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Watching the Parade Go By

The Romanticism of the nineteenth century translated into a new interest in the past: historical novels became very popular and the interest in medieval art revived. Another new phenomenon that manifested itself was the historical parade, which showed a truthful representation of a historical event. A nice example of such a parade is the one that was held on the 16th of June 1836, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the University of Utrecht. Students re-enacted the march that had taken place after the battle of Nieuwpoort a few centuries ago (in 1600). In commemoration of this parade, a book with lithographs of the parade was published in 1836: Optogt des Nederlandschen Legers naar Ostende (see fig. 1)The lithographs were produced by Victor Adam, a French painter and lithographer (1801-1867). This book is part of the library collection of the Royal Netherlands Institute Rome.

Figure 1 The title page

Celebrating the foundation of Utrecht University

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Utrecht University, the committee in charge of the organization of the lustrum spared no expense. No less than fl 4.500 was donated by the king (today this would equal almost €50.000,-) to help organizing the events. Other sources of income consisted of other donations and registration fees. The festivities lasted for six days. They started on Sunday the 12th of June 1836 with a prayer in the Dom church and ended on Friday the 17th of June with a big party and fireworks. To contribute to this festive atmosphere students re-enacted the parade held after the Dutch army won the battle of Nieuwpoort on Thursday the 16th. This parade was a very big happening, in which no less than 524 people participated. The majority of the group consisted of students, while other actors were provided by the Utrecht militia group or hired. Around the same time a second book about the festivities was published in Utrecht: Gedenkboek van het Tweede Eeuwfeest der Utrechtsche Hoogeschool. This book provides a list of all the participants, the names of the students portraying them and the faculty in which these students were enrolled. It also tells us that the parade took place at night, guided by the lights of torches, and described the streets through which they passed. 463 costumes were designed and made to look as authentic as possible. Contemporary sources tell us it was a great success and big crowds of spectators watched along the streets.

Figure 2 The full length of the leporello book

One very long parade

Although the Gedenkboek provides a lively account of what the parade must have been like, the Optogt des Nederlandschen Legers naar Ostende gives an even better representation of the parade. The folio size of the book helps with this: it is a very long book (64 cm) that depicts the whole parade. The book is a leporello, which means that the pages are folded. The ends of the pages are glued together, creating one very long page (see fig. 2). The leporello format makes it therefore possible to see the illustrations of the entire parade in one long row: it shows all the soldiers, Dutch captains, Spanish prisoners of war and musicians that were marching along. The different parts of the parade are numbered, with the number provided underneath the illustrations. The identity of the participants becomes clear by the clothes of the soldiers and military men, but also by a list in the Gedenkboek. It provides the names and concise descriptions of all the participants. Comparing the Gedenkboek to the Optogt shows that the illustrations of the actors (for example whether they are on a horse, which instrument they play and their number) closely correspond to the list in the Gedenkboek. However, the Optogt starts in a peculiar way: with the end of the parade (illustration 38 until 45, see fig. 3).

Figure 3 The first pages of the book, depicting the end as well as the beginning of the parade

The publisher probably did this because the book contains ten pages and this was the only way to put the title page on the right page when opening the book, and leave two empty flyleaves at the end of the book. The effect of the folded pages is that it emphasizes the length of the parade and the amount of people and horses participating in it. There seems to come no end to it, and that was probably the effect the publisher was going for. This makes the book a real showpiece in which content and presentation work closely together. People could unfold the beautiful illustrations and enjoy the whole parade.

What catches the eye the most in this book, is the fact that some parts of the lithographs are hand-coloured. The painter used very bright colours (yellow, orange, red, purple, green and blue, see fig. 4). All the coloured parts appear in the beginning of the book: illustrations 38 until 45 on the first left page. The illustrations next to the title page (1-3) are left black and white. The next page is coloured again (illustrations 4 until 11, see fig. 5), while the rest of the book is not. It was probably either too expensive or too time consuming to finish colouring the entire illustration. 

Figure 4 A detail of soldiers with spears in lithograph 10
Figure 5 The pages with coloured illustrations 4-11

The mystery of the publishing year

A mysterious aspect of the book is that lithographer Victor Adam signed the drawings with his name and 1837, while the book is said to be published in 1836. The publisher might have done this because the title already mentioned 1836. It therefore seemed important to provide the same year as year of publishing instead of 1837, when the illustrations were finished and the book was (probably) actually printed. This explanation is supported by a mentioning in the preface of the Gedenkboek, where the author states it took longer than expected to gather all the material to publish the book.

All in all, the Optogt des Nederlandschen Legers naar Ostende provides a lively account of the historical parade that took place in 1836. The size of the book and the leporello design help to capture the length of the parade and make it a real showpiece. It is especially interesting to read this book together with the Gedenkboek, as you will almost feel like a spectator watching the parade on the 16th of June 1836 in the streets of Utrecht.

Rozemarijn Stegeman (1993) is a MA student Book studies. In this master she focuses on cultural entrepreneurship in the book world, but she is also fascinated by old books, especially their illustrations.

Book description

KNIR SIGNATURE: Pregiatio Visual Material Folio DR144 Optogt

SHORT TITLE: Optogt des Nederlandschen Legers naar Ostende. Utrecht / Rotterdam: Caramelli & Comp. / A. Collings & van den Hout, 1836.
SIZE: 25 x 64 cm

TITLE: Optogt des Nederlandschen Legers naar Ostende, den 3 July 1600, daags na de overwinning by Nieuwpoort; volgens de gecostumeerde voorstelling, gegeven door H H Studenten, by gelegenheid van het Tweede Eeuwfeest der Utrechtsche Hoogeschool. Den 16 Juny 1836. Uitgegeven te Utrecht, by Caramelli & Comp. ; te Rotterdam, by A. Collings & van den Hout. 1836.

COLLATION: 2˚: 10 engraved folio

DESCRIPTION: Cardboard binding with blind-stamped floral motif. The book is a leporello in ten parts. Typographic title page on one half of the second page. The lithographs show one continuous parade, numbered 1 till 43 (first page shows 38-45, after title page it continues with 1-37). Three lithographs are coloured by hand.


Bergh, M.L.P.C. van den, Gedenkboek van het Tweede Eeuwfeest der Utrechtsche Hoogeschool. Utrecht 1837.

Hartmann, W., Der historische Festzug, Seine Entstehung und Entwicklung im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Munchen 1976.

Verschaffel, T. “Het verleden tot weinig herleid. De historische optocht als vorm van de romantische verbeelding.” In: R.J. Tollebeek, F. Ankersmit, W. Krul (eds.): Romantiek en historische cultuur. Groningen 1996: 297-320.

Zonneveld, P. “Romantiek in de regen: de Leidse maskerade van 1835.” Literatuur 1, 1984: 238-245.


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