Banquet at the Crossbowmen’s Guild

Bartholomeus van der Helst, 1648
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

No other painting connects the heyday of Dutch painting with national history as much as Van der Helst’s Banquet of Civic Guardsmen. This commission for the most successful portrait painter of his time was prompted by the proclamation of the Treaty of Münster in Amsterdam on 5 June, 1648. Sitting and standing around a generously set table, the civic guardsmen feast on food and drink. A few of them are aware of our presence, but most are absorbed in private conversations. Their interaction gives this colorful meal an extraordinary liveliness. Only the verse affixed to the drum refers to the end of the war. On the right side of the painting, the captain hands over the ‘Horn of Peace’ to his lieutenant. In spite of the rhetoric, probably none of the men portrayed here had ever seen action on the battlefield. They served in the civic guard and were jointly responsible for order and tranquility in the XVIIth district of Amsterdam. In the Rijksmuseum, for decades the Civic Guard Banquet hung in the shadow of the Night Watch. Today, the painting—aptly—dominates the gallery dedicated to the Eighty Years’ War.

Norbert E. Middelkoop, Senior Curator of Paintings, Prints and Drawings, Amsterdam Museum

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