The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis
The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis is a 1661–62 oil painting
Oil painting
Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil—especially in early modern Europe, linseed oil. Often an oil such as linseed was boiled with a resin such as pine resin or even frankincense; these were called 'varnishes' and were prized for their body...

 by the Dutch painter
Dutch Golden Age painting
Dutch Golden Age painting is the painting of the Dutch Golden Age, a period in Dutch history generally spanning the 17th century, during and after the later part of the Eighty Years War for Dutch independence. The new Dutch Republic was the most prosperous nation in Europe, and led European trade,...

 Rembrandt, which was originally the largest he ever painted, at around five-by-five metres in the shape of a lunette
In architecture, a lunette is a half-moon shaped space, either filled with recessed masonry or void. A lunette is formed when a horizontal cornice transects a round-headed arch at the level of the imposts, where the arch springs. If a door is set within a round-headed arch, the space within the...

. The painting was commissioned by the Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

 city council for the Town Hall
Royal Palace (Amsterdam)
The Royal Palace in Amsterdam is one of three palaces in the Netherlands which is at the disposal of Queen Beatrix by Act of Parliament. The palace was built as city hall during the Dutch Golden Age in the seventeenth century. The building became the royal palace of king Louis Napoleon and later...

. After the work had been in place briefly, it was returned to Rembrandt, who may have never been paid. Rembrandt drastically cut down the painting to a quarter of the original size to be sold. It is the last secular history painting he finished.

The account in Tacitus

The painting follows Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

's Histories
Histories (Tacitus)
Histories is a book by Tacitus, written c. 100–110, which covers the Year of Four Emperors following the downfall of Nero, the rise of Vespasian, and the rule of the Flavian Dynasty up to the death of Domitian.thumb|180px|Tacitus...

in depicting an episode from the Batavian rebellion
Batavian rebellion
The Revolt of the Batavi took place in the Roman province of Germania Inferior between 69 and 70 AD. It was an uprising against Roman rule by the Batavians and other tribes in the province and in Gaul...

, led by the one-eyed chieftain Claudius Civilis
Gaius Julius Civilis
Gaius Julius Civilis was the leader of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans in 69. By his nomen, it can be told that he was made a Roman citizen by either Augustus or Caligula....

 (actually called Gaius Julius Civilis by Tacitus, except once, and so known to history; but Claudius Civilis has become entrenched in art history), in which he "collected at one of the sacred groves, ostensibly for a banquet, the chiefs of the nation and the boldest spirits of the lower class", convinced them to join his rebellion, and then "bound the whole assembly with barbarous rites and strange forms of oath."

Civilis, Tacitus writes, "was unusually intelligent for a native, and passed himself off as a second Sertorius or Hannibal, whose facial disfigurement he shared"—that is to say, the loss of one eye. He feigned friendship with Emperor Vespasian in order to regain his freedom. When he returned to his tribal grounds in the marshes of the Betuwe
The Betuwe is an area in the Netherlands in the province of Gelderland...

, he organized the revolt he had long been planning.

The commission

The painting was commissioned for the gallery of the new city hall on the Dam
Dam Square
Dam Square, or simply the Dam is a town square in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. Its notable buildings and frequent events make it one of the most well-known and important locations in the city.- Location and description :...

, finished in 1655 (now the Royal Palace
Royal Palace (Amsterdam)
The Royal Palace in Amsterdam is one of three palaces in the Netherlands which is at the disposal of Queen Beatrix by Act of Parliament. The palace was built as city hall during the Dutch Golden Age in the seventeenth century. The building became the royal palace of king Louis Napoleon and later...

