Acquired at Jeschke, Meinke & Hauff, Berlin
Size: 21 x 17 cm.
Call number: 2212 A 15
On 24 December 1607, the States General agreed to pay Jacob de Gheyn two hundred guilders for 'seker boeck, geintituleert Wapenhandelingen van roers, musketten ende spiesen' ['a certain book entitled Exercise of Armes'] for which he had made illustrations. The book was published in Dutch and English that same year, and several German and French editions were subsequently issued. These were compiled in 1619 to form the book showcased here: a four-language, practical edition.
According to the foreword, the work was intended as a guide for inexperienced military men and a reference manual for experienced soldiers to stay knowledgeable by reading and more importantly by studying the illustrations. As the first editions were too bulky and expensive, it was now issued in a smaller and cheaper format. When we place the earlier editions next to this one, it is immediately clear that this version is much simpler. Instead of detailed large engravings the illustrations here were reproduced in woodcut. Every illustration has a title and the right hand illustration contains a brief instruction of use. The paper is so thin that the illustration shows through on the next page.
The Exercise of Arms was an important part of the military reforms that stadholder Maurits implemented from the early 1590s onward and which formed the basis for his victories during the Dutch Revolt. Using discipline and training, he turned a disorganized army of mercenaries into a well-oiled and triumphant military force. This book was one of the resources used to accomplish this goal.
De Gheyn spent nearly ten years producing the illustrations for this work, which the engravers then transferred to printing plates. We know that Maurits had a beautifully coloured version of the book. The copy that the Koninklijke Bibliotheek successfully managed to acquire at an auction in 1995 may not be as aesthetically pleasing but perhaps it played a more important role in actually being carried on campaign. In any case, far fewer copies of this edition survived than of the deluxe version. (MvD)