Gijsbreght van Aemstel

Joost van den Vondel, whom the nineteenth century loved to dub ‘the Dutch Shakespeare’, wrote his Gijsbreght van Aemstel in 1637 for the opening of the new theatre in Amsterdam. The play is based on Vergil's epic about the fall of Troy and portrays the destruction of Amsterdam in 1302, as a result of the dissensions after the murder of Count Floris V. As Roman Catholicism plays an important part in the play - a mass is even celebrated in it - the protestant ministers managed to postpone the first night, planned in the Christmas season, to 3 January 1638. Since 1641 the play has been performed at the Amsterdam theatre as the New Year's play, a tradition which has been observed to the present day, with a few exceptions. This is one of the reasons why the Gijsbreght has become Vondel's best-known, most reprinted play.

A special edition appeared between 1894 and 1901 in separate instalments, published by the renowned Haarlem publishing house De Erven F. Bohn. The first steps to do so were taken at the end of 1890. The publisher J.K. Tadema was to ask his nephew Laurens Alma Tadema to make a title page, and besides the illustrations of the scenery made by H.P. Berlage, A. Reyding was to make illustrations for the actual text. Alma Tadema declined the honour, however, and Reyding proved unable to strike the required Roman Catholic note, according to the project coordinator, L. Simons. After an unsuccessful venture with G.H. Breitner it was A.J. Derkinderen (1859-1925) who assumed the task. He was the obvious man for the job, as was, for instance, apparent from the ‘Eerste Bossche wandschildering’ (First mural for 's Hertogenbosch) on which he had worked from 1889-1892. It is crystal clear from the extensive archives of the publishing house, which are kept in the University Library at Leiden, that Derkinderen's contribution was not restricted to supplying the numerous lithographs for the illustrations; he did, in fact, the whole typography of the play. Although it is realized nowadays that this edition of the Gijsbreght has for a long time been wrongly labelled the first instance of the ‘Renaissance of Dutch book art’, it is the first great work on which a number of important innovators of Dutch book art have worked as a collective.


E. Braches, 'Over Derkinderen's Gijsbreght van Aemstel', in: Open 3 (1971), p. 3-16.