Danger beyond the Gates

Life on the road

Soldiers at Rest (1555/1556) by Joannes van DoetecemMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Life in the 16th century wasn’t always safe. People certainly had to be careful outside the city gates.

There were always many mercenaries on the roads. They would plunder towns and villages if they didn’t get paid. Travellers also had to watch out for highwaymen.

This mercenary is travelling with his wife. A company of mercenaries always had a large following, including cooks, dressmakers, wives and ladies of easy virtue.

Mercenaries’ clothes were characterized by their striking slashes. It is said that this fashion came into being after a victory over Charles the Bold in 1477. The mercenaries plundered his camp after the battle and cut his costly silk tent-cloths into ribbons to adorn themselves. This created a fashion with slashes. It can still be seen today in the uniform of the Swiss Guard that guards the Pope.

There were gallows fields outside the city. Can you see the condemned people hanging?

Executed criminals were left hanging outside the city as a warning to passers-by.

Long journeys were not always overland. How are people travelling in this print?

People could travel safely and quickly on the waterways. Here a boat is being pulled ashore by horses.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder designed this print as part of a set of landscapes soon after his return from Italy.

The set was published (excu[debat] in Latin) by Hieronymus Cock. Cock was one of Antwerp’s major print publishers. The set was the start of a long working relationship between Cock and Bruegel.

The engravers’ names do not appear on this sheet. From the technical characteristics of this print we know that it was executed by the Van Doetecum brothers. They often used a combination of etching and engraving, as in this print.

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