Leo Belgicus

Leo Belgicus motif after antique European map, 16th century
"Lion facing right" type

Among the most endearing "metamorphic maps" is the Leo Belgicus map of the Low Countries in the shape of a Lion, 1583. Austrian cartographer, Michael von Aitzing inaugurated the genre as an illustration of the Netherlands. Featuring the country in the shape of the "Leo" (Lion), strongest of all creatures and the "Belgae" as the "strongest of all tribes" the map was one of many "metamorphic" maps throughout history, in the shape of various animals or humans.

Michael von Aitsinger, Leo Belgicus, map, 1583.[+]
Engraving by Frans Hogenberg. Koninklijke Bibliotheek Belgie.

Although the name "Belgica" is now reserved for the Southern Netherlands ("Belgium"), before the division of the Low Countries into a southern and a northern half in the 16th century, the name referred to the entire Low Countries, and was the usual Latin translation of an area that then covered the current territory of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and a small part of northern France.

Nicolaes Janszoon Visscher, Novissima et Accuratissima Leonis Belgici, Seu Septemdecim Regionum Descriptio, 1609
"Sitting lion" type engraving.
According to Van der Heijden this map is "one of the peaks of 17th-century cartography". Visscher's map in the form of a sitting lion is an emblematical representation of the Twelve Years' Truce (1609-21) between Spain and the Seven United Provinces. The lion is surrounded by a great number of texts and symbols relevant to this event. To the left t'Vrije Neerlant (The Liberated Netherlands) together with t'Neerlandt onder d'Aertshartogh Albertus (The Netherlands under Archduke Albertus) trample d'Oude Twist (Old Conflict). In the sky a cherub named Zeghen (Blessing) strewing Rijckdom (Wealth), Veilighe Tijdt (Safe Time), Const en Wetenschap (Art and Science) and Kennisse Goodts (Theology) over the town and country below, where inscriptions refer to t' Lants Welvaert (Prosperity of the Country), t Vergrooten der Steden (The Growth of the Towns), Coophandel (Trade), t'Vredich Lantbouwen (Peaceful Agriculture) and t Veijlich Reijsen (Safe Travel). In the sky to the right is an angel with a trumpet of fame and the words Bestant voor 12 Iaer (12-Year Truce). Below this is a landscape with t'Overvloedich Vee (Abundant Cattle). The sitting lion has his sword sheathed, decorated with two seals, one with the seven arrows for the northern provinces and the other with the Burgundian cross for the southern provinces, and the inscriptions of Duodecim annos and voor twaelf jaren (for twelve years). In the lower right corner is a depiction of the Slapende Oorlogh, an allegorical figure of a Sleeping Mars.
The map is framed by decorative borders on three sides. Above the title strip runs a small frieze with coat of arms of the provinces, each with a caption above it. The two side borders contain town views, to the left the residence in The Hague and nine town views in the Northern Netherlands, to the right the residence in Brussels and nine town views in the Southern Netherlands. These town views are mostly faithful copies of the larger ones designed by Claes Jansz Visscher for Blaeu's 1608 wall map of the Seventeen Provinces.

Visscher, Novissima et Accuratissima Leonis Belgici, 1609-11.[+]

Jocodus Hondius & Gerritsz Hessel, Leo Belgicus, Nova XVII Provinciarum Germaniae Inferioris tabula, Leonis effigie, accurate delineata, 1611.[+]
"Lion facing left" type copper engraving
Translation of bottom cartouche text: "The Leo Belgicus as a personification of the Netherlands. My fame of Trojan courage and strength, my glory as another Mars are known worldwide. But far more happy would I be than many a king, if the gods would grant me everlasting peace".

Petrus Kaerius (Van den Keere), Leo Belgicus, 1617
Copper engraving by Hendrik Floris van Langren
From: Petri Kaerii Germania Inferior id est, XVII provinciarum ejus novae et exactae Tabulae Geographicae, cum Luculentis Singularum descriptionibus additis, Amsterdam, 1617
In the reverse text Kaerius acknowledges the adaptation of the lion from Von Aitzing: "typographicam Leonis Belgici primus in lucem edidit D. Michael Aitsingerius Austriacus" ("This representation of the Leo Belgicus was first published by the Austrian Michael von Aitzing"). The Netherlands, depicted in the form of a lion originated with the Austrian Michael von Aitzing (c. 1530-98), who inserted in his book De Leone Belgico (1583) a Leo Belgicus map, engraved by Frans Hogenberg. In the preface of this work von Aitzing explains why he chose this particular title and inserted the lion map. He explains that Caesar mentioned in his "Commentaries" that the 'Belgae' were the strongest tribes, and he therefore decided - partly because of the religious conflicts in the war against Spain - to introduce the Netherlands in the shape of a lion.

Claes Claes Janszoon, Leo Belgicus, 1617

Hondius & Gerritsz, Leo Belgicus, 1630.[+]

Famian Strada, De Bello Belgico, Rome, 1631
"Rampant lion" type
Strada was a Jesuit teacher who was politically sympathetic to the Spaniards and wrote an extensive historical piece, discussing the Dutch wars of independence. This early map shows the Belgian Lion, right forepaw raised yet resting on a shield.

Visscher, Comitatus Hollandiæ denuo forma Leonis, 1648
Universiteits Bibliotheek van Amsterdam

Leo Hollandicus motif

Visscher, Leo Hollandicus, 1648
Since Aitzinger had published his prototype, the political situation in the Low Countries changed considerably. The Provinces rose in revolt against Spanish monarchy, which succeeded in subduing the Southern Provinces, but not the seven Northern ones. The Revolt was suspended during the Twelve Years Peace (1609-1621), before resuming and continuing to 1648, when the Dutch Republic established its independence. The lion's sword has inscribed the motto "Patriae defensio".

