Murder in Delft (exhibition)

Edition 29 November 2018, by Benjamin Roberts

In 1584, Delft’s magistrates ordered a brutal execution. They decreed that the 26-year old murderer of William of Orange have his right hand burned off with a red-hot iron, his fl esh be pulled from his bones with pincers, and his body be quartered and disemboweled, while the young man was still alive. Then, his heart should be yanked from his body and shoved into his face; ultimately he was beheaded. Even for sixteenth-century standards, this was considered cruel and inhumane. One female observer noted: “He had only murdered one man, why should he be sentenced to a thousand deaths?” Four days before, the Catholic Frenchman Balthasar Gerardts shot William of Orange, as he was climbing the stairs of his residence, the Prinsenhof in Delft. The act made William of Orange immortal. He went down in Dutch history as the ‘founding father’ of the country and his descendants are now the ruling monarchs of the Netherlands. And Gerardts became the “Lee Harvey Oswald of the sixteenth century”. Without Gerardts, Dutch history might be completely different, and perhaps, this year, there would be no commemoration of the Eighty Years’ War, which started 450 years ago.

The Dutch war for independence from Catholic Spain was a long and hard-fought one. This year two museums have special exhibitions highlighting the impact of one of the longest wars in history. William of Orange is here! in the Prinsenhof in Delft features the founding father’s private residence and workspace; visitors can even marvel at the holes in the wall where the bullets from Gerardts’ pistol were lodged. The exhibition also includes several new additions to the collection of portraits of the Orange-Nassau family. The exhibition addresses how important freedom of religion and speech, which formed the basis of the war, are for modern society in comparison to the sixteenth and seventeenth century. In the Rijksmuseum, the exhibition 80 Years’ War. The Birth of the Netherlands addresses the social aspects of the war. With numerous paintings of both the victorious and defeated sides, the exhibition illustrates how propaganda is not only a modern invention, but was also important during the 80-yearlong confl ict to rally public support and generate taxes. To make the throes of war more personal, the exhibition includes the yellow hat of Count Ernst Casimir van Nassau-Dietz. The gaping hole shows how he was killed while inspecting his troops at the Battle of Roermond in 1632. This brings the reality of war closer to home, even though it happened long ago.

Prinsenhof Museum, Delft
William of Orange was here!
until March 3, 2019

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
80 Years’ War. The Birth of the Netherlands
until January 20, 2019