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A beautifully produced collection of Maria Merian's natural history drawings

The Battle of Nördlingen, 1634 1634

RCIN 400100

King's Drawing Room, Windsor Castle

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Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand (1609-41), the younger brother of Philip IV of Spain, was appointed Governor of the Spanish Netherlands in 1633. On his way to take up office he joined forces with his cousin, Ferdinand, King of Hungary, at the head of the combined Spanish and Imperial army and on 2 September 1634 inflicted a crushing defeat on the Swedish at the Battle of Nördlingen, the most important single engagement of the Thirty Year’s War (1618-48).

In 4 November 1634 he arrived in Brussels. Soon after the citizens of Antwerp started planning their ‘Joyous Entry’ to their city, the ceremony whereby all new Governors officially taking possessions of their realms. The decoration for this entry, which took place on 17 April 1635, were conceived by Jan Gaspar Gevaerts and Nicholas Rockox and executed by Rubens and his studio; they consisted of temporary arches and other forms of road-side decoration, all recorded in an illustrated volume entitled Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi (Antwerp 1642). Not surprisingly the victory at Nördlingen suggested itself as a subject for one of the Triumphal arches, the ‘Arch of Ferdinand’, which also stressed the cordial fraternal relations of the ‘two Ferdinands’.

This is the canvas which hung in the centre of the front of the Arch of Ferdinand in the Lange Nieuwstraat for the Triumphal entry. Rubens produced oil sketches for each of the episodes, which he then gave to assistants (the one for this arch is unfortunately lost and only known through a copy). The documents tells us that Jan van den Hoecke was commissioned to execute the actual canvas in November 1634, the work being completed in January 1635. The arch remained up for some months, during which the canvas must have taken some battering from the elements. It was dismantled in June 1635; some re-touching of the canvas was ordered in April 1636 (executed by Jacob Jordaens as van der Hoecke was in Italy by this time) and it was presented to the Cardinal-Infante in 1637.

As part of a temporary structure to be seen out of doors and from a distance, this canvas is necessarily broadly painted, but shows the great skill with which Rubens individualises the heroes (one light-against-dark the other dark-against-light) and generalises the foot-soldiers, so that we can see the broad pattern of the engagement.