Murder of Henry III of France, by Frans Hogenberg's atelier, colorized version (1589).

Frans Hogenberg was a 16th-century Flemish-German painter, engraver and cartographer. During his lifetime, his studio was well known for making world maps and panoramic, detailed views of cities. His portrait of cartographer Mercator (1574) and the print 'Leo Belgicus' (1583) have become iconic images. Hogenberg was equally famous for numerous engravings depicting then current, nowadays historical events, particularly concerning the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648). Two of this prints, about the Spanish Fury (1576) and the murder of French king Henry III (1589), are notable sequentially illustrated narratives, with descriptions written underneath the images. This makes Hogenberg one of the earliest prototypical comic artists who left us with a signature.

Life and career
Frans Hogenberg was born in 1535 in Mechelen, nowadays located in Belgium, but then part of the Habsburg Netherlands under Spanish rule. His father, Nicolas Hogenberg, was a painter, engraver and designer. Frans' stepfather, Hendrik Terbrugghen, was a cartographer. Hogenberg later settled in Antwerp, where he worked for the famous printer Christoffel Plantijn. In the summer of 1566, protestants vandalized religious images in the Netherlands, during the so-called "Beeldenstorm" (Image/statue storm). As these riots spread, Philip II of Spain sent the Duke of Alva to the country to persecute any resistance against his regime. In 1568, Hogenberg came under investigation too. Not just because of his reformed faith, but also because he printed engravings sympathizing with the Beeldenstorm. Yet he was lucky. He wasn't jailed or executed, just banned.

Hogenberg settled in Cologne, nowadays Germany, but at the time part of the Holy Roman Empire. The country was a safe haven for Protestants, since the Emperor had converted to the new religion. Still, Hogenberg and his second wife were arrested in 1579 for attending a secret reformed church service. In 1586, he relocated to the Free Imperial City of Hamburg. Throughout the 1570s and early 1580s, Hogenberg made several trips to London. In 1590, he passed away in Cologne.


Frans Hogenberg's 1574 portrait of Gerardus Mercator.

Cartography
In 1564, Hogenberg founded a printing and publishing company in Cologne. He is credited with the first modern atlas, 'Theatrum Orbis Terrarum', published on 20 May 1570. The work was based on research by various cartographers, and edited by the Fleming Abraham Ortelius. For the first time, the entire known world was outlined in highly detailed maps, including the latest discovered territories in North and South America. 'Theatrum Orbis Terrarum' became an instant bestseller and was translated in several languages. New volumes and updated editions were published every few years. In 1572, Hogenberg, together with his son Abraham and Georg Braun, published 'Civitates Orbis Terrarum' (1572), a six volume atlas with panoramic views of 546 cities from all around the world. Editor Braun wrote the texts, with father and son Hogenberg overseeing the drawing of the maps. It is known that the fifth and sixth volume were drawn largely by Simon van den Neuwel, while other assistant contributors were Daniel Freese, Joris Hoefnagel, Jacob Hoefnagel and Heinrich Rantzau. Historians owe a lot of their knowledge about European medieval city structures to Hogenberg's drawings. Especially because the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) later destroyed many of the ancient buildings.

In 1574, Hogenberg made a portrait of the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator, depicting him with a pair of compasses resting on a globe. It has become the most iconic and often reproduced image of the man. Another famous and widely copied drawing is 'Leo Belgicus' (1583), a map of the Low Countries drawn in the shape of a lion. The art was done by Austrian cartographer Michaël Eytzinger, but created in Hogenberg's studio. The lion-shaped map was very popular at the time and widely plagiarized by other cartographers in the decades that followed, among them Claes Janszoon Visscher, Jodocus Hondius, Pieter van den Keere (AKA Peter Kaerius) and Famiano Strada. It is still reproduced in many Dutch and Belgian history books.


'Geschichtsblätter' by Hogenberg about the 1566 "Beeldenstorm".

Topical engravings
Hogenberg's studio additionally produced many engravings about recent 16th-century events, nicknamed 'Geschichtsblätter' ("Pages about Events"). Even after his death in 1590, new prints were mass produced by his son Abraham Hogenberg. The oldest historical event depicted on a Hogenberg print is the conquest of Tunis (1535), the latest is dated in 1631. Most 'Geschichstblätter' portrayed battles, massacres, public executions and other atrocities. Though equally popular were festive city visits by royals and noblemen, royal marriages and state funerals. With his large amount of pupils and assistants, Hogenberg and his team could react fast. Some prints were created and released within a week after news about the event reached Cologne! Since Hogenberg had a large cartographic archive, his studio could depict cities realistically, down to the tiniest details. After the events became old news, the drawings were rebundled and compiled into collectable picture albums.

