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Claes Jansz. Clock

(born circa 1576 Leiden, active circa 1589–1602 Haarlem)

The Siege of Damiette. Engraving from two plates. 50.8 x 74 cm. 1595. Hollstein 20 I (of II). Watermark: Crowned double-headed eagle.

This highly impressive and brilliantly arranged composition portrays a pseudo-historical event alleged to have taken place in 1188 during the Fifth Crusade: the conquest of the Egyptian port city of Damiette in the Nile delta by Dutch, Flemish, Friesian and German crusaders. According to legend, a cog from Kennemerland near Haarlem, the bow of which was armed with a huge saw, was the first to break through the chain blocking the entrance to the harbour, thus enabling the city to be taken. In actual fact this is a myth, because it was not until 1219 that Damiette was conquered by the forces united under Count Willem I of Holland. Nevertheless, the legend was very popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, since it legitimised the reputation of the Dutch merchant city of Haarlem and its economic interests.

To this end the glorious event was memorialised in the visual arts in many different ways. The present extremely rare en­-grav­ing by Claes Jansz. Clock from the year 1595 is the earliest depiction of the taking of Damiette. Clock dedicated the engraving, which has a poem by the Haarlem humanist Cornelis Schonaeus in the lower text margin, to the Haarlem city council. The artist stages an impressive monumental spectacle in which he portrays the individual occurrences in panoramic dimensions. To this end he employs a very powerful, expressive engraving technique which does full justice to the force­ful nature of the operations. While Clock was undoubtedly inspired by the engraving method of the Goltzius School, his artistic treatment is both independent and imaginative. At a central point in the com­position the artist graphically depicts the Haarlem warship surging forward at full speed with bil­lowing sails as it snaps the chain. A veritable torrent of arrows rains down on it from the city’s military towers, bringing death in all directions and giving the violent scene a tremendous dynamism. The huge armada of sailing ships discernible on the horizon seems almost peaceful by contrast.

A magnificent, contrasting impression with thread margins. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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