Sawyer, Andrew Clare
Pictures, power and the polity: a vision of the political images
of the early Dutch Republic. [In two volumes].
University of Southampton, Department of History,
The Dutch Revolt (c. 1568-1648) led to the establishment of a new state in the
northern provinces of the old Habsburg Netherlands. This new polity confronted
intense hostility from Habsburg dynastic interests. It sustained itself militarily against
these interests, and extended its power globally. In addition it developed a
remarkable and wealthy mercantile culture. However configurations of power in the
new state differed radically from those within the surrounding monarchies, and its
political texts remain problematic.
Thus there is no dynamic political theory to match the reality of its might. However,
one of the remarkable features of its culture was the unprecedented output of pictorial
art, including thousands of political prints. Therefore, this thesis addresses the issue
of power in the Republic on the basis of pictorial evidence, using a combination of
First, instead of examining evidence made up of texts, it was decided to use a range of
political imagery, largely political prints, to serve as primary sources, inverting the
usual practice of alluding to images from an argument based on texts.
Second, there is a requirement upon historians for a systematic approach to primary
sources, allowing argument to be tightly referenced. However, imagery is not subject
to the usual methods (footnoting chapters and pages for example), so a methodology
was developed which incorporates digitally modelled representations of the prints.
This was based upon work undertaken by Gerhard Jaritz at the Instituts für
Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit in Austria.
Thirdly, prompted by the doubts of several scholars about the utility of conventional
political theories in the context of the Dutch Republic, the work of Michel Foucault,
in particular his prescription for the study of power, has been adapted and used as an
analytical framework in which to discuss the sources.
The thesis demonstrates the systematic exploitation of pictorial sources in the context
of historical study. It demonstrates the advantages and limitations of digital models
and computer analysis. On the basis of these novel methodologies, the thesis
summarises a thorough exploration of a range of political imagery. It also highlights
the extraordinary success of a particular image of the Revolt, the Tyranny of Alva.
On the basis of the evidence examined, it also demonstrates that there was a profound
antipathy towards monarchic, 'top down1 power in the early Republic, and argues that
power there was more easily diagrammed than textualised.
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