KEY, Adriaen Thomasz
(b. ca. 1544, Antwerpen, d. after 1589, Antwerpen)

William I, Prince of Orange, called William the Silent,

c. 1579
Oil on panel, 48 x 35 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Prince of the Netherlands, Charles V (1500-1558), was also King of Spain and Emperor of Germany. He believed in a centrally governed state, with a single religion - Catholicism. In 1555 he abdicated, and his son Philip II (1527-1598) succeeded him as King of Spain and Prince of the Netherlands. Philip maintained his father's centralist policy and thus clashed with the Dutch nobility, who sought greater independence and also objected to the strict legal restrictions on Protestants. When their petition for tolerance was rejected in 1566, the Dutch broke out in open rebellion. Churches were attacked and images of saints destroyed. This wave of iconoclasm was the start of the Dutch revolt against Philip II. The revolt was led by Prince William I of Orange (1533 - 1584), stadholder of Holland and Zeeland (1533-1584). After his death his sons continued the struggle, which was to last 80 years and became known as the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648).

William of Orange championed freedom and tolerance and led the Dutch revolt against Philip II's harsh regime. In 1580 he was declared an outlaw, and in 1584 he was assassinated. Key lived in Antwerp, as did William at the time this picture was painted. It is therefore highly likely that the prince actually sat for his portrait. This was not always the case; instead, artists often copied existing portraits.