). History painting
History painting
History painting is a genre in painting defined by subject matter rather than an artistic style, depicting a moment in a narrative story, rather than a static subject such as a portrait...

s were regarded as the highest in the hierarchy of genres
Hierarchy of genres
A hierarchy of genres is any formalization which ranks different genres in an art form in terms of their prestige and cultural value....

 in the 17th century (a view Rembrandt shared), and the Batavian revolt was regarded, and romanticised, as a precursor of the recently ended war against the Spanish
Dutch Revolt
The Dutch Revolt or the Revolt of the Netherlands This article adopts 1568 as the starting date of the war, as this was the year of the first battles between armies. However, since there is a long period of Protestant vs...

. In 1659, when John Maurice of Nassau
John Maurice of Nassau
John Maurice of Nassau was count and prince of Nassau-Siegen.He was born in Dillenburg...

, Amalia of Solms-Braunfels
Amalia of Solms-Braunfels
Amalia of Solms-Braunfels , was a regent of Orange. She was the wife of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange. She was the daughter of John Albert I of Solms-Braunfels and Agnes of Sayn-Wittgenstein.-Childhood:...

, her two daughters and two daughters-in-law came to see the new building, the council commissioned twelve paintings from Rembrandt's ex-pupil Govert Flinck
Govert Flinck
Govert Teuniszoon Flinck was a Dutch painter of the Dutch Golden Age.-Life:Born at Kleve, he was apprenticed by his father to a silk mercer, but having secretly acquired a passion for drawing, was sent to Leeuwarden, where he boarded in the house of Lambert Jacobszoon, a Mennonite, better known...

 to fill all the large spaces using a programme drawn up by the poet Joost van den Vondel
Joost van den Vondel
Joost van den Vondel was a Dutch writer and playwright. He is considered the most prominent Dutch poet and playwright of the 17th century. His plays are the ones from that period that are still most frequently performed, and his epic Joannes de Boetgezant , on the life of John the Baptist, has...

, but Flink died in 1660 before completing any of the works. The work was then shared out by the burgomasters Joan Huydecoper
Joan Huydecoper I
Joan Huydecoper van Maarsseveen took over the family tannery business and the trade in pelts and armaments. The name Huydecoper means literally 'buyer of pelts'. Huydecoper had a prosperous political career: first he was elected to the vroedschap of Amsterdam...

 and Andries de Graeff
Andries de Graeff
Free Imperial Knight Andries de Graeff was a very powerful member of the Amsterdam branch of the De Graeff - family during the Dutch Golden Age. He became a mayor of Amsterdam and a powerful Amsterdam regent after the death of his older brother Cornelis de Graeff...

, who were certainly decisive, between a number of painters including Jacob Jordaens
Jacob Jordaens
Jacob Jordaens was one of three Flemish Baroque painters, along with Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, to bring prestige to the Antwerp school of painting. Unlike those contemporaries he never traveled abroad to study Italian painting, and his career is marked by an indifference to their...

 and Jan Lievens
Jan Lievens
Jan Lievens was a Dutch painter, usually associated with Rembrandt, working in a similar style.-Biography:According to Arnold Houbraken, Jan was the son of Lieven Hendriksze, a tapestry worker , and was trained by Joris Verschoten. He was sent to Pieter Lastman in Amsterdam at about the age of 10...

. The council provided the canvas to the artist. Rembrandt was commissioned to do the scene from Tacitus, one of eight intended to cover the revolt in the original scheme.

Treatment and reception

The sword-oath was invented by Rembrandt - note that there is one sword more in the painting – the one touching the front of the leader's blade – than Batavians holding them.; other depictions of the event show handshakes, especially that engraved
Engraving is the practice of incising a design on to a hard, usually flat surface, by cutting grooves into it. The result may be a decorated object in itself, as when silver, gold, steel, or glass are engraved, or may provide an intaglio printing plate, of copper or another metal, for printing...

 in 1612 by Antonio Tempesta
Antonio Tempesta
Antonio Tempesta was an Italian painter and engraver, a point of connection between Baroque Rome and the culture of Antwerp. He was born and trained in Florence and painted in a variety of styles, influenced to some degree by "Contra-Maniera" or Counter-Mannerism...

