Title   Ter begrafenis (Search for the image)
Translated title To The Grave
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of mourners and pallbearers (`aansprekers’)

Code of occupational group 59220
Description Two men dressed in mourning attire are walking and talking together in a square, while behind them in the background pallbearers carry a draped coffin. A church steeple is seen in the background at the left. The men wear especially tall, broad-brimmed hats trimmed with long mourning scarves and bows. The tails of the scarves stretch down behind them to the middle of their backs. They wear long cloaks, fastened with many buttons, over their clothing; each has a square-shaped collar. The mourner to the right carries a paper in his hand with the words "ter begrafen is" written on it. The mourner on the left extends his left arm pointing his hand.

Funerals of prominent individuals and gild members were accompanied by much pomp and ceremony. Many gilds had black mourning cloth covers which they draped over the coffins of gildsmen. Commemorative silver "grave shields", bearing the crest of the gild or scenes depicting the activities of the gild, were hung over these coffin covers for the funeral ceremonies. Pallbearers carried the coffin to the church for the funeral and then to the gravesite, either inside the church or at a graveyard surrounding the church. Mourning cloths and grave shields were removed after the ceremonies before the wooden coffin was lowered into the grave. The death of paupers and poor people was marked with far less ceremony. Their shrouded corpses were sometimes buried in unmarked graves after a brief recitation of prayers by a minister.

During the 17th century, it was common practice for funeral invitations to be hand-delivered by specialized messengers, known as "aansprekers" to friends, business associates, and more distant family members. These invitations specified the location and time where funeral services and burial were to be held. Typically men attended these public rites, while female mourners gathered in the home of the deceased, offering condolences to the grieving family. Following the burial, food and drink might be provided to mourners either at a tavern or at home. Some funeral meals were quite lavish; and some became quite raucous as wine, beer, and brandies flowed liberally.

The 1651 engraving by Pieter Nolpe, after Pieter Post, depicting the funeral procession for Frederik Henry who died on the 10th of May 1647, shows a full array of mourners accompanying the coffin to its burial place in Delft. Those mourners are dressed even more elaborately than Bramer's, with beribboned shoes and ribbon garters on their legs, but the same conversational quality is evident among the mourners. Bramer also depicted three mourners following a casket as one of his 1659 illustrations for Quevedo's De Spaanse Dromen.

The ever-present specter of death, in a country where many perished because of plague and other diseases, or were lost at sea, or died in childbirth, was acknowledged by Dutch people and by Dutch artists. Church interiors by Emanuel de Witte depict gravediggers at work, moving paving stones away before the coffin is lowered, or shoveling dirt out of the grave into wheelbarrows; but the depiction of mourners is less frequent, and they are seldom seen inside a church. Interestingly at the end of the century when Jan Luyken produced his set of drawings to illustrate het Menselyk Bedryf, he concluded the series focused on people's occupations with a gravedigger stacking up skulls in the churchyard. In other prints by Luyken, he depicted the coffin makers and the "aansprekers".

Dead children were portrayed occasionally on their death beds, their small corpses wrapped in white swaddling clothes, perhaps with a sprig of rosemary for remembrance. See Bartholomeus van der Helst's "Portrait of a Dead Infant" (Stedelijk Museum Het Catharina Gasthuis, Gouda). Occasionally family portraits depicted dead children as angels hovering in the sky above other family members, especially in family paintings by Nicolaes Maes.

The grinning skeletal figure of death appeared in genre prints, usually as a warning against human folly, and was incorporated by Judith Leyster in her painting "The Last Drop" (John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art) depicting two young dissipated men quite drunk who are watched by a skeleton holding a skull and hourglass.

Reminders of death's inevitability occur in "vanitas" still lifes with "memento mori" themes. The passage of time is suggested by a watch or hourglass; the fleeting quality of earthly pleasures by overturned wine glasses, half-eaten breads, and silenced musical instruments; decay by worms, bugs, or snails eating holes in flowers and leaves; the powerless influence of money in death by coins, or leather money purses; or the loss of life by snuffed out candles or skulls. See David Bailly's 1651 "Still Life" (Lakenhal), Abraham van der Schoon's six grizzly skulls in his "Vanitas Still Life" (Rijksmuseum), or N. Le Peschier's 1661 "Skull, Money Bags, and Documents" (Collection Frits Lugt, Institut Néerlandais, Paris).

Source Donna R. Barnes, Ed D, Street scenes, Leonard Bramer's drawings of seventeenth-century daily life (Hofstra Museum exhibition 1991). Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Click here for the introductory essay on Bramer's drawings.

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