Dido Rediviva, of: Liever Turks dan Paaps Een opstandig schilderij door Gillis Coignet

in Oud Holland – Journal for Art of the Low Countries
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In the Vleeshuis museum in Antwerp is a painting which is signed and dated G.COINGNET.FEC.1583 (note 1 and fig. 1). It allegedly represents 'Queen Dido, giving orders for Carthage to be built.' However, in the painting an architect is presenting the putative queen with a construction drawing (fig. 2) which bears the inscription PORTA DE LA GOLETA. La Goletta was a fortress built by Charles v to keep Tunis under Spanish control when he took possession of the city in 1535. In the 1560s, to cope with the threat of renewed Turkish attacks, La Goletta was substantially reinforced. Work was also begun on a new fort ('Nova arx') between Tunis and La Goletta. However, the Turks finally took both fortresses and the city itself in 1574. The conquest of 1574 is depicted and described in Civitates orbis terrarum by Braun and Hogenberg (note 7 and fig. 3). The authors suggest that the 'Nova arx' was modelled on the fortress of Antwerp. This edifice was built in 1568-69 by the Duke of Alva to subdue Antwerp, but after the initial success of the uprising against Spanish domination it was taken by the rebels and integrated in the city's fortifications. This was the situation in 1583, when Coignet painted his picture. The role assigned to the Antwerp guild of bricklayers and stone-masons in the painting is so prominent, that it is safe to assume that it was commissioned by the guild. In all probability it represents an anti-Spanish political programme. A further indication is provided by the drawing which is being presented to the queen; it bears a strong resemblance to the plan of Hadrian's port in ancient Ostia (note 11 and fig. 4). In Civitates orbis terrarum we read that the Turks, after their conquest of Tunis, razed the city's fortifications to the ground, replacing them by a naval port to make things as awkward as possible for the Catholic enemy. There is thus an obvious connection between La Goletta and a port of Antiquity; in that connection the role of the Turks also emerges. During the Dutch revolt against Spanish domination there was often talk of making overtures to the Turks, who, although not noted for their gentle disposition, were far more tolerant in matters of religion than the Hapsburgs. Indeed, one of the slogans of the revolt was 'sooner Turkish than popish'. There is also evidence of actual contacts between Antwerp and Constantinople during this period. The specific reference to La Goletta thus clearly indicates the intention of the painting: in analogy with the Turkish conquest of 1574, the Antwerp building trade guild assigned to Dido a new, allegorical role: that of ordering the conversion of a fortress erected by the enemy into a fortified port for the purpose of vexing the emperor of the Roman, c.q. the Roman-catholic realm. The link with the hated fortress which Alva had built for Antwerp is evident. There is little likelihood that plans were actually made to provide Antwerp with such a port; the painting probably had a propagandistic function. In 1585 the Duke of Parma definitively took the city for the king of Spain, and the fortress was separated from the fortifications again in order to quell any fresh uprisings. The fortress was pulled down in 1884; today the Museum of Fine Arts stands on the site.

Dido Rediviva, of: Liever Turks dan Paaps Een opstandig schilderij door Gillis Coignet

in Oud Holland – Journal for Art of the Low Countries



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