DE GHEYN, Jacob.


The Exercise of Armes

Printed at the Hage, 1607


FIRST EDITION. Folio. (x) 117 full page engraved plates. Roman letter. Engraved tp with architectural design, armour and weaponry and putti crowning royal arms. Floriated initials. Plates depict the correct handling of pikes and muskets. Bookplate of Thomas Francis Freemantle to pastedown and fly, and of Sir Henry Edward Bunbury, 7th Baronet (1778-1860). Ms to tp of John Claxton, AUTOGRAPH OF DE GHEYN TO FIRST PLATE, contemp. marginalia to a number of plates. Tp a little dusty, occasional marginal spots. A very good, clean copy with generous margins in C17 coarse grained morocco, spine with gilt floral tools, small repairs to joints, general wear.

This handsome first edition by the Dutch painter and engraver Jacob de Gheyn II (1565-1629) contains 117 plates with text demonstrating how to handle pikes and muskets as well as standardized commands for drill masters. The work is also important as a record of contemporary military dress. The foreword states it is intended for inexperienced military men as well as experienced soldiers.  The large folio format and exquisite engravings suggests this would not have been intended for the everyday solider, but the elite in command of bands of militias. Its success work is attested by its publication in multiple editions and several European languages, adding to the Netherlands reputation of “the nurserie of soldiers” (Henry Hexham, in his similar military manual). In 1631 an edition was even ordered by the Privy Council in England. Dutch military reform emerged from the tumultuous wars against Spain under Maurice, Prince of Orange. He promoted the use of classically inspired drill discipline, which proved hugely influential during the Thirty Years’ War and the English Civil War.  

In 1607 the States General agreed to pay de Gheyn two hundred guilders for ‘seker boeck, geintituleert Wapenhandelingen van roers, musketten ende spiesen’ for which he had produced illustrations already. The illustrations took de Gheyn almost ten years to complete, and it has been suggested that Rembrandt may have referred to them as he painted his musket-wielding figures in his painting Nightwatch (1642); indeed, the poses of the figures are strikingly similar. The exceptional artistry of the engravings means that single sheets from the work are often sold framed at auction.  

Jacob de Gheyn II’s work shows the transition from Northern Mannerism to Dutch realism over the course of his remarkable career. His close relationship with Maurice, Prince of Orange began when he received a commission for an engraving of the Siege of Geertruidenberg. On top of his engraving and etching work, de Gheyn painted profusely, including some of the earliest female nudes, vanitas and floral still lifes. He was later the subject of a painting by Rembrandt.

“This beautiful work was brought out in English out of compliment to the British levies, whose services had so greatly aided the United Provinces in their struggle for liberty” (Cockle 79).

 The signature of De Gheyn is an exceptional record of the author’s hand. We have been unable to find another copy similarly inscribed; this suggests it may have been De Gheyn’s own copy rather than one intended for presentation.

 This book also belonged to the British soldier and historian Sir Henry Bunbury, son of the famous caricaturist Henry William Bunbury, who fought in the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland in 1799 as well as the Egyptian Campaign of 1801. He published works including his own military memoirs entitled Narratives of Some Passages in the Great War in France, 1854. Thomas Francis Fremantle, Lord Cottesloe (1862-1956) acquired one of the most complete collections of military books of modern times. Sir John Claxton (1550-1657) was born in Old Park, Durham. His father, Robert, was involved in the 1569 Rising of the North. Despite this, John was knighted by King James and later resided at Nettlesworth Estate.

ESTC S122015; Cockle 79.