The War and Art Project

Highlighting the Cultural Effects of Iconoclasm


Kirby Rollin, Vandal in Victory, Vandal in Defeat, c. 1918, Crayon Drawing, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

What is the solution to prevent these acts of war-driven iconoclasm? Artwork and cultural objects that might be seen as controversial could be accessioned into museums explaining their context. Destroying the cultural heritage of a country as a “spoil of war” should, at the very least, be protected under laws similar to humanitarian protections. Overall, funding should be provided to educate the public of the destruction to culture and history when art and objects are destroyed. Such is the purpose of this project.


Art from the Medieval period until the Reformation was mostly commissioned by and produced for the Catholic Church. After the Protestant Reformation, these works were targeted for destruction as images of idols that should be destroyed. Other than the church and some works commissioned by the nobility, Catholic art was the bulk of the artwork that existed. Once leaders gave revolutionaries the license to destroy,  the destruction of artwork was given justified reasons. These works were irreplaceable, not only for the Catholic church, but for the cultural artistic heritage of the northern Dutch provinces. The lack of works other than Catholic art made the loss of these paintings, sculpture, and objects all the more tragic. 


As far as the artists, many were forced to flee. The practice of artistry in the north was all but destroyed along with the artwork. Northern artists chose to find work elsewhere after “they saw their works destroyed and their livelihood threatened, because their families and homes were subject to the ravages of war, and because further outbreaks of iconoclasm were always imminent.[1] Many northern artists never returned. They lost their livelihood and future in their homeland, and, in return, the northern Dutch provinces lost their cultural artistic heritage that would have been produced during this period. The result was a gap in artistic production that would not be filled until the end of the Eighty Years’ War.  


[1] David Freedberg, Iconoclasm and Painting in the Revolt of the Netherlands, 1566-1609 (New York: Garland, 1988), 167.


War and Art Project

University of South Alabama

Mobile, Alabama

© Tiffany Beasley 2022

Contact: ArtShire Substack