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Gerard ter Borch, The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster

Key facts
Full title The Swearing of the Oath of Ratification of the Treaty of Münster
Artist Gerard ter Borch
Artist dates 1617 - 1681
Date made 1648
Medium and support Oil on copper
Dimensions 45.4 × 58.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Presented by Sir Richard Wallace, 1871
Inventory number NG896
Location On loan: Long Loan to the Rijksmuseum (2023 - 2026), Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Collection Main Collection
The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster
Gerard ter Borch

This painting records a key moment in European political history: the confirmation of the treaty which formally granted independence to the Dutch nation from Spanish control in 1648. The key figures are the six Dutch and two Spanish delegates, shown in the centre swearing the treaty oath, and ter Borch’s own self portrait – he’s on the left, with a reddish moustache and long fair hair, looking out at us.

It’s also the first known oil painting to depict such a political event in a ‘factual’ way. Before this date, artists tended to glorify such moments, for example casting the protagonists as classical heroes in a fantasy setting. But although ter Borch has arranged the figures artificially so that the most important are clearly visible, they are depicted with lifelike portraits, and we know, from written accounts by eyewitnesses, that many of the details of the hall and its furnishings are accurately represented.

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