Moments before starting my private tour of her masterfully curated exhibition, I asked Maureen Warren the question I’ve been asking myself since learning Fake news and misleading images: political impressions in the Dutch Republic. “Are you worried that viewers will draw too parallels with today’s political media?” just as easily refer to today’s social media wars.

As Warren guided me through the six themed galleries, several things became clear. Although today’s media continue to call our social and political crises “unprecedented”, that is not the case. And while the technology used to create political print has certainly changed, the intent hasn’t. The exhibition captures an era of 17th century Dutch history and culture, which boasted a unique freedom of artistic expression. Therefore, viewers might be better served by maintaining a dual focus on parallels with the present and distinctive aspects of the period.

A white wall in the exhibit with multi-panel prints, one in a long frame and one in a specialized angled plexiglass case.
Photo by Debra Domal.

Fake news and misleading images illustrates the power of the academic museum. Among its 100 prints and illustrated books, several rare and recently purchased works make the Krannert Art Museum one of the best collections of Dutch political prints outside of Europe. While we tend to associate groundbreaking discoveries with the work of Illinois scientists, this years-long exposition is also a paradigm shift. From the care taken in constructing the horizontal wall displays and substantial grants, to the inclusion of museum interns in the creation of the introductory maps and video display of the exhibit, to the in-depth knowledge and dedication of its curator, Fake news and misleading images is KAM at its best.

The opening of the Fake News and Lying Pictures exhibition with a mural of 17th century Europe and a video presentation showing the video of the exhibition.
Photo by Debra Domal.

I was lucky enough to benefit from a nearly hour-long visit by the woman whose passion and mastery are evident in every choice, every description. I wish you were there to see the twinkle in his eyes and feel his excitement as we stopped at some of the highlights of the exhibit. Through it all, Maureen Warren managed to make it all accessible. Although it is impossible to include all aspects of what I have seen and learned in this space, I will offer this. Below is what to expect, what to look for and why you definitely won’t want to miss out. Fake news and misleading images.

A wall of three natural wood framed grayscale prints with white borders and text descriptions to the right of each print.
Photo by Debra Domal.

With 100 pieces in six themed galleries, you’ll want to plan a 40-60 minute visit. This is definitely an exhibition where details matter, especially in terms of methodology and layered meaning. Warren indicated that the majority of the Dutch population at this time was literate. And since most of us won’t arrive with a command of Dutch, take the time to read the summary of each gallery’s themes as well as the individual descriptions. They will provide context and perspective, and help you better see the parallels Warren wants you to consider.

Don’t be intimidated by the range. Use the six themes as a map, literally and figuratively. They will help you navigate the exhibit accordingly and keep the general concepts in mind. And, in the case of “Dutch Lions and Other Political Animals”, they will remind you which political animal is associated with which nation. Hint: The rooster is French. The themes, in order, and with Warren’s descriptions are as follows.

Dutch Lions and Other Political Animals (Animal Satire); Founding Fathers/Fallen Fathers (Murdered Politicians); Spoils of the Seas (Dutch East and West India companies, shipping, naval warfare); Face of the enemy (war crimes, criminals, etc.); Men of Honour/Women of Virtue (Dutch men, women and children); Romeyn de Hooghe: master of propaganda (arguably the most important political engraver in 17th century Europe).

Don’t forget that you can always come back before part of the exhibition begins its tour in December. These pieces are incredibly delicate and rare, and therefore flash photography is prohibited. While wandering around a museum alone offers some major zen moments, I’m inclined to suggest going with a friend or two. It is, after all, an exploration of communication practices. You can share your experiences and fill each other in on details that might have been missed.

Some of my favorite tracks (and there are so many to choose from) are the ones Warren dwelled on during our tour and the ones filled with aha moments. Yes, sometimes it’s fun to be wrong. For example, many prints (made from engravings) and broadsheets (made with both engraved images and typefaces) were widely distributed among the largely literate Dutch population. Some could be bought for the price of a beer, or rather a beer. The hand-colored ones were, to my surprise, still quite affordable and were often hung around the house to express and inspire patriotism. Don’t miss the chance to see the richly colored (and beautifully preserved) color of Jan Saenreda’s 1602 engraving Allegory of the flourishing state of the United Provinces (see image carousel).

My favorite aha moments happened in the “Men of Honour, Women of Virtue” gallery where according to the theme summary “[people] have been commemorated for many reasons – from exceptional acts of bravery to excellence in their profession, including military commanders, preachers, scholars, artists, etc. a Catholic, who saved the city of Leiden by agreeing to marry the Spanish commander, Francisco de Valdez, who was 30 years older, if he agreed to stop the attacks on its inhabitants. Also included is an engraving of Anna Maria van Schurman, the first woman to study at a Dutch university, where she studied engraving and became fluent in 14 languages. And there, a few meters from a portrait of a brave woman in a pose of power, armed for battle is Rembrandt Portrait of Jan Six, art collector and politician, honored for his support of artists. The richness of the pigments and the brilliant use of Japanese paper, which better captures the warm light imagined by Rembrandt, are worth a look.

You definitely don’t want to miss the “Romeyn De Hooghe: Master Propagandist” gallery as he is considered the father of political satire. As Warren’s theme summary notes, “he made prints that invited educated viewers to poke fun at famous people.” How’s that for a parallel with current practices. De Hooghe inspired later artists like William Hogarth and James Gillray, whose work could be considered the very first editorial cartoons and some memes.

I just scratched the surface. I invite you to see Fake news and misleading images and live your own aha moments. It’s the perfect exhibit to kick off the 2022 academic year and show new Illinois students in all fields the value of the Krannert Art Museum and its contributions to art history.

And if you want to continue your own investigation of political printed matter in the Dutch Republic, a complementary scientific publication, designed and produced by Lucia | Marquand, with Maureen Warren as lead author and editor. Pre-order a copy of Paper cutter, paper crowns here.

Fake news and misleading images: political printed matter in the Dutch Republic
September 1-December 17
Krannert Art Museum
500E Peabody
T–Sa 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Top photo by Debra Domal.