The War and Art Project

Highlighting the Cultural Effects of Iconoclasm


Figure 2

Frans Hogenberg, The Calvinist Iconoclastic Riot of August 20, 1566, in Antwerp, the Key Moment of the Beeldenstorm in 1566, 1566-1570, Etching, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Figure 3

Jan Luyken, Iconoclasm, 1566, Etchimg, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Case Study 2 involves two prints: one etching titled, The Calvinist Iconoclastic Riot of August 20, 1566, in Antwerp, the Key Moment of the Beeldenstorm in 1566, Frans Hogenberg, 1566-1570 (Figure 2); and an engraving titled, Iconoclasm, 1566, Jan Luyken, 1679-1684, (Figure 3). These two prints depict active destruction of icons and imagery during the Dutch Beeldenstorm.


Print images such as these were common after the event due to “the recent renewal of interest in the Bible itself and the growing tendency on the part of Netherlandish artists to create images with a moralizing rather than a dogmatic content.”[1] These moralizing messages were encouraged by Protestant leaders, who gave “a theoretical basis and a justification for the destruction of images.”[2]


The after-effects of the riots did cause some writers to counteract the Protestant ideal of iconography as idol. David Freedberg writes that “all over the Netherlands, writers sought to provide extensive justification of the use of images and the cult of saints….All of [these writings] were unanimous in rejecting the analogies made by their opponents between Christian images and idols, and in condemning the sacrilegious actions of the ‘beeldtschenders.’[3]  However, the damage had already been done, and northern artists were forced to conform to new norms in subject matter or leave the Netherlands. Artists of the southern Spanish Netherlands adjusted their works to meet ecumenical standards. The artistic environment had changed. The changes after these events that were rooted in humanism and religious reform.”[4] Similarly, the Catholic reaction to the Beeldenstorm subjected painters to restrictions that were artistically prohibitive and removed creative license.


So what was an artist to do in an environment like this? Many chose to leave Antwerp (southern Spanish Netherlands) as well as the northern provinces for Italy, where freedom of expression within the Catholic church and society was more welcoming. Many tried to work within the confines that were established for them in the southern Spanish Netherlands. Many quit creating art altogether from the discouragement that followed the destruction of their prior work. Art was modified and censored, cultural artistic heritage was lost, and the development and expression of new art by artists was, therefore, limited.


[1] Eleanor A. Saunders, “A Commentary on Iconoclasm in Several Print Series by Maarten van Heemskerch.” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 10, no. 2 (1978): 62.

[2] Freedberg, Iconoclasm and Painting…, 192.

[3] Freedberg, Iconoclasm and Painting…, 58.

[4] Saunders, “A Commentary on Iconoclasm…”, 62.

[5] Freedberg, Iconoclasm and Painting…, 192.


War and Art Project

University of South Alabama

Mobile, Alabama

© Tiffany Beasley 2022

Contact: ArtShire Substack