Visscher, Leo Belgicus, map, 1650.[+]
British Museum, London
After Jan van Doetecum, 1598. Visscher’s map is one of a genre of printed maps in which the form of a lion is superimposed onto the 17 United Provinces. The concept of the lion map was developed from the 1580s, and symbolised the emerging national consciousness of the Netherlands after its rebellion against Spanish rule and the creation of the United Provinces in 1581. It spoke of strength and pride, and echoed the presence of the lion in the heraldry of many Netherlandish towns.
The Netherlands, depicted in the form of a 'Lion passant', are bordered on three sides with medallions. These medallions contain the effigies of governors of the Netherlands. In addition to the portrait of King Philip II, the two side borders contain, in chronological order, the portraits of seven governors from Margaretha of Parma to Archduke Albert of Austria. The centre part of the lower border shows the portraits of the five Stadholders from Willem of Orange to Prince Maurice, nominated by the States General. The corners of the bottom border provide a long note to the reader in Dutch (left) and in French (right). In the lower right corner we find pictured the views of two residences; one in the North (PALATIUM COMITU HOLLAND), one in the South (PALATIUM BRUXELLENSE). This map was a political statement. It was published to commemorate Dutch independence from the Spanish crown. With its explicit distinction between the governors of the northern and the southern provinces of the Netherlands - first Maurice and Albert, then Frederik Hendrik and Ferdinand - with its two pictures, one of the Court of Holland and one of the Court of Brussels, and by using the term 'utrinque Belgium' (the two Belgium's), this general map of the Netherlands is the first to emphasize the separation of the northern and the southern parts of the country.

Le Lion Belgique des Pays Bas contenant les XVII Provinces, 1672

The earliest Leo Belgicus was drawn by the Austrian cartographer Michael Aitzinger in 1583, when the Netherlands were fighting the Eighty Years' War for independence. The motif was inspired by the heraldic figure of the lion, occurring in the coats of arms of several of the Netherlands, namely: Brabant, Flanders, Guelders, Hainout, Holland, Limburg, Luxembourg and Zeeland, as well as in those of William of Orange.
Aitzinger's map was the first of many. There were three different designs. In the most common one, the lion's head was located in the northeast of the country and the tail in the southeast. The most famous version is that of Claes Janszoon Visscher, which was published in 1609 on the occasion of the Twelve Years' Truce. A less common design reversed the position of the lion, as shown in the Leo Belgicus by Jodocus Hondius.
The third version was published in the later stages of the war, and after the independence of the Dutch Republic was confirmed in the Peace of Westphalia (1648).(WK).

P. Schenk, De XVII Nederlandsche Provincien : Leeuw, 1707-48
University of Leiden, Netherlands

NOM. Même si aujourd'hui le terme Belgique est lié au royaume du même nom, ce ne fut pas toujours le cas. Le nom "Leo Bergicus" se réfère à l'ensemble des Pays-Bas avant que ses parties méridionale et septentrionale se séparent et que la partie méridionale perde des territoires au profit du Royaume de France. D'ailleurs, les Pays-Bas méridionaux sont alors appelés Belgica Regia et les Provinces-Unies au nord Belgica Fœderata.
L'adjectif belgique est alors le synonyme de néerlandais, comme c'est le cas pour les États-Belgiques-Unis qui se nomment Verenigde Nederlandse Staten. La traduction usuelle de la langue néerlandaise en latin est lingua belgica.
La traduction française du Orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw [Ordre du Lion Néerlandais] est l'Ordre du Lion Belgique à l'époque du Royaume-Uni des Pays-Bas.

CARTOGRAPHIE. Le premier Leo Belgicus a été dessiné par le cartographe autrichien Michael Aitzinger en 1583, alors que les Dix-Sept Provinces sont en proie à la Guerre de Quatre-Vingts Ans. Ce dessin est inspiré de représentations plus anciennes, celles de la figure héraldique du Lion Belgique qui, depuis les croisades, figure dans les armes de la plupart de ces provinces ainsi que dans celles de grandes familles comme la Maison des ducs de Bourgogne, de laquelle descend Charles Quint, et comme la Maison d'Orange-Nassau.
La carte d'Aitzinger est la première d'une suite nombreuse. Il y a quatre représentations différentes. La plus courante est celle qui présente le lion avec la tête localisée au Nord-Est du pays et sa queue au Sud-Ouest.
La seconde représentation montre un lion renversé, avec la tête au Sud-Ouest, comme c'est le cas pour le Leo Belgicus de Jodocus Hondius en 1611. La troisième est celle d'un lion assis dans une posture moins agressive, produite du temps de la Trêve de douze ans. La version la plus connue de ce Leo Belgicus est celle de Claes Janszoon Visscher, publiée en 1609 à l'occasion de cette Trêve. Cette version est entourée des blasons des différentes provinces et de paysages des Pays-Bas Belgiques.
Une représentation particulariste est celle du Leo Hollandicus, le Lion Hollandais. C'est un lion à un sabre qui ne représente que la province de Hollande. Il apparaît dans les derniers moment de la guerre de Quatre-Vingt Ans, quand il devient clair que les Provinces-Unies du nord obtiendront l'indépendance confirmée lors des Traités de Westphalie en 1648. Une des premières versions de cette représentation particulière est celle de Visscher publiée en 1625 (WK).

The Great Holland, 1780

L'union fait la force, 1815
This tiny Leo Belgicus map is set in the masthead of Journal de la Belgique, The right paw of the lion holds a shield with the national motto (Strength in Unity).