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11 Prodigies of Nature, Wonders of the Hand: Political Portents and Divine Artifice in Haarlem ca. 1600

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Chapter Summary

This chapter examines a pair of prints recording the two whales famously stranded on the Dutch littoral in 1598 and 1601. It first distinguishes them from earlier prints that construe beached whales as political omens portending God's intentions for the new Dutch state. Then, situating the prints within Hendrick Goltzius's larger project of staging artifice itself as the figure of Christian piety, the chapter contextualizes them by reference to the rhetorical spelen van sinne regularly performed throughout the Low Countries by civic chambers of rhetoric, with whose discourse of const Goltzius was intimately familiar. It locates the Goltzius workshop's beached-whale prints within the distinctive socio-political circumstances of Haarlem, where they were produced. Finally, the chapter offers as a counter-example one of Goltzius's signature poëterijen, the Venus, Bacchus, and Ceres of 1593, a penwerck replete with natural prodigies that are viewed through an anthropomorphic lens.

Keywords: anthropomorphic lens; beached-whale prints; Christian piety; Dutch littoral; Haarlem; Hendrick Goltzius; socio-political circumstances

10.1163/9789004275034_013
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