Heretics and Martyrs: Picturing Early Anabaptism in Visual Culture of the Dutch Republic

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Schroeder, Helena
Dutch Art History , Anabaptism , Anabaptist Studies , Mennonite Studies , Dutch Baroque Art , Van Sichem , Hortensius , Jan Luyken , Martyrs Mirror , Martyrology , Dutch Republic , Printmaking , Polemics , Satire , Book history , Church history , Material culture , Book illustration , Van Braght
This dissertation explores the representation of early Anabaptism and Mennonitism in the visual culture of the Dutch Republic (1585-1795). Polemical and satirical imagery critical of Anabaptism circulated alongside artworks presenting Anabaptist theological heritage in a positive light. Book illustrations offer the most frequent site for representation, joined by broadsheets, print series, and a few drawings and paintings. While historians and theologians, working from literary and archival materials, have traced the complex evolution of Dutch Mennonite theology and culture from the sixteenth century through the Enlightenment, this study brings a new, interdisciplinary application of these findings to the analysis of visual representations that interpreted 16th-century Dutch Anabaptism for 17th- and 18th-century viewers. Polemical critiques were the first to represent the group’s early history, establishing iconographical conventions that persisted for centuries. Most widely depicted were early Anabaptist insurrections at Münster and Amsterdam, portraits of Münsterite leaders, and the controversial practice of adult baptism. Illustrations appeared in historical accounts, anti-sectarian treatises, heretic biographies, city descriptions, and religious ethnographies, as well as emblems and allegories. Meanwhile, Mennonites themselves were slower to produce or commission apologetical imagery supporting their long-established efforts to distance themselves from Münsterite violence and promote the pacifist ideals advocated by leaders such as Menno Simons. Martyrology illustrations, beginning with frontispieces and culminating in depictions of specific events engraved by Jan Luyken for the Martyrs Mirror (1685), boldly aligned the suffering and executions of 16th-century Anabaptists with the martyrs of the apostolic age and the early church. The images considered here, many of which have not been examined before, were produced and circulated at a time when Mennonites were becoming increasingly assimilated and engaged in the cultural and economic fabric of Dutch society. Consideration of a range of images in relationship to their literary and socio-historical contexts of display demonstrates the diverse roles played by visual representation in supporting, spreading, and sometimes challenging prevailing attitudes toward Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition in the Dutch Republic. This analysis demonstrates how the opposing visual tropes of the Anabaptist as heretic and as martyr both operated as powerful polemical and apologetical tools in Dutch literature and visual art.
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