October 5, 2011

Jan Luyken: Pieter Pietersz. Bekjen preaching in a boat on the river Amstel (1691-1693); Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

This colored print by Jan Luyken (1649-1712) shows us a secret Anabaptist religious service, taking place in a small boat on the river Amstel. In the background we can see the old city wall, which served to protect Amsterdam from attacks by Utrecht. The accompanying text informs us that two men of this group, ferryman Pieter Pietersze Bekjen and Willem Jansze, were burnt in 1569 in Amsterdam for practicing their faith.
Even though the Dutch Republic would gain a reputation for religious tolerance in the seventeenth and eighteenth century (for instance, the Puritans initially fled to Holland before taking off in 1620 to America in the Mayflower), in the sixteenth century adult baptism was considered to be a threat to both religious and civil authority.
Jan Luyken himself had an intense religious experience when he was 26 years old and converted to Anabaptism. He produced a large number of etchings for the 1685 edition of a book called the The Bloody Theatre or the Martyrs Mirror of the defenseless Christians. This book describes the horrible fate of many Anabaptists and relates how Bekjen was tortured before being burnt alive.
Today, Jan Luyken is not quite as famous as in his own days, but attentive visitors may have recognized his name, as the Rijksmuseum’s address is Jan Luykenstraat 1.

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