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Sixteenth-century Zeeland tapestry named one of 50 best in the world

Likely to be exhibited in New York in 2007

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

MIDDELBURG, the Netherlands - A tapestry made by a local artisan around the year 1600 and now part of the collection of the Provincial Museum of Zeeland, has been named one of the 50 most important tapestries in the world. The curators of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York gave their assessment of the artwork.

The Zeeland tapestry, designed by Haarlem artist Hendrick Vroom and made by weaver Hendrick de Maecht, depicts the 1575 Siege of Zierikzee, a port town on the island of Schouwen-Duiveland, on the northern banks of the Eastern Scheldt. The tapestry is one of a series of six.

The New York museum has its own important collection of tapestries from around the world. Curators are preparing a major exhibit to be held at the end of 2007, which will bring together the 50 Most Important Tapestries of the world, all made between 1590 and 1810. It has not yet been decided if the Zierikzee tapestry will be part of the exhibit. It would be the first time that the 1600 artwork could be seen outside the Netherlands.

The Zierikzee tapestry is one of a series of six made by order by the States of Zeeland. The large, colourful and highly detailed weavings show acts of warfare during the Eighty Years War of independence waged between the emerging Dutch Republic and Spain. Each tapestry is dedicated to warfare in or near a town in the region. The one featuring a Bergen op Zoom scene was the first to be finished. At that point the other five tapestries were ordered: Rammekens/Vlissingen, Den Haak/Veere, Lillo/Antwerp, Zierikzee and Middelburg. The last one rather is a large portrait of Prince Willem, surrounded by a large number of coats of arms.


From the early 17th century on, the huge tapestries adorned the walls of the Prince’s Lodgings in the Abbey of Middelburg where the States of Zeeland, the powerful semi-independent provincial government, received its revered guests. Often the tapestries were rolled up, but unfolded to impress the guests, and also were used to retain heat in the Abbey. In the 1970s, the provincial government loaned the art works to the Zeeuws Museum.

In 1575, Spanish troops commanded by general Mondragon, laid siege to Zierikzee which played an important role in the regional and provincial economy, and was a prosperous trading partner with England, Scotland and beyond. Following the siege, Zierikzee was unable to regain much of its prominence. The siege was part of a campaign to recapture the entire island and aimed to drive a wedge between the ‘rebelling’ provinces of Holland (in the north) and Zeeland.

The Zeeland defenders breached the dikes, inundating the island, leaving some of the villages as inhabited islands in a vast sea. In the see-saw battle, the Spanish took villages, only to be chased away by the rebels (the Gueux), or the other way around. The Spanish eventually Zierikzee but their troops openly rebelled over back pay. They soon departed from the town, allowing Prince William of Orange to restore his authority in Zierikzee and in the islands.

In 1955, a project was started to restore the 350-year old tapestries, work that was capped in 2004.