Houbraken Translated


Volume 1, page 100-109

Page 100

To the sacrificial place at the charge of the priest,
With much
drum work, and lyres, and flutes,
Along the richly strewn path.
Here burn torches, bright and clear,
Here reeks the incense candle,
Here glisten incense jar,
And golden tray,
while on the way.
The axe and blood pan await the slaughter
Of cattle and
A connoisseur here sees, most pleased,
How one personage
The other, and how everyone’s face
And function,
like a singer’s beat
Performs its function:
how low and great

when led to the altar. Just as otherwise the loins were covered with a sacrificial cloth stitched with gold and silk runs, and the head decorated with a splendid sacrificial cowl which, stretched between the horns with silk cords to the tips of the horns and hung on both sides with tassels, of which we have the appearance, drawn after a marble frieze torn from furious time, to keep the memory of it, shown in a print opposite. As further decoration the heathens sometimes gilded the horns of the sacrificial animal. Ovid says in his tenth book of the Metamorphoses.

Indutaque cornibus aura victima,
Which is;
The sacrificial animal having the horns gilded.

§ White bulls. The sacrificial animal in honour of some upper god must not only be selected for lack of any deficiency but it must also be pearly white. And by contrast it should be jet black if it were to serve as a sacrifice for spirits and subterranean godheads, as Ludolf Smids noted acutely in his commentary on Ovid’s works, as we will also show in greater detail when we deal with these things in particular.


Page 101

Here tread as if to the resounding of notes.
How beautifully recedes
that long line,
at a distance and closer by
Ever stronger,
before the spectators eye?
rise the gate, and church so high
And roundly built in Jupiter’s honour.
So that they might still teach us architecture.
at last ends the procession,
Where the
altar awaits, and all too long
Has longed
for the sacrificial wine.
Now the
high priest of Jupiter
In white, laurelled with oak leaves
Honours the apostles on the altar.
But look up, how the holy pair
With words, hands and gesture,
the grotesque heathen sacrifice,
point the sacrificing priest and crowd
God, whose honour altars serve.
They call out, we are dust and ashes
You will soon
them from on high
See them jump, God’s and Jesus’ honour
Protect, and
from heartache
sorrow each will tear his cloak*,

* The tearing of clothes was common among the Hebrews when someone heard sacrilegious words being spoken. At a later time certain rules were introduced, for we read with R. Maimonides that if someone, being and Israelite, hears another Israelite take God’s name in vain, he must tear his clothes. But if he hears it from a heathen, that is not essential. And thus the apostles erred in this by following their impulse too far. We have answered this objection in the commentary on the life of Den Kruisheld, Paulus, p. 55. Here it is only to the point that we show (to lead the curious youth on the right path) the manner of the tearing of clothes.


Page 102

So that they spill neither blood nor wine,
at once halt the sacrificial ceremony.
the sweep of our sight agrees
With each
dimension, and with light
shadow on each and every element?
Mother Nature for her amusement
held the hand of any painter
She does so here, and nowhere milder.

It bears no contradiction that when we wish to show an old Hebrew, Greek, or Roman event or history, we have to make use of authors who lived closest to the time of the event with respect to the dress of the figures with regard to the land’s customs, manner of ceremonies, with their entire appurtenances, equipment and tools: or of the depictions on marble commemorative pieces

To pull the clothing from the neck downward with both hands so that one saw the bare chest, was the common way of tearing clothes. One therefore reads with R. Maimonides: The clothes must be torn in the front, and he who tears the same on the back, or on the side, or down below, deviates from the normal way of tearing; and with Joseph, in the 2nd book of the same. With the upper priests themselves one could tell how their clothes are torn, having cloth thrown over their heads and naked at the chest, in contrast to the way of tearing clothes which only belonged to the High Priest, who was only allowed to tear from below upward, as the Jewish masters distinguish precisely in their writings. Thus we read: The high priest tears from below, but a common priest from above. Misna tit, Horajoth, chapter 3.

In view of these directions our most commendable art practitioners erred when they depicted the high priest Caiaphas tearing his clothes from the chest downward.


