Laudation Claudia Goldstein by Joop Witteveen

Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Goldstein,

As the name behind the Joop Witteveen Prize, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate you, Professor Goldstein, on winning the Joop Witteveen Prize 2013. You have won this prize for your book Pieter Bruegel and the Culture of the Early Modern Dinner Party, a book which I read with great interest. It takes a surprising perspective to present a colourful picture of Antwerp in the 16th century, the city’s economic and cultural heyday.

What marked Antwerp out at that time was the fact that the governance of the city was not in the hands of the nobility, but of citizens, rich merchants. They built new homes in the city or renovated existing houses. As your book clearly shows, their aim was to demonstrate their power and wealth. You bring this to life by focusing on the dining rooms of several of these merchants and city governors and everything within them. You have taken gastronomy and its context and used it to reflect broader cultural history.

In a development that was new at the time, rich citizens of Antwerp designed their homes to include ‘dining rooms’, intended for hosting dinners with friends and family members or business associates. In your book, you describe in great detail the many paintings that adorned the walls of these dining rooms. These paintings were from such artists as Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer. They created elaborate compositions of kitchen interiors and markets, focusing on a wide range of foods, which must certainly have added to the atmosphere in these dining rooms.

Of the many painters based in Antwerp, Pieter Bruegel was the most important. His works too were acquired to decorate dining rooms. Master of the Mint Jan Noiret had four paintings by Bruegel in his dining room and the much wealthier Nicolaas Jongelinck, who also worked at the Mint, had no fewer than sixteen Bruegels. It is hard to imagine the impression this must have made on people during these great dinners.

We know much about the Antwerp Golden Age that lasted until 1585 and proved so important for the development of the Low Countries. We are familiar with the great names that gave shape to the Antwerp Golden Age, including the painters Bruegels and Massijsen, and the book printers Christoffel Plantijn and Jan van Ghelen. And now you have made an important contribution to our understanding of the cultural prosperity of 16th-century Antwerp by observing it from a gastronomic perspective.

In the wake of the Spanish Fury and the transition to a partially Protestant city government, Antwerp was reconquered in 1585 by the Spanish troops led by Alexander Farnese. The river Scheldt, and along with it the port of Antwerp, were sealed off resulting in a mass exodus of wealthy merchants to the Northern Netherlands, mainly to Amsterdam. This laid the foundation for the Dutch Golden Age. The place where we are now holding this festive event is still testament to that wealth.

It shows that the impact of your book reaches far beyond the city boundaries of Antwerp. I am now delighted to present you, Professor Goldstein, with the Joop Witteveen Prize 2013.