 as one of a set of thirty-six illustrations to designs by Otto van Veen
Otto van Veen
Otto van Veen, also known by his Latinized name Otto Venius or Octavius Vaenius, was a painter, draughtsman, and humanist active primarily in Antwerp and Brussels in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century...

 in the book Batavorum cum Romanis bellum on the revolt. In the following year, the States General
States-General of the Netherlands
The States-General of the Netherlands is the bicameral legislature of the Netherlands, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The parliament meets in at the Binnenhof in The Hague. The archaic Dutch word "staten" originally related to the feudal classes in which medieval...

 had commissioned a set of twelve paintings by Van Veen on the same subject for The Hague
The Hague
The Hague is the capital city of the province of South Holland in the Netherlands. With a population of 500,000 inhabitants , it is the third largest city of the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam...

. These baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 works had entered the popular imagination as depictions of the revolt, and Flinck's design drew on the engraving of this scene. Van Veen followed baroque ideas of decorum by always showing Civilis in profile, with only his good eye visible.
A sketch survives (on the back of a funeral ticket dated October 1661) that shows that he had transferred the scene from Tactitus's "sacred grove" to a large vaulted hall with open arches. After delivery, which was by July 1662, the painting hung in place for a short period before being returned to him for reasons that are undocumented, but may have involved perceptions of a lack of the decorum felt necessary for history painting, lack of finish and an insufficiently heroic approach to the story. When all four paintings were in place, the discrepancy was evident. The council probably expected something similar in style, rather than the ominous grandeur of Rembrandt's conception. The chiaroscuro
Chiaroscuro in art is "an Italian term which literally means 'light-dark'. In paintings the description refers to clear tonal contrasts which are often used to suggest the volume and modelling of the subjects depicted"....

 is typical of Rembrandt's late works, but the "eerie light and shadow and the iridescent greyish blues and pale yellows" are not.

In August 1662, when the painting was still there, Rembrandt signed an agreement giving a "quarter-share of his profits accruing from the piece for the City Hall and his prospective earnings from it." By 24 September 1662, however, when the archbishop and elector of Cologne Maximilian Henry of Bavaria
Maximilian Henry of Bavaria
thumb|154 px|Maximilian Heinrich of BavariaMaximilian Henry of Bavaria was the third son and fourth child of Albert VI, landgrave of Leuchtenberg and his wife, Mechthilde von Leuchtenberg. In 1650, he was named Archbishop of Cologne, Bishop of Hildesheim and Bishop of Liège succeeding his uncle,...

 was received in the town hall, Rembrandt's painting was gone. One objection may well have been the incongruous crown that Rembrandt had set upon Claudius Civilis's head and his dominating the scene, hardly features of a consultative, republican attitude. Blankert suggested that the painting had too much dark, unused space, compared with the others who had filled the image space with figures in a more conventional manner.

For Kenneth Clark
Kenneth Clark
Kenneth McKenzie Clark, Baron Clark, OM, CH, KCB, FBA was a British author, museum director, broadcaster, and one of the best-known art historians of his generation...


Crenshaw writes that Rembrandt was away for a couple of months, and "... he did not have enough supporters in the right places when obstacles arose." Instead, Flinck's unfinished work was retrieved and rapidly finished off by the German painter Jürgen Ovens
Jürgen Ovens
Jürgen Ovens , also known as Georg, or Jurriaen Ovens whilst in the Netherlands, was a portrait painter from North Frisia and, according to Arnold Houbraken, a pupil of Rembrandt...

 in four days. Ovens, then living in the house and using the studio formerly owned by Flinck, got paid 48 guilders for his work, whereas Flinck was promised 12,000 guilders for the series of twelve paintings. Jordaens and Lievens received 1,200 guilders for each of their works. In financial difficulties, Rembrandt was forced to cut it down drastically for easier sale and partly repainted it. The table was elongated, and he added the man on the left. In the next few months, Rembrandt was forced to sell the grave of his wife, Saskia.

