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
When Cornelis de Bruijn was born, probably in 1652, Holland was one of the leading powers in Europe. The Peace of Westphalianote[General European peace treaty (1648), which put an end to the Thirty Years of War in Germany and the Eighty Years of War in the Low Countries. It meant the recognition that there were to be several Christian religions in Europe and it established the principle of the "balance of power", which was challenged by the French king Louis XIV, and defended by Dutch politicians like De Witt and William III of Orange.] 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[Dutch statesman (1625-1672), who dominated the international diplomacy of the third quarter of the seventeenth century. He preferred armed neutrality, which was necessary for intercontinental commerce. This did not prevent him from building a navy and cooperating closely with Michiel de Ruyter. It comes as no surprise that in his own country, he was supported by the rich merchants and the Estates General, and was opposed by the wealthy prince William of Orange, who might one day claim the title of stadholder. During the crisis of 1672, an attempt was made on his life by a man named Cornelis de Bruijn; later, Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis were lynched in The Hague. Immediately, William of Orange took charge of the Republic.] "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[As prince of Orange, William (1650-1702) was entitled to the stadholdership of Holland, but Johan de Witt carefully kept him out of this office, hoping to continue the policy of neutrality that was so beneficial to trade. In 1672, however, the French and British, allied to two German bishops, attacked the Dutch Republic, and Johan de Witt was killed. William of Orange was made stadholder and although he was no match for the French generals, admiral Michiel de Ruyter defeated the English and in the end, a daring expedition to Bonn by prince William forced the bishop of Cologne to leave the coalition. Two years after the war had begun, France was isolated. In 1688, prince William of Orange accepted an invitation by a protestant minority to become king of England. He defeated the regular, parliamentarian army, conquered London, became king, and announced that he, as he was accustomed in Holland, would share power with the Parliament (the "glorious revolution"). This was the end of the bitter conflict between parliament and crown that had torn apart England since 1603. As king of England and stadholder of Holland, he forged an anti-French coalition that was able to overcome the French attempt, in the War of Spanish Succession, to gain supremacy in Europe.] who had military ambitions.
Cornelis 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 Generalnote[Supreme political body in the Republic of the United Netherlands (which means Holland and several other provinces). It contained representatives of most provinces, who were, usually, selected from the mercantile elite. The stadholders, military commanders, were servants of the Estates, but because the stadholdership of wealthy Holland traditionally belonged to the Orange family, the prince of Orange could be very powerful. De Witt was able to neutralize this power, but after he had been killed by the Orangists, the stadholdership was again monopolized by members of the Orange family.]received 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.
The 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[A stadholder ("deputee") was responsible for a province when its duke or count was absent. In the sixteenth century, many Dutch provinces belonged to the Spanish empire, and the stadholders became provincial governors. When the Estates General had ended its allegiance to the king of Spain, the stadholdership of Holland became heritable in the Orange family, which now became a rival center of power. The Estates General have tried to curtail the power of the princes of Orange, but could not prevent William III from becoming stadholder in 1672.] which meant that he was commander of the Dutch army. He was still inexperienced, but admiral Michiel de Ruyternote[Dutch admiral (1607-1676), first to organize a professional navy, and generally regarded as one of the greatest geniuses of naval warfare. Until then, naval engagements had been a despised type of war, fought by desperadoes in upgraded trading vessels; after De Ruyter, it was an honorable profession. He was active in three wars against the English, but on as many occasions, he fought together with them against the Berber pirates in the western Mediterranean. He was killed in action near Syracuse by the French.] 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.