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Maerten van Heemskerck's Bel and the Dragon and Iconoclasm

  • Jeremy D. Bangs (a1)


Engravings designed by Maerten van Heemskerck were used often enough by sixteenth-century painters of stained-glass panels, but the subject of Daniel and the Priests of Bel and the Dragon is preserved in only two panels known to me. The apocryphal story (Dan. 14:2-21) states that the Babylonians worshipped Bel, whose statue was given large quantities of edible offerings daily. The nightly disappearance of the food convinced King Cyrus that Bel was a living god, but the prophet Daniel proved that the priests of Bel in fact ate the offerings secretly. Daniel covered the temple floor with ashes and Cyrus sealed the doors. The next morning Daniel showed the king that the priests and their families had a secret passage under the altar because footprints led to it, and they and not Bel, therefore, had eaten the food.



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1 See Preibisz, L., Martin van Heemskerk (Leipzig, 1911), p. 54 . In addition several such panels are in the collection of the Leiden Municipal Museum ‘De Lakenhal.’

2 ‘Deux Vitraux de l'Histoire de Daniel d'après Martin van Heemskerk à l'Église Saint-Antoine de Liège,’ Bulletin, Institut Royal du Patrimonie Artistique, 11 (1969), 134-141. Didier-Lamboray discusses one panel from the story of Bel; the other depicts Susanna and the Elders.

3 The stained-glass panel is in the author's possession.

4 ‘Daniel und der Bel zu Babylon,’ Zeitschrift für Schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, 15 (1954). 93-98.

5 For the engravings, see Hollstein, F. W. H., Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts (Amsterdam, 1947- ), VIII, nos. 534543 .

6 The omissions are Cyrus’ train-bearer, the left jug-carrier behind the altar steps, some statue fragments, two people hacking at the idol at the right edge of the engraving, and the drapery at the upper right corner. Also absent is embroidery on Cyrus’ robe and inlay or carving (gravestones) on the floor.

7 ‘Iconoclasm and Painting in The Netherlands, 1566-1609,’ unpublished D. Phil, thesis, Bodleian Library Oxford Deposited Thesis, 30.8.73, p. 194.

8 These priests seem also to have been overlooked by I. M. Veldman, who sees no Protestant sympathies in van Heemskerck's work. See her ‘Maarten van Heemskerck and Hadrianus Junius: the relationship between a painter and a humanist,’ Simiolus Netherlands quarterly for the history of art, 7 (1974), 35: ‘The work of Maarten van Heemskerck occupies a special position in 16th century Netherlandish art. In addition to traditional religious themes, which he treated as if unaffected by the Reformation, Heemskerck's oeuvre is remarkable for the many subjects of a humanistic nature.’

9 See Schneider, ‘Daniel und der Bel zu Babylon,’ p. 96.

10 Periods of six months to a year are mentioned in Leiden lawsuits about late delivery of commissioned work.

11 Others are mentioned in Freedberg, ‘Iconoclasm and Painting in The Netherlands, 1566-1609.’

12 See Scherer, M. R., Marvels of Ancient Rome (New York and London, 1955), pls. 212, 215, 216. There is reversal from drawing to engraving.

13 Capgrave, J., Ye Solace of Pilgrimes, A Description of Rome, circa A.D. 1450, by John Capgrave, an Austin Friar of King's Lynn, ed. C. A. Mills, (Oxford, 1911), pp. 3336 .

14 See Scherer, Marvels of Ancient Rome, pl. 216.

15 See Scherer, Marvels of Ancient Rome, pl. 12.

16 The Hague, 1953.

17 See Joppien, R., ‘Ein Biblisches Gemälde Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourgs im Wallraf-Richartz-Museum,’ Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, 36 (1974), 191198 . For other paintings of the subject see the iconographically arranged cards of the Decimal Index of the Art of the Low Countries issued by The Netherlands Art Institute, paintings by J. de Wet (neg. no. L. 42389), A. Verdoel (neg. no. L. 5717), and L. Mzn. van Haester (neg. no. L. 40258). Compare also the Oudenaarde tapestry Gideon having the altar of Bel destroyed (Judg. 6:25-27) in the Museum, Pienza, which probably depicts Daniel and Cyrus, not Gideon (Alinari photograph neg. no. 32782).

Maerten van Heemskerck's Bel and the Dragon and Iconoclasm

  • Jeremy D. Bangs (a1)


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