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Een Middelburgs tapijt aan de vergetelheid ontrukt: The last fight of the Revenge, 1598

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image of Oud Holland - Quarterly for Dutch Art History

Six tapestries depict the resistance of Zeeland's Sea Beggars to the Spaniards during the Eighty Years' War. Between 1572 and 1576 the fight for freedom was waged in the Scheldt delta. In 1591 the Estates of Zeeland ordered the first tapestry, a representation of the battle of Bergen op Zoom, from Francois Spierinx, a weaver in Delft. When it arrived in 1595, the Estates decided to have a series of tapestries made for the Prinsenlogement, or royal apartments, in Middelburg Abbey. The five tapestries were woven in the De Maecht workshop in less than ten years. Four of them, representing naval engagements, were designed by Hendrick Cornelisz. Vroom: The Battle of Rammekens, The Battle of Lillo, The Battle of Zierikzee and The Battle of Den Haak. The fifth, the Arms Tapestry, was woven after a design by Carel van Mander. Lord Charles Howard of Effingham, Earl of Nottingham (1536-1624) ordered from Spierinx a series of ten tapestries depicting the English victory over the Spanish Armada. These tapestries, which had hung in the House of Lords since 1650, were destroyed in a fire at the Houses of Parliament in 1834. Vroom based his designs for the Armada tapestries on maps by Robert Adams, engraved by Augustine Ryther. Compared with the Armada series, the composition of the Zeeland tapestries is fluent and vigorous. Vroom had actually visited Zeeland and spoken with eye-witnesses such as Joos dc Moor. The silhouettes of the towns are rendered in detail. Lord Thomas Howard ordered The Last Fight of the Revenge, dated 1598, from the De Maecht workshop in Middelburg. This fairly unknown tapestry, in a private collection since 1934, was on show at the Armada exhibition in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in 1988. It was erroneously presumed to have been woven by Spierinx in Brussels. Spierinx, however, came from Antwerp, and moved to Delft in 1591. In view of the dating and an art-historical comparison, an attribution to the Dc Maccht workshop is more likely. Hendrick Vroom designed The Revenge. It bears a marked resemblance to the Zierikzee and Den Haak tapestries in the Zeeland series; the border, too, is similar. Wool, silk, gold and silver thread were used. The latter were costly materials and rarely used in North Netherlandish tapestry production. The tapestry may have been ordered to commemorate Sir Richard Grenville's valiant action. On August 31 1591 Admiral Howard led his fleet to the Azores, off Pico island. His intention was to intercept a Spanish treasure fleet on its return voyage from the West. However, the English were taken by surprise by Armada ships. Howard ordered the retreat, but Grenville, vice-admiral and commander of the Revenge, ignored these orders. He engaged in battle with the attackers, was wounded and died on the Spanish flagship. The composition, a bird's-eye view, of the Revenge tapestry, bears a strong resemblance to the Zierikzee (1599-1603) and Den Haak (1600-1602) tapestries, both of which were woven under the supervision of Hendrick de Maecht, Jan de Maecht's successor. The borders of the tapestries woven in Middelburg echo Spierinx's Bergen op Zoom. The colours in the Bergen op Zoom tapestry are bright and soft, the figures are plastic and the surround merges harmoniously with the representation. Unfortunately this cannot be said of the Zeeland borders. Various alterations in the border of the Revenge mar the harmony and symmetry. The word 'Anno' and the year in the top corners are in the wrong order. In view of the woven rendering of the composition, the use of dark colours and the rather clumsy borders, The Last Fight of The Revenge is more likely to have come from Hendrick de Maecht's studio than from Jan de Maecht's. The latter's products are distinguished by the use of lighter colours and more accurate weaving, as is particularly evident in De Battle of Rammekens and to a lesser extent in The Battle of Lillo.


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