Haarlem ca. 1575 – 1633

The capture of Damietta, before 1628

Oil on panel, 72.6 x 136.5 cm

Signed on flag lower right: CORNELIS W


Probably executed as a ”modello” for the painting in the Headquarters of the Kalivermannen, Haarlem before 1628; Collection Cl. Vignat, Neuilly, Paris 1953; at Gallery Marcus, Paris 1957; private collection, the Netherlands.



EJ Kalf, The ‘Val van Damiate’ or the usefulness of mistakes , in: Haerlem yearbook 1980; Wiepke Loos, Willem Thybaut and a Haarlem legend on Gouda church glass, 1596 , Spiegel Historiael, Vol. 17 (1982) pp. 213-220; Wim van Anrooij, Medieval Traces of the Haarlem Damiate Legend , 1993; Ron JWM Brand, “Professional in the art of ships and the sea”. Cornelis Claesz. van Wieringen and marine painting at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Pijnacker 1995; I. van Thiel-Stroman, Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen , in: Painting in Haarlem 1500-1850, Gent-Haarlem 2006, p. 343-346; Willem Frijhoff, Damiette Approprie , in: Revue du Nord, Vol. 88 no. 364 (Jan-Mar 2006), pp. 7-42; JJ van Moolenbroek, The chain of Damietta, a Haarlem sawship and William I of Holland. On the genesis and standardization of a crusade myth, in: Yearbook for Medieval History 14 (2011), Bussum 2012.

Defense towers rise along the banks of the Nile. The front one is connected to the bank on the left by a short pier, while the second on the opposite bank forms part of the ramparts of the town of Damietta. A cog ship with a white-red flag breaks the chain stretched between the two towers that close off the river. The ship is bombarded with arrows and cannonballs hurled by catapults from both towers. Saracen troops in turbans take possession of the pier. Other ships sail in. On the right, a prince’s flag hangs in the main mast, while a Catholic flag with the Blessed Virgin hangs above the main mast and the flag of Holland above the mizzen. In the foreground, a sea monster crawls out of the water.

According to ancient chronicles, a group of Haarlemmers captured the city of Damietta in the Nile Delta in 1188 as part of the liberation of the road to Jerusalem, a feat rewarded by Emperor Frederick I and the Patriarch of Jerusalem: Haarlem’s coat of arms was extended with a sword and a Greek cross. The earliest printed mention of this story is in the collection compiled by Cornelius Aurelius, de Cronycke van Hollandt, Zeelandt and Vrieslant (fol. 147) published in Leiden in 1517. Naturally, in his Beschryvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem from 1628 (pp. 154-159), Samuel Ampzing paid a lot of attention to this illustrious deed.

An old Eastern source describes the ingestion of Damietta in extenso. It mentions the Bordj es-Selseleh, the chain tower, which served as the ‘key to Egypt’. It was a great tower built in the middle of the Nile, with two chains on either side, one connecting to the eastern bank where Damietta lay, the other leading to the city of El-Bohaïreh. As soon as the son of Sultan El-Kanul heard the news of the fall of his city, he pressed heavily on his chest and died.

The capture of Damietta (already depicted in a miniature from 1462) was frequently depicted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on behalf of the Haarlem city council. This feat of arms served as a symbol of the venerable antiquity of the city and the heroism, unity and virtue of its citizens. The most important renderings include: the vanished stained glass windows of the churches in Edam (1518), Purmerend (1522), Enkhuizen (1522) and the surviving windows of the church in Egmond aan den Hoef; the engraving of Nicolaes Clock (1595); Willem Thybaut’s Gouda glasses in the St. Janskerk in Gouda (1596); the engraving by Willem Akersloot in Ampzing’s book after a lost stained glass window by Jan van Bouckhorst in the Council Chamber of the Haarlem town hall; the painting for the Calivermannenzaal (Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem); the current painting (possibly a modello for the painting for the Klovenierszaal); the Gobelin tapestry by Joseph Thienpont after a design by Cornelis van Wieringen in the new Council Chamber of the town hall (1629); and the etching by Romein de Hooghe (c. 1685). In 1603 the city of Haarlem commissioned a stained glass window depicting The Ship of Damietta with Hendrick Cornelisz. Vroom, performed by Claes Abrahamsen, intended for the Gemeenlandshuis in Leiden. A painting with the same subject was ordered from the same artist some twenty years later. Both of his designs did not survive.

Since Ampzing describes the Frans Halsmuseum painting as a mantelpiece for the war council chamber of the Kloveniers in his Lof der stad Haerlem , it must have been painted before its publication in 1628. How much earlier is difficult to determine, but a date before 1620 does not correspond with the current picture of Van Wieringen’s artistic development.

ch. Pierson made a copy after Thibaud’s modello for the Gouda glasses and added a poem on the urban legend:


Here heroic virtue overcomes Damietta’s violence

When one speaks of a broken chain, one also praises Haarlem


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