WIERINGEN, Cornelis Claesz van
(b. ca. 1580, Haarlem, d. 1633, Haarlem)

Capture of Damiate

c. 1625
Oil on canvas, 101 x 230 cm
Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem

Wieringen was probably the pupil of Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom (the founder of European marine painting); he ranks as his best and closest follower. Wieringen's multicoloured paintings are more ornamental, his waves and whitecaps more schematic than Vroom's, and his skies (apart from those in his graphics) are little more than decorative backdrops.

The Capture of Damiate was commissioned by Haarlem's St Hadrian Civic Guard, and it was originally mounted as an overmantel in the company's headquarters (a few years afterwards officers of the company commissioned Frans Hals to paint their group portrait). The painting represent a pseudo-historical event. According to tradition late twelfth-century crusaders en route to the Holy Land tried to capture Damiate, a port city at the mouth of the Nile which had its harbour protected by a heavy chain stretched across it from two moles. The chain was cut, according to the legend, when a ship from Haarlem ingeniously fitted with a specially designed saw-toothed prow and keel sailed across it. After this feat and a fierce battle the port fell to the crusaders.

The tale exemplified the audacity and courage of early Haarlemmers, and by association, redounded to the glory of citizens of the city. By the sixteenth century the fable had acquired a mythic dimension for Haarlem's patriots. The appetite for it was satisfied by later printmakers and painters. Vroom and other artists also made drawings to stain glass windows of the subject, and Wieringen designed a huge tapestry depicting the legendary event for Haarlem's Town Hall which is still mounted there.