Jan Saenredam, Allegory of the Flourishing State of the United Provinces, 1602, courtesy of the Krannert Art Museum
Fake News & Lying Pictures: Political Prints in the Dutch Republic opens at the University of San Diego. The exhibition explores strategies that eighteenth-century Dutch printmakers used to commemorate events, create heroes and villains, and form consensus for collective action.
Today, editorial cartoons and memes provoke laughter, indignation, even action. These forms of expression are usually traced to eighteenth-century satirical artists, such as William Hogarth and James Gillray, but they have earlier Dutch precedents. This exhibition explores strategies printmakers used to commemorate events, create heroes and villains, and form consensus for collective action.
The Dutch Republic had much to offer artists: an influx of wealth and ideas from refugees, new knowledge and commodities from global trade and exploration, and new art markets. However, the Dutch government had little control over print media. Printmakers used this freedom to try to shape policy and actions. They experimented with visual language in a daring and subversive fashion. While some prints have visual puns that do not require literacy, others incorporate multilingual captions. These prints were sent abroad, transcending national and temporal boundaries to make a lasting impact.
The prints in this exhibition caused international incidents, were part of coordinated propaganda campaigns, and shaped collective memory. Dutch printmakers used trolling tactics long before the invention of the internet; they concealed damaging information, told outright lies, and celebrated some public figures while ridiculing others. Their imagery stoked collective praise, unrest, scorn, and even violence—functions that political artwork continues to serve today.