Naturally, like most art from that era, the historical accuracy of these graphic "news reports" should be taken with a grain of salt. No eyewitnesses to all these events were consulted, and all information was based on descriptions from messengers, travellers or hearsay. Unavoidably, anecdotes were sensationalized and heavily colored for propaganda purposes. In the same way, Hogenberg couldn't print opinions that could bring him in trouble with the authorities. Audiences wanted to be awed as well. As a result, huge public festivities were made more bombastic, and scenes of death and despair were dramatized. A typical example is the Spanish massacre in the city of Naarden (1572). Even though the soldiers lined up citizens and murdered them in a local chapel, Hogenberg and his artists show the massacre on the market square. Either by lack of correct information, or because it was visually more interesting.

Hogenberg covered many major events in Europe, such as the abdication of Charles V of Spain (1558), the accidental death of Henry II of France (1559), the St. Bartholomew's Night Massacre (1572), the Relief of Leiden (1574), the murder of the duke and cardinal de Guise (1588) and the assassination of Henry III of France (1589). Naturally, he also depicted events close to his hometown, such as the Junkersdorf Massacre (1586) during the Cologne War. However, as a Flemish refugee, Hogenberg was particularly interested in the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648) between Spain and the Dutch resistance movement. He chronologized all events that led to the war, such as the previously mentioned Beeldenstorm and the beheading of counts Egmont and Hoorn in Brussels, both in 1566. As the conflict escalated, his studio portrayed all the major battles, including the Dutch victory at Den Briel (1572) and the Siege of Haarlem (1572-1573). They also covered the gruesome plundering of Antwerp during the Spanish Fury (1576) and the funeral of William the Silent, AKA William of Orange, after his assassination in 1584. In later centuries, Hogenberg's prints became the definitive depictions of this turbulent era in the history of the Netherlands. They were reused by the Dutch government for propaganda purposes and are still often reprinted in history books.


'Narrendans' (1570).

Light-weight engravings
Aside from serious engravings, Hogenberg also made engravings of a more fantastical, metaphorical, comedic and entertaining nature. His 'Narrendans', AKA 'Der Sotten Dans', AKA 'Stultorum Chorea' (1570), shows various jesters dancing in a circle, each one representing one of the Seven Cardinal Sins. Dialogue is depicted in both Latin and Dutch near each character's face, giving the impression of speech balloons. In the undated print 'Strijd Om De Broek' ("Battle of the Trousers") seven women fight to obtain some pants. The work is an allegory on how women fight over men, but also has a double meaning as it refers to the proverb "wearing the pants at home", meaning "being in charge in the household." Since, at the time, women didn't wear pants, but dresses, it explains why this piece of textile is so valuable to them.

In 1558, Hogenberg made another allegorical engraving, titled 'De Blauwe Huik' ('The Blue Cloak'). It depicts 43 Dutch proverbs in a literal way. The work is interesting because it provides historians with information about 16th-century language and culture, particularly because Hogenberg identified each proverb by writing it next to each individual image. To the modern observer, Hogenberg's 'De Blauwe Huik' looks very much like a single-panel cartoon. Figure-of-speech expressions are visualized in a humoristic way. Much like a modern-day text comic, written explanations accompany individual scenes. The work was a strong influence on the Flemish folk painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. One year after Hogenberg, Bruegel made a painting with the same theme: 'The Dutch Proverbs' (1559). Several proverbs are the same, sometimes using almost the same imagery and position on the drawing. Even the central image - a visualisation of the proverb "putting a blue cloak on your partner" - is imitated. However, Bruegel's version is far more elaborate and technically skilled. He multiplied the amount of proverbs and created a more advanced and detailed work of art, which eventually overshadowed Hogenberg's work. Throughout the rest of his career, Bruegel made many more paintings and engravings based on proverbs.

The famous painter also imitated another Hogenberg engraving: 'De Strijd Tussen Carnaval en Vasten' ('The Fight Between Carnival and Lent'). The drawing depicts Carnival as a jolly, obese partymaker and Lent as a solemn, thin woman who starves herself. Both are dragged around on chariots until they meet at the center. Again, Bruegel took the same metaphor, but worked it out in a far more sophisticated and lively painting, called 'De Strijd Tussen Vasten en Vastenavond'. Incidentally, Hogenberg also engraved one of Bruegel's drawings: 'De Kermesse van Hoboken' ('The Fair of Hoboken').


'The Spanish Fury' by Frans Hogenberg (1576).

Prototypical picture stories/comics
Some of Hogenberg's cartographic maps are notable as prototypical picture stories. Sometimes, a panoramic view of a city or landscape is combined with panels showing the location from different viewpoints. Written descriptions underneath each image make such a work similar to a modern-day text comic. Even though they provide an atmospheric impression instead of a story, the images still share a thematical connection.

