Allegorical paintings by Theodoor van Thulden in the ‘s-Hertogenbosch town hall

Political ambitions on the border of the Republic.

In the middle of the seventeenth century local painter Theodoor van Thulden (1609-1669) produced at least three paintings for the ‘s-Hertogenbosch town hall (address: Markt 1). Unity and Justice (1646) can be found in the impressive Council Room (Raadzaal), where it is placed in a gilded frame on a chimney mantle dating to 1672. Two other allegorical scenes are in the Burgomaster’s Chamber (Burgemeesterskamer): The right of the four quarters of the Meierij to appeal their cases before the ‘s-Hertogenbosch court (1647) and The request from the cities of Brabant for inclusion in the States General (1650). These pendants are incorporated in a decorous paneling dating to the first half of the eighteenth century. In addition to these two paintings two additional works, located in the Burgomaster’s Chamber, have traditionally been attributed to Theodoor van Thulden: the unsigned and undated Two Lions and Wildman. In both cases, however, this attribution has been disputed.

An investigation of the original scope and meaning of the commission given to Van Thulden is not only complicated by issues of authorship, but also by the many structural changed that have taken place in the town hall over the course of time. When Van Thulden received his commission the building consisted of three adjacent medieval structures. In 1670 this complex underwent an extensive renovation, during which the stories of the three houses were leveled and united behind a common façade, creating new spaces and housing new functions. The context for which Van Thulden’s paintings were originally intended, therefore, was soon lost.

In the current research project the initial location of the paintings, their placement within the spaces, and their relation to other decorations are examined using a combination of material-technical, (building) archeological, art historical and archival research methods. This helps us understand the functions that Van Thulden’s paintings originally had as well as the coherence that existed between them and other decorations in the town hall.

In addition the project entails a careful consideration of the iconography of Van Thulden’s paintings, which, as has now been established, was developed in direct connection to the political an historical context of Brabant of the States (Staats-Brabant) in the tumultuous years just before and after the Peace of Munster (1648). The paintings appear to uniquely represent the interests and ambitions of this important border city. As such they shine a surprising light on the processes of state-making and the manner in which those informed the form and content of the artworks that were commissioned for public buildings. The study has furthermore resulted in new attributions for both the Wildman and Two Lions.

Research into the iconography of the paintings in relation to their political historical context and representative function was carried out by PhD student Suzanne van de Meerendonk (University of California Santa Barbara). Ad Van Drunen (Heritage Department, or Afdeling Erfgoed, city ’s-Hertogenbosch) provided partial reconstructions of the 's-Hertogenbosch town hall building before 1670 based on the most recent insights provided by ongoing research into the building archeology. We also collaborate with Ester Vink who in 2005 researched the configuration of the town hall interior before and after 1670 based on archival data from the 's-Hertogenbosch Municipal Archive.

S. van de Meerendonk, M. van Eikema Hommes, E. Vink, A. van Drunen, ‘Striving for unity: the significance and original context of political allegories by Theodoor van Thulden for the ’s-Hertogenbosch town hall’, in: Early Modern Low Countries (accepted) nr. 2 2017.

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