Page 103

and impressions on coins which are contemporary to what they commemorate, and not do like the painter Rembrandt, who (as Andries Pels says on p. 36 of his Gebruik én misbruik des toneels)

Went most assiduously to seek on the Nieuwe and Noordermarkt
helmets, Japanese daggers, fur,
And frayed collars that he thought picturesque
And often joined
a Scipio to a Catholic body,
overloaded the noble members of a Cyrus.
However, though he used to his advantage,
Whatever came down from the four corners of the
Much seemed to
be lacking, much in propriety of adornment,
When he
would dress his figures in clothing.

and even less than that painter who showed Cleopatra tempting the snake to bite her in the foreground of a painting with a map of Amsterdam in its new disposition in the background, thus making the work ridiculous for those who understand the essence of art and are well-versed in archaeology. We do not betray the name of this genius, who is alive, following the lesson of Horace, thus translated by the same poet Andries Pels:

Avoid criticizing during the lives of particular people:
In whatever guise, what manner of painting, what
You wish to disguise it. In general show the bad:
Punish or
reprimand it, but omit the name of he who does it.


Page 104

But since it is not the practice of all painters to sniff with the nose in books; I have taken the trouble of doing research concerning the implements that the ancient heathens used in their sacrificial services; as well as to assemble in one place the appearance of the same collected from the impressions of old marble friezes, as elsewhere, and (as is commonly said) etched the pieces in the eyes of the inquisitive young painter so that no one (unless he chooses) needs to remain ignorant about them or misrepresent them in his work.

Here, then, you see depicted the hat of the high priest as well as that of a lesser priest, the sacrificial axe, quiver with skinning knives, incense holder, lamp, sacred chickens, sacrificial house, sacrificial tray, sacrificial jar, incense chest, water vat, sacrificial pitcher, beakers, aspergilla, holy water font, blood pan, etc. mentioned in the preceding verse.

With such a hood, or head gear the priesthood used to cover their heads, and those who attended the religious ceremonies used the slip of their outer garment, or a veil. This is confirmed by Plutarch, who says: The Romans approaching the Gods were wont to honour them with covered head, to bear witness to humility of mind. And it is not beyond possibility, as observed by Joachim Oudaan, that the Apostle Paul forbade men to prophesy with uncovered head, to contrast the practice of the Christians to that of the heathens and thus make it manifest, just as this was the intention of Moses, which we demonstrated in detail, using Spencer [= Philipp Jacob Spener?] in the Brieven van Philaléthes.

This head cover or upper priestly hat,



Page 105

I. called Apex, was made of white wool, decorated with purple ribbons, which also served to be tied under the chin. The tip, which ran upward pineapple-like, was sometimes pierced with a twig from a curative tree. But for what reason this hat was made of wool, though the wearing of woollen garments was forbidden to priests by law, I do not know, but this I know from Plutarch: That, according to the teachings of Orpheus and Pythagoras, woollen clothes were deemed unfitting for such as they, wool being from a dead body, which was considered to be unclean. As a consequence priests should always be depicted in a white shroud, as should all those who perform any actions thereabouts and those who were being initiated and who accompanied the priests at the sacrifices. Who, in addition (according to the testimony of Tzetzes) were wreathed with myrrh branches or other green interspersed with flowers. Hippolytus appears to have been such a one when Phaedra fell in love with him; for this we read in the fourth of Ovid’s Heldinnebrieven according to the new translation by Vondel, given to the Netherlands by Mr. David van Hoogstraten: I wish I had been in Crete, when I attended the feast of Ceres in Eleusis. Then my desire fell (although not for the first time) on you, and love settled in the marrow of my bones. Thou wert dressed in white, and wreathed in flowers: and thy pale visage flushed with blushing modesty.

II. Depicts the hat or the head gear of a Flamen, priest of Jupiter, as is clearly indicated by the bolt of lightning stitched on it. And because in many instances it was too inconvenient for the upper


Page 106

priests to keep the head covered with hat or hood, it was later replaced by a thread or string named Filum, and the Priests have been called Flamines ever since, see Abraham Bogaert’s De Roomsche mogentheid, p. 84. Sometimes they also covered their head with a wreath of laurel or oak leaves.

III. The Slaughtering Axe, corresponding in its appearance as one sees it on a medal of Lepidus, common in Numismatic Cabinets,
IV. V. and Sacrificial Knives copied after old surviving marble friezes within Rome. Festus says: that it was a long iron knife, with a round ivory handle, fitted with gold or silver, or with nails of Cyprian copper, which the priests used for the sacrifices. And the second corresponds with the depiction that one finds on the imperial coin. See Oudaan's De Roomse moogentheid, page 545, plate 113.9 and 558, plate CXIV.4, next to which we depict it, not inappropriately with
VI. the Quiver with skinning knives, which the slaughterers carried hanging from their belt, as tracked down by the antiquarian Guillaume du Choul, Councillor of the King of France, and Bailiff of the mountains of Dauphiné.