For more actual "picture stories", we have to look at some of Hogenberg's engravings about historical events. A particularly striking example is his visualisation of the Spanish Fury (1576) in Antwerp. During the Eighty Years' War, the Spanish army fought against the Dutch resistance movement. After a decade, Spain was bankrupt and could no longer pay its soldiers. Mutiny broke out and in 1576, several cities in the Netherlands were plundered. Between 4 and 7 November of that year, the frustrated soldiers attacked Antwerp, a city rich thanks to its harbor. Four days long, troops plundered everything of value, raped women, tortured and killed citizens and set everything on fire. Thousands of people died during these atrocities, which sent a shockwave through Europe. Peace was declared on 8 November, during the Pacification of Ghent, which, in a scandalous move, granted all mutineers amnesty. But while peace returned, the Southern Netherlands were now severely weakened. Many people immigrated to the Northern Netherlands. In 1585, Antwerp was conquered by Spain, whereupon the Southern Netherlands became a Spanish province again.

Since Hogenberg once lived in Antwerp, it is understandable that the Spanish Fury shocked him on a personal level. He presented this war crime in a multi-panel drawing. All events are depicted chronologically, with written descriptions in rhyme underneath each image. In the center, a bird eye's view of the city shows how it was before the massacres: peaceful and quiet. Around this center image, Hogenberg shows several smaller images. We see how the troops prepare their invasion and break through the city's defense. Citizens jump from the walls to flee. The town hall is on fire. The most famous image is the panel in the lower-right corner. It depicts Spanish soldiers plundering the streets and hacking people to death. Inside the buildings, prisoners are tortured by being stretched and hanged onto the ceiling, some with ropes around their genitals. This shocking image is often reproduced in history books as an individual drawing.


Murder of Henry III of France, by Frans Hogenberg's atelier, black-and-white version (1589).

Another striking example of a picture story is Hogenberg's visualisation of the murder of Henry III of France in 1589. Again, we see the event depicted chronologically in several panels, with descriptions in rhyme written underneath the images. In the first panel, the assassin - the monk Jacques Clement - attends a church service. Interestingly enough, he is shown three times within the same image but at a different moment in time. Such a practice was at the time not uncommon in European art, but can be confusing to modern-day viewers. However, contrary to other artists, Hogenberg actually helps the viewer to identify these three similarly dressed individuals as the same person by writing Clement's name next to them. He is given sacramental bread in the foreground, then takes a confession and leaves the church to commit his crime. Hogenberg likely wanted to contrast his devout actions with the heinous murder that follows. In the second panel, Clement stabs Henry III to death, with the guards arriving too late. In the third panel, the monarch is succeeded by the Duke of Navarre, who takes the name Henry IV. The fourth and final panel shows Clement's execution by quartering, a common punishment for people who committed regicide.

For completists's sake, we should also mention 'Spiegel der Vergankelijkheid' ('Mirror of Transience', 1592), an engraving depicting the funeral march of Willem II, duke of Gelre, in ten consecutive images. Each image shows a specific group in the procession, among them scientists, noblemen, horsemen, standard bearers, torchbearers and halberd bearers, with descriptions in rhyme underneath each image. For a long time, this work was attributed to Frans Hogenberg. However, since he died two years before the event, in 1590, he was obviously not involved with it personally. Maybe his co-workers produced it under his brand name, but historians are nowadays unsure whether this particular work is a Hogenberg print at all.

Still, 'Spanish Fury' (1576) and 'Murder of Henry III' (1589) are enough to make Frans Hogenberg an important contributor to comics history. They rank among the earliest sequential illustrated narratives with a signature, along with Antonio Tempesta's 'Life of St. Laurentius' (1599) and 'Batavorum cum Romanis Bellum' (1612), Otto van Veen's 'De Bataafse Opstand' (1600-1613), Jacques Callot's 'Les Grandes Misères de la Guerre' ('Miseries of War', 1633), Romeyn de Hooghe's political picture stories (1667-1688), Francis Barlow's 'The Horrid Hellish Popish Plot' (1682) and William Hogarth's 18th-century sequential paintings and engravings. Together with Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Otto van Veen and Romeyn de Hooghe, Frans Hogenberg can be considered one of the earliest prototypical Dutch comic artists.

Legacy and influence
In the second half of the 16th and the first half of the 17th century, Frans Hogenberg's cartographical books and historical engravings were massively popular in Europe. Several rival artists imitated, remodelled or downright plagiarized them, including Pieter Christiaenz Bor, Jan Luyken, Casper Luyken, Simon Frisius, Willem Baudartius and Johannes Gysius.


'Theatrum Orbis Terrarum' (Aden - Mombaza - Quiloa - Cefala).

Frans Hogenberg works in the collection of the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum

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