whatever they do prospers.


The man with the red cloak in the water at the left boat is a self portrait of the artist. Painting from 1614.



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