Toneel op de kermis, van Bruegel tot Bredero

in Oud Holland – Journal for Art of the Low Countries
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The article considers the depictions of stage performances (or of preparations for stage performances) which first appeared in Dutch paintings and prints of country fairs around 1560. The performances in depictions dating from the period between 1560 and 1620 were given by the Rederijkers', members of the chambers of rhetoric, whose activities included play-acting. The stage-play motif occurs in depictions other than those of country fairs, but never as such an integral part of the proceedings. The article examines what was played, and how. Of a total of thirteen examples in which the subject-matter of the performances can be established with some degree of certainty, only three are serious plays (ills. I I, 13, 14). This is inconsistent with historical information, which indicates that performances after processions at fairs ('kermis', the Dutch word for fair, originally referred to the mass celebrated on church dedication anniversaries), tended to be of a more serious than comical nature. There could be some connection between this inconsistency and the context in which the stage performance appears, the corpus of country fair motifs and their special function. It might also be accounted for, however, by the unmistakable interdependency of the various country fairs. In a large number of cases a recognizable play (ills. 2, 4, 5), a typical theatrical situation (ill. 6), an easily understandable situation (ills. 9, 10) or at least identifiable stage characters (ills. 1 I, 12, 13) are depicted. In other cases the actual play seems to be qf little or no consequence (ills. 7, 8, 16, 17). The obvious question of whether acting as such has a particular - negative - connotation must, at any rate for this period be answered in the negative on the basis of what is known from literary and stage history. The platform is often set up in direct proximity to the building in which the Rederijkers held their gatherings. This common circumstance (and likewise the barrel-supports for some stages) may also be explained by the interdependency of a large numher of country fairs. The public is often depicted as a crowd, seldom (ills. 6, II, 14) as individuals. Rarely do the degree of detail and the angle of depiction enable us to make an educated guess at the size of the stage (ills. 2, I I). The anonymous painting Meikermis met heren te paard (Mayday fair with mounted gentlemen, ill. 17) is probably the only example of a stage on wheels - the wagon familiar from depictions of processions and pageants excluded. It is tempting to conclude on the basis of the available material that there were special types af platforms (without side-stage and fitted with a single front curtain) for comical plays. However, the conclusion falters, not only because of the interdependency of the fairs in question, but also because of the example of the platform in Gillis Mostaert's painting. The text of the comedy Playerwater might suggest that it was not written for performance on platforms as rudimentary as the one in Playerwaterkermis (ill. 2). As well as on actors, Player water kermis focuses on three nonactors. This is against the rules. Is the painter criticizing the manner of performance? All things considered, the prompter is a less likely abject of criticism than the person climbing the ladder. An explanation within the larger framework of persons on the boundaries of the stage (who frequently occur in depictions of stage plays other than those on paintings and prints of country fairs) is beyond the scope of this article. For various reasons, the characters on the side-stage (ills. 4, 5) are not consistent with theatrical tradition, and may perhaps be respectively regarded as the painter's comment on the content af the play and the style of peformance. As for the actors' costumes, notably those in processions depicted by and after Vinckboons (ills. II, I2, I3) give an inkling of the content of the plays to be performed. The gestures of the actors in Playerwaterkermis (ills. 2, 3) are unusual. Are they drawing attention to the public? To themselves? There is no satisfactory answer to this question.

Toneel op de kermis, van Bruegel tot Bredero

in Oud Holland – Journal for Art of the Low Countries


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