Rembrandt and the Revolting Batavians

Opnamedatum: 2014-02-05
“That’s not a sword..THIS is a sword.”
– Claudius Civilis, probably.

Listen to Episode   Duration 1:28:05

In the years 69-70 CE, the Batavian people, who inhabited the lower reaches of the Rhine and Waal rivers, that form a part of today’s Netherlands, went into open revolt against the Roman Empire. They were led by Claudius (Julius) Civilis, and would ultimately fail. But what he and this rebellion spurred, seventeen hundred years later, would be way beyond anything they could have imagined. This barbarian uprising would come to affect and inspire ideas of rebellion within the lives of the wealthiest people on the planet in the 1500 and 1600s. In 1661 CE, Rembrandt would paint ‘The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis’, but in a totally rebellious way. It was rebellion inspiring rebellion within the celebration of rebellion. Rebellion inception.


Nero, Snoke, Otho and Jabba the Hut

These four were all emperor within the span of a year. Also within the span of a year, they were all dead and another dude was emperor altogether.

This bloke, Vespasian.

Check out that smug look on his face. That’s a Tywin Lannister post-Red Wedding look, that is.

Rome, during this civil war, looked like this:

The Roman Empire - AD 69

The Batavians were on the very fringes of the Roman empire, in lower Germany along the Rhine. Their neighbours the Frisii, Cananefates and Tungri all joined them.

Rhine frontier map by Hans Erren



In 1661 when Rembrandt Hermansz. van Rijn was commissioned to produce a painting of the Conpiracy of Claudius Civilis, the title-image, above, was the end result. But it wasn’t the initial result…

Rembrandt’s original painting was the biggest he had ever produced. However the Burghermeester’s who ran Amsterdam, who controlled the city hall where the painting was to hang, and who had commissioned Rembrandt in the first place, hated it.

He had to take it back, and was forced by necessity to cut it up so as to try and sell a more sizeable piece. We have an idea of how the original would have looked (somewhat at least) as we have Rebrandt’s initial sketch of the piece. Apologies for the small image, but Rembrandt didn’t upload it to the internet in a decent enough size.

Rembrandt’s sketch-study of the conspiracy shows how the table-scene was only but a third, or so, of the original.


This is now what we have. Despite that the photo was taken when it travelled to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, it is usually being self-perpetually held hostage at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm.


Unfortunately, this viewer is having a more jarring experience than she’ll ever admit. The painting was composed to hang high up, on the town hall’s high, marble lined walls. To get anywhere close to that proper perspective, she should be lying down in front of it.

The Burghermeester’s had originally wanted Govert Flinck, hot-shot establishment artist of his day, to produce the entire commission, of which this scene was but a part. Some of Flinck’s original sketches show how different it would have been:

Govert Flinck’s sketch for the Conspiracy. Check out those plumes!

Juergen Ovens, German painter, later finished Flinck’s work:

Juergen Ovens: Boring as bat-shit


Amsterdam Town Hall was designed and built by Jacob van Campen, from 1648-55.

It was bloody magnificent. No non-religious or non-royal building so grand had ever been seen before. It’s many front entrances of equal size, and specifically the lack of a main singular entrance, was so to welcome any and all citizens to the building that belonged solely to them all.


Here are some paintings of Dam Square, done by, respectively, Johannes Lingelbach and Jacob van der Ulft, with the Town Hall under construction:

Johannes Lingelbach_De Dam te Amsterdam met het nieuwe Stadhuis in aanbouw, gezien naar het noorden (1656)De_Dam_te_Amsterdam_met_het_nieuwe_stadhuis_in_aanbouw_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-1916.jpeg

The Town Hall was built on 13,659 wooden pilings, driven deeply into the sandy ground that is Amsterdam’s condition. It cost 8,5 million guilders ( a shitload).

We asked our housemate what the best fact he knew about it is. His response:

“In the Amsterdam Museum there is an exact model replica that was built before the building, and which was used for its construction.”

Here’s a painting by Gerrit Berckheyde, from 1686, showing the Town Hall from the back-side. The canal today is a street and main artery for trams.

nieuwezijds Voorburgwal Gerrit Berckheyde

And the inside looks something like this:

1662 depiction of the Burgerzaal of the town hall by its architect, Jacob van Campen.
Burgerzaal today (Royal Palace)



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