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AN IMPORTANT HISTORICAL SERIES OF FIVE PORTRAIT TILE PICTURES COMMEMORATING THE BATTLE OF FONTENOY AND EXECUTED BY JAN AALMIS, ROTTERDAM
This series includes four large equestrian portraits of Louis XV, King of France, his wife Maria Leszczynska, Franz I, Emperor of Austria, his wife Maria Theresia and finally a smaller one depicting William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, third son of George II, King of England.
These illustrious royals are all connected to the battle fought at Fontenoy on the 11 May 1745. Nowadays this is a small village in the Belgian province of Hainaut and located at a short distance from the fortified cathedral city of Tournai. These lands used to be districts of the Austrian Southern Netherlands bordering France during the major part of the 18th century.
It was during the War of Austrian Succession that the French under Maurice, Maréchal de Saxe, defeated an Anglo-Hanoverian coalition, supported by Austrian and Dutch Battalions under the command of William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. Early at the break of dawn of the 11 May 1745 the French were able to mobilise 52,000 men opposed to the 46,000 of the Allied forces. After several hours of warfare, the Duke of Cumberland frontally attacked the village of Fontenoy, stronghold of the French, in order to split the enemy army lines. After some brave fighting, a very famous incident occured whereby Lord Charles Hay invited the French, who gracefully declined, to fire the first: 'Messieurs des Gardes Françaises, tirez','Nous ne tirons jamais les premiers, Messieurs tirez vous-mêmes'. This courteous gesture so archetypal of the gallant 18th century, indeed almost instantly inflicted the French with more than 243 dead and 674 wounded. Cumberland took his risks and steadily advanced but the combined powers of the French artillery and cavalry caused the Anglo-Hanoverian infantry square to be shattered leaving the laurels to the victorious Maurice, Maréchal de Saxe.
On the same evening Louis XV walked with his son the dauphin for more than two hours on the battleground. The crown prince received a lesson for life concerning the eternal horrors of war. The Allied forces had lost more than 9000 men and the French nearly 6000. Louis XV imperatively commanded that all the casualties, French or Anglo-Hanoverian without distinction, would be tended and cared for and receive the same treatment.
The glory of the battle of Fontenoy instantly spread over Europe causing Voltaire to write the famous 'Poème de Fontenoy'.
The tile pictures by Jan Aalmis depict the crowned heads of state of the powers involved and the unfortunate Duke of Cumberland. The landscapes and army grounds are reminiscent of the surroundings of Fontenoy. The exact provenance of this series of tile pictures is still unknown. The series was removed in 1972 from the walls of a farmhouse, located at Ayeneux in the Belgian province of Liège, which belonged to the Delcour-Roberti family. Legal procedures initiated by the heirs of the family led to the conclusion that this series had been removed from a much more important house. Some sources speculate that this house could most probably be the Hinnisdael castle, also known as the Chateâu de Micheroux, in the vicinity of Ayeneux and which had been demolished at the end of World War II around 1945.
The workshop of Jan Aalmis in Rotterdam was very active. During the mid-18th century a fairly large amount of tile pictures was exported to the Prince Bishopric of Liège and to various districts of the Austrian Southern Netherlands which later became the modern state of Belgium. This series is exceptional in the repertory of Aalmis not only for its coherence but also for its dimensions and its historical significance.