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Exploding ships, flying heads, snapping limbs: the Rijksmuseum collection holds some of the most explicit and violent paintings of early modern maritime warfare. Dating to the early seventeenth century, these large works were often commissioned by Dutch civic or military institutions to celebrate the victories of the Dutch Republic over the Spanish Crown at sea. The pioneering Dutch maritime painters of the time who worked on these prestigious commissions showcased a lively interest in the extreme violence that characterized naval warfare. Famed painters such as Hendrick Vroom, Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen and Adam Willaerts all painted gory scenes of snapping arms, flying heads and dismembered torsos.
The explicit details found in these paintings provide a unique window on the rise of the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic. Commissioned by the rich and powerful, these works of art raise important questions about the glorification of violence, the self-image of the Dutch Republic as a military power, and the unique place of naval warfare in Dutch visual culture.