Later history

In 1734, the painting was bought at auction in Amsterdam by the merchant Nicolaas Kohl. It came to Sweden as inheritance from Kohl's widow, Sophia Grill, and appears to have been in Sweden by 1767, when Louis Masreliez
Louis Masreliez
Louis Masreliez , born Adrien Louis Masreliez, was a Swedish painter and interior designer.Masreliez was born in Paris and came to Sweden in 1753. He began his education at Ritakademien at the age of 10. Since the academy did not teach painting, he studied at Lorens Gottman's workshop...

 produced an altarpiece for the parish church of Romfartuna that seems influenced by Rembrandt's painting. It was later acquired through marriage by the Stockholm merchant Henrik Wilhelm Peill, whose wife was the sole daughter of the wealthy Claës Grill, a director of the Swedish East India Company. Probably on the advice of artist friends, Peill deposited the painting at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts
Royal Swedish Academy of Arts
The Royal Swedish Academy of Arts or Kungl. Akademien för de fria konsterna, founded in 1773 by King Gustav III, is one of the Royal Academies in Sweden...

, where it can be seen hanging on the wall in the background of a painting by Elias Martin
Elias Martin
Elias Martin was a Swedish genre, history, and landscape painter from Stockholm. He is known for his aquarelles of Stockholm and his landscape oil paintings that feature romantic lighting effects...

 of the visit of King Gustav III
Gustav III of Sweden
Gustav III was King of Sweden from 1771 until his death. He was the eldest son of King Adolph Frederick and Queen Louise Ulrica of Sweden, she a sister of Frederick the Great of Prussia....

 to the Academy in 1782. The King asked to borrow the painting for his own gallery at the Royal Palace. Peill, who had previously supported the King financially in his coup d'état in 1772, complied, and a plan of the royal collection shows the painting in a central position in one of the galleries. At this time, the painting was restored by conservator Erik Hallblad. Hallblad, who had developed or learnt a method for transferring an oil painting from one canvas to another, removed the paint layer from Rembrandt's original canvas and attached it to a new one. Some damage appears to have occurred during this risky process; the extra sword now seen on the painting was probably added by Hallblad to mask this. The painting is still owned by the Academy of Arts but has been deposited since 1864 in the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, a Danish author, Karl Madsen
Karl Madsen
Carl Johan Wilhelm Madsen, commonly known as Karl Madsen, was a Danish painter and art historian who after close connections with the Skagen Painters joined the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where he was museum director from 1911–1925....

, noticed the sketch from Munich and assumed that Rembrandt—after his bankruptcy—fled to Sweden. He suggested that Rembrandt had painted the one-eyed Northern god, king and priest Odin
Odin is a major god in Norse mythology and the ruler of Asgard. Homologous with the Anglo-Saxon "Wōden" and the Old High German "Wotan", the name is descended from Proto-Germanic "*Wodanaz" or "*Wōđanaz"....

. In fact, Rembrandt's burial in Westerkerk
The Westerkerk is a church of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands denomination in Amsterdam, built in 1620-1631 after a design by Hendrick de Keyser. It is next to Amsterdam's Jordaan district, on the bank of the Prinsengracht canal....

 was discovered in 1866, and the true history of the painting had been published in 1891.

In March 2008, the Academy valued the painting at 750 million kronor
Swedish krona
The krona has been the currency of Sweden since 1873. Both the ISO code "SEK" and currency sign "kr" are in common use; the former precedes or follows the value, the latter usually follows it, but especially in the past, it sometimes preceded the value...

(£61m, or $123m), but then put it on sale at 300 million kronor (£24m, or $49m—that is, at a 60% discount), on the condition that it was donated straight back to the museum after purchase. This unusual measure was taken in order to raise money for exhibitions and other activities.

External links

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