Ambitious Antiquities, Famous Forebears

Constructions of a Glorious Past in the Early Modern Netherlands and in Europe


This monograph studies the constructions of ‘impressive’ historical descent manufactured to create ‘national’, regional, or local antiquities in early modern Europe (1500-1700), especially the Netherlands. This was a period characterised by important political changes and therefore by an increased need for legitimation; a need which was met using historical claims. Literature, scholarship, art and architecture were pivotal media that were used to furnish evidence of the impressively old lineage of states, regions or families. These claims related not only to Classical antiquity (in the generally-known sense) but also to other periods that were regarded as periods of antiquity, such as the chivalric age. The authors of this volume analyse these intriguing early modern constructions of appropriate “antiquities” and investigate the ways in which they were applied in political, intellectual and artistic contexts in Europe, especially in the Northern Low Countries.

This book is a revised and augmented translation of Oudheid als ambitie: De zoektocht naar een passend verleden, 1400–1700 (Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2017).

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Karl A.E. Enenkel is Professor of Medieval Latin and Neo-Latin at the University of Münster. Previously he was Professor of Neo-Latin at the University of Leiden. He has published widely on international Humanism, early modern culture, paratexts, literary genres 1300-1600, Neo-Latin emblems, word and image relationships, and the history of scholarship and science.
Konrad A. Ottenheym is Professor of Architectural History at Utrecht University. His publications are focused on Dutch architecture and architectural theory of the early modern period with a special attention to its relationships with other European regions.
“This is a fabulous book […]. The volume is beautifully produced, featuring more than 200 excellent color illustrations. A pleasure to behold, it belongs in every academic library. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.”
John J. Butt, James Madison University. In: Choice Connect, Vol. 57, No. 7 (March 2020).


Part 1: Thinking about the Antiquities of Europe

1 Antiquity, a Source of Power and Prestige: the Competition for Antiquities in Early Modern Europe

2 Supposed Ancestors

3 The Origin Legends of the European Nations

4 What Is Antiquity? The Early Modern Chronology of History

5 A Malleable Past: On ‘Proof’, Interpretations, Errors and Falsifications

Part 2: Humanists and Antiquities in the Northern Low Countries

6 The Batavians as Ancestors in Early Dutch Humanism: Erasmus, Aurelius and Geldenhouwer

7 Attempts to Find the Origins of Architecture in the Northern Low Countries: On the Romans, Batavians and Giants

Part 3: The Chivalric Past of the Dutch Republic

8 From Chivalric Family Tree to ‘National’ Gallery: the Portrait Series of the Counts of Holland, c. 1490–1650

9 Living as Befits a Knight: New Castles in Seventeenth-Century Holland

10 The Mediaeval Prestige of Dutch Cities

List of Figures
All those interested in the reception of Antiquity and high medieval history (true and false) in early modern in literature, architecture and art. Keywords: Neolatin scholarship, Renaissance architecture, history of ideas, history of literature, history of humanist scholars, reception of Antiquity.
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