The shared embodiment of humans and animals, and the notion of the ‘creaturely’ human influentially discussed by Anat Pick, have recently emerged as vital concerns within Animal Studies. Aligning its critical stance with these perspectives, this article analyses the small painting in the Rijksmuseum, traditionally attributed to Jan de Baen, which depicts the 1672 murder of the Dutch politicians Johan and Cornelis de Witt. Pamphlets, broadsheets and other contemporary responses to the murder frequently compare the bodies of the De Witts – which were eviscerated, hung upside-down, shorn of body parts and allegedly partially eaten – to animal carcasses. Drawing on these contextual sources, the essay explores how the painting works with and against period constructions of the killing in terms of inter-species violence. It uncovers tentative admissions of human creatureliness in the painting’s representation of the murdered body as a temporal, material and fragile entity.
In 1634 the chief judicial officer of Leiden’s strict Counter-Remonstrant government, Willem de Bont, held an extravagant funeral for his pet dog Tyter. News of the event produced a flurry of satirical songs (by the persecuted Remonstrants) and poems (by Vondel and others), castigating the childless Bont for giving his dog a funeral normally reserved for a child of the elite. These satires illuminate aspects of the human-dog relationship amidst the theological-political turmoil of early seventeenth-century Leiden. The popular assumption that the Remonstrants hanged Tyter leads to a study of contemporary criminal prosecution of animals and humans alike, and a look at contradictions in the treatment of Leiden’s dogs. Visually, the serenity of Jan Miense Molenaer’s pendant paintings of the event belie the satires. Ironically, Bont thought of his dog as a fellow human but treated the Leiden Remonstrants like dogs, while many regarded Bont himself as a beast.