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Sinnekens in prenten en op schilderijen

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image of Oud Holland - Journal for Art of the Low Countries

Remarks in various art-historical studies of recent date prompt the question of how the Vices ('sinnekens') so popular in sixteenth-century drama can be identified in the art of that period. Unlike the 'Iniquity', (the buffoon-like figure who also occurs outside drama), the Vices assume a variety of guises, judging by the texts of the plays. Their appearance can reflect their names, their function in the overall metaphor of the (allegorical!) play in which they figure or the author's satirical intentions, or they may also accentuate the demonic aspect dictated by the play's subject-matter. On the other hand the simple reference to a personage from a play as a 'Vice' is apparently sufficiently clear. Perhaps this is connected with a local tradition of dressing a 'Vice' in a particular costume owned by the dramatic company performing the piece. A Vice's only permanent attribute is a hammer (deriving from Thor's thunderbolt), but it is not sure how traditional this attribute really is. Some light can be shed on all these questions by extant depictions of Vices, three groups of which may be distinguished: (1) illustrations of plays (figs. 3-11), (2) depictions on rebus blazons alluding to the word 'sinnen' (senses) (figs. 12-16) and (3) engravings of the allegorical procession into Haarlem of companies competing in the interlocal contest (1606). Some of the companies had characters from the play to be performed at the competition (including the Vices) march in the procession (figs. 17-19). From these sources it emerges that the Vices (usually two) were either very similar in appearance or as different as chalk and cheese, except for an attribute (a stick or a hammer). Otherwise they differ from the other characters in a play in bizarre items of costume or their vivacious attitudes. With the aid of these data and the information contained in the texts of plays as to the interpretation of the Vices' roles, a number of figures in various prints and paintings can be identified as Vices (figs. 20-24, 26). As for the studies referred to at the beginning of this summary, the conclusion is that Emmens' interpretation of the kitchen-maids in various paintings by Joachim de Beuckelaer as Vices (fig. 1) must be rejected. The boys attired as Iniquity in Maarten van Hccmskerck's series of engravings The tale of Bel and the dragon (figs. 2, 27, 28) are perhaps inspired by the Vices (Gibson), but only to a certain extent. Their function in the illustrated story is not characteristic of the Vices, nor is their costume (Saunders). Apart from a direct or indirect theatrical link, it seems that the Vices do not, or rarely, occur in prints and paintings. This could however be a delusion, for the Vices have scarcely been sought outside this context.


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