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Attributed to Pieter Snayers (Antwerp 1592-1667 Brussels)
Attributed to Pieter Snayers (Antwerp 1592-1667 Brussels)

The Siege of Aachen

Attributed to Pieter Snayers (Antwerp 1592-1667 Brussels)
The Siege of Aachen
inscribed with a key (upper right)
oil on canvas
46 x 65 in. (116.8 x 165 cm.)
in a later ebonised and parcel-gilt frame
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 26 March 1971, lot 108.

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Lot Essay

The city of Aachen is located on Germany's far western border and from 936 to 1531 AD, most German kings were crowned there. However, gradually the city's isolated location resulted in a decrease in its strategic importance. As an early centre of Protestantism during the German Reformation, there was increasing tension between the Catholic and Protestant residents. The growing Protestant community revolted in 1581, angry that, despite being in the majority, the administration of the city was still controlled by the Catholics. They forced the election of a Protestant city mayor, which lead to the ban of the Empire being imposed on Aachen in 1597. This was where a person, or in this case city, was excommunicated by the Holy Roman Empire, the citizens lost all their rights, the protection of the law and were considered legally dead. In 1600, the Catholics of Aachen had their rights reinstated and the Jesuits were invited to the city. Eleven years later, there was a further uprising by Protestants, who expelled Catholic administrators and invited the army of Brandenburg, fellow Protestants, to come to their aid. The Holy Roman Empire retaliated and the ban of the Empire was again imposed on the city.

In 1614, under instructions from Archduke Albert (1559-1621), the sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands, who supported the Catholic minority, General Ambrogio Spinola led the army of Flanders to Aachen, taking advantage of its limited fortifications and laying siege to the city. Due to its situation, located as it was on a plain, it took only three days of bombardment from several batteries before the city surrendered. However, no citizens or property were harmed in the subsequent occupation under the strict orders of the Archduke to Spinola. Spinola first ensured that Catholic worship was once more permitted, then the Protestant leaders of the revolt were exiled and the Protestant garrison was expelled. A Catholic garrison of twice this number was installed and control of the city returned to the Catholic minority.

Snayers was born in 1592 and would have remembered the siege when it happened. On his move to Brussels from Antwerp, he worked for the Archduchess Isabella, wife of Archduke Albert and it is possible that this work may have been commissioned to commemorate the successful return of the city to the control of the Holy Roman Empire.

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