Treaties of Nijmegen: The signing of the peace treaty between France and Spain by Henri Gascard (1635-1701)

This painting by the French court painter Gascard shows one of the first treaties, that of 17 September 1678 between France and Spain. In this treaty, it was agreed that Spain would definitively distance itself from important border towns in the southern Netherlands and Northern France acquired its present form.

The location is the “groote audientie Camer” [the great audience room] in former palace Huis Palsterkamp on the Doddendaal, the embassy building of the States General in Nijmegen. Through the window, a glimpse of the nearby Kronenburg tower can be seen. The walls of this distinguished room are covered with tapestries which conceal several windows and a fireplace. This gave the room a sense of symmetrical balance so that neither party could claim to be sitting in the most important place. Such a signing ceremony was a precarious occasion and nothing could be left to chance. A big table in the centre, with two well dressed gentlemen at either end. These are the Dutchmen Van Beverningk and Van Haren, who had mediated between the conflicting parties and who resided in Huis Palsterkamp. On the left is a richly dressed man picking up a goose quill to sign the treaty. This is the elderly French Marshal d’Estrades, the highest envoy of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Opposite him is the Spanish envoy, De los Balbases, with his goose quill already in his hand. Beside him is his little son, hand placed elegantly on his side, and behind him a Spanish chaplain. The other envoys surround them. The French delegation on the left is bigger because it was the French King Louis who commissioned the painting. Seventy people feature in the painting.

The stiff and somewhat listless nature of this immense group portrait is understandable when one considers the origins of the painting. Henri Gascar began painting portraits at an early age in his native France, later moving on to Italy and England. He acquired fame as a skilled portrait painter of fashionable courtesans in decadent costumes. In April of 1679, more than six months after the treaty was ratified, he was sent to Nijmegen at the behest of King Louis xiv to paint the peace conference. He never witnessed the signing of the treaty. To visualise the events, he was given a fairly detailed description and paid several visits to both the hall and all of the individuals present that day. He also took this opportunity to paint individual portraits of several ambassadors. Upon his return in November of 1679, he was given permission to travel by sea from Rotterdam to France via Antwerp with two large chests: one with the group portrait of the ambassadors (‘our’ portrait) and one with the individual portraits.