Cornelis de Bruijn

Cornelis de Bruijn (c.1652-1727) was a Dutch artist and traveler. He is best known for his drawings of the ruins of Persepolis, the first reliable pictures of these palaces to be accessible for western scholars. His other visits included the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Jerusalem, Russia, and the East Indies.

The Dutch Republic

Cornelis de Bruijn, painting by Godfrey KnellerWhen Cornelis de Bruijn was born, probably in 1652, Holland was one of the leading powers in Europe. The Peace of Westphalianote had put an end to the wars of religion and as a consequence, trade and commerce were increasing. As the world's first truly capitalist country, Holland benefited; its ships were seen on every ocean and Dutch merchants made huge profits. Everywhere, the Dutch founded colonies: Batavia in the eastern Indies, Kaapstad in south Africa, Nieuw Amsterdam in northern America - towns that are now known as Jakarta, Cape Town, and New York.

The leader of the Dutch republic was a man named Johan de Witt,note "the foremost statesman of our century", according to the English ambassador William Temple, who was hardly exaggerating. Although De Witt was unable to keep the Dutch out of every military conflict, his policy created and maintained the most important condition for intercontinental commerce: peace. It comes as no surprise that in his own country, he was supported by the rich merchants, and was opposed by the rich but jobless prince William III of Orange,note who had military ambitions.

The Dutch Republic in 1672Cornelis de Bruijn was born in The Hague, the political center of the Dutch republic, the residence of prince William, and a very cosmopolitan town. Young Cornelis must have seen the international visitors of the prince, may have witnessed exotic ambassadors arriving, and must have spoken to sailors who had visited the ports of Japan, Brazil, and Persia. It is easy to imagine that already as a boy, Cornelis wanted to travel, and he later claimed that it was because of this ambition that he took drawing and painting lessons. His teacher was Theodoor van der Schuer (1634-1707), who had traveled to Sweden and was to become famous for his paintings in the magnificent Trêveszaal ("room of the truce"), where the Dutch Estates Generalnotereceived important guests.

It is unlikely that De Bruijn was not involved in Van der Schuer's largest commission in these years, the central room of the town hall of Maastricht. This means that between 1667 and 1671, De Bruijn learned the tricks of his trade in the deep south of the Netherlands, and may have visited a nearby city like Cologne.

The year 1672 marked the beginning of the end of the Dutch prosperity. The French king Louis XIV attacked the Republic. It was well-known that he hated the Dutch protestants, whose republic offered an alternative political model to French absolutism. Even worse, Dutch printers produced books that were forbidden in France. That France would one day attack the Dutch republic was not surprising; that England joined them was like "a thunder on a cloudless summer day", as William Temple said. After all, the English would hardly benefit if the French controlled the opposite shore of the North Sea.

Execution of the De Witt brethernThe Dutch were hysterical and a man named Cornelis de Bruijn tried to assassinate Johan de Witt. The artist later claimed that "with this man I have, thank God, nothing in common but the name", and there is no real evidence to the contrary. Yet, it must be noted that ten years later, it was still believed that the wandering artist was the would-be murderer and, as we will see in a moment, there is something suspicious with De Bruijn's first voyage and his finances.

However this may be, the Dutch were at war with England, France, and two German bishops; Louis XIV occupied the eastern provinces of the Dutch republic; Johan de Witt was lynched by the mob of The Hague; and prince William was made stadholder,note which meant that he was commander of the Dutch army. He was still inexperienced, but admiral Michiel de Ruyternote was able to prevent a British invasion from the west, and in 1674, a peace treaty put an end to the Third Anglo-Dutch war.