From him we have also borrowed the Candleholder, above which a bowl-like hollow item is to be observed, suited to burning incense, which, in all probability, Joost van den Vondel must have been looking at in the preceding verse, since he speaks of an incense candleholder. It must have served the same purpose as the incense vats, and platters; or may have served as a lamp to give light; seeing the scallop bowl


Page 107

or spoon-like hollow at the top is somewhat similar to the spoon-like bowls on the seven-branched Jewish temple candleholder, of which we have only shown the top piece in the print, next to the priestly hat (following the drawing that Willem Goeree shows on p.88 of the 4th volume of the Mosaïze historie der Hebreeuwse kerke).

One sees a chandelier with such a shape in the medal of Augustus, next to a wreath of ox skulls, sacrificial trays and flowers woven together.

Be this as it may, it is certain that the ancient Romans celebrated their temple services and sacrifices with burning lights. On a medal of Antonia (after Claudius had made her priestess of the deified Augustus) one sees two lit torches as well as a festoon of foliage with the inscription SACERDOTES DIVI AUGUSTI. Priestess of the divine Augustus. See Oudaan's De Roomsche mogentheid, plate CXIII. 11. 12.

And seeing that the ancient Romans also used lamps in their temples, houses or hearths, we have also drawn this Lamp. VIII. for her strange form and appearance, to be of service to the art practitioners if they sometimes show some statues of the Gods, in temples, or covered portals, as it was the practice of the same Romans to hang burning lamps both by day and by night. Of which lamplight the priests, who kept night vigil in turn, also made use. It is also useful for those who wish to show household gods on their altars,


Page 108

where a burning lamp always hung. On this lamp (unearthed in 1525) hung a copper plate on which was inscribed in Latin letters Laribus. Sacrum Publicae. Felicitati. Romanorum, which is: Dedicated to the household gods to the general welfare of the Romans. And as we saw that we had dimensioned the outline of our plate amply, we also made room for that chunk of stone IX (on which the sacred chickens, taken everywhere by the priests and diviners to be able to make predictions based on the manner of eating of the chickens) is still to be seen preserved in its entirety in Rome. From this treasury of antiquities we have also derived this image-bearing marble stone, X on which is exhibited the skull or flayed bull's head with its sacrificial reticulum. This insul, or reticulum, was made of knitted wool, stretched above the head of the sacrificial bull, tied to the top ends of the horns, from which the knotted sacrificial bands (called ταινίαη by the Greeks and Vittae by the Latins), hung down. The sacrificial animal stood displayed in front of the altar* with this trimming for a long time. The pelvic bones of the slaughtered sacrificial animals later served to represent piety and religion, and were placed in front of the altar XI.§ These altars were round

* Thus seen on the back of a coin of Caesar, shown in Table CXIV, fig. 4, in Oudaan’s Roomsche mogentheid.
§ Altar. Heathen writings mention an altar of great height, which Apollo had piled up from some pelvic bones or horns of butchered sacrificial animals, which Daniel Heinsius uses thus in his Hymnus oft Lof-sanck van Bacchus.


Page 109

or square, high or low, according to what the priests had to perform on them, having sculptures of garlands with flowers, fruits, sacrificial plates, skulls etc. on the exterior rounding or, if square, on the plinth. Sometimes they were also draped or hung with festoons of living foliage mixed with flowers, or fruit; which hung down or were arranged according to the requirements of the sacrifices, or for the different statues of Gods for which the sacrifice took place. In addition it matters (this being something which an artist practicing ancient histories ought to know) what kind of sacrificial cattle is brought to the altar, seeing that the same offering arouses pleasure in one godhead and revulsion in another.

Pigs were slaughtered in many cases and sacrificed to many godheads, such as to Jupiter, in addition to a bull and sheep every five years in Rome by the disciplinarian of the field of Mars, to Venus at weddings

They say that in olden days Phoebus made
A great and high altar,
flanked on all sides
With horns that his sister
brought him from the field,
Who had felled many a horned beast at Delos.

A comical poet applied the following rhymed lines to this,

As once men in general,
Collected the horns together.
Which often the beloved women,
Placed as plumes on their heads;
With that one could at the very least, believe
well be able to build an altar,
As high as in the land of Egypt,
A pointed
cenotaph was ever planted.


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