The War and Art Project

Highlighting the Cultural Effects of Iconoclasm



The Dutch Revolt of 1566 was a conflict segmented within the broader Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648). Some scholars argue that the Revolt was the first phase of the war. The Netherlands was a collection of provinces that had their own unique interests and local governments, with overall rule by the foreign powers of French and Spain.


When the Spanish eventually defeated the French with the help of the Netherlanders in 1559, the Provinces began to feel that the advantages from the war went to Spain while the burdens fell on their shoulders. [1]


Religious tensions began to brew as the Spanish king, Philip II, began combating heresy within the Protestant Dutch provinces by holding religious inquisitions. After some attempts by the provincial governments and the ruling nobility to guide the king toward more tolerance, Philip refused this moderation and moved slowly toward any sense of any compromise.


By 1566 alliances had formed between the noble overseers installed by Philip and the rulers of the local Provinces, demanding the inquisitions of heresy against the Protestants cease. [2]


The Provincial rulers did not seek to destroy the government; however, their attempts to quell the inquisitions through compromise with the king was lost after the events of the 1566 Dutch Beeldenstorm occurred. This marked the beginning of the Dutch Revolt.


As a result, during the month of August 1566, Catholic churches in the northern provinces were raided, with destruction that included breaking  stained-glass windows, destroying statuary, paintings and liturgical vessels. [3] Although the traveling bands were mostly the poor, they were directed by noble leaders. [4]


This act resulted in artists from the northern provinces (mostly Protestant) choosing to flee to other lands where they would be safe from the fear of war, the destruction of their works, and where they could find commissioned work for the Church. Although artists remained in the Catholic south where Spain still held control, the north suffered artistic cultural loss that would never be regained.


King Philip II’s response to the Dutch Revolt was to put the Duke of Alba in charge, replacing his half-sister, Margaret of Parma, who had ruled with tolerance. The king replaced the current system of government by local leaders within the northern provinces with an absolute monarchy. He then responded by punishing those who rebelled against his wishes, by brutally beheading, hanging and drowning those involved.[5]


The environment was now ripe for war, and many years of conflict would follow. The discord lasted in some form until 1648, giving it the name the “Eighty Years’ War” or the “Dutch War of Independence.”


[1] Herbert H. Rowen, “The Dutch Revolt: What Kind of Revolution?” Renaissance Quarterly Vol. 43, no. 3 (Autumn 1990): 571.

[2] Rowen, “The Dutch Revolt…”, 572.

[3] Rowen, “The Dutch Revolt…”, 573.

[4] Rowen, “The Dutch Revolt…”, 573-574.

[5] Rowen, “The Dutch Revolt…”, 575.


War and Art Project

University of South Alabama

Mobile, Alabama

© Tiffany Beasley 2022

Contact: ArtShire Substack