Joost van den Vondel

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Joost van den Vondel
Vondel in 1665
Vondel in 1665
Born(1587-11-17)17 November 1587
Cologne, Holy Roman Empire
Died5 February 1679(1679-02-05) (aged 91)
Amsterdam, Dutch Republic
OccupationWriter, playwright
PeriodDutch Golden Age
SpouseMayken de Wolff
Signatur Joost van den Vondel.PNG
Joost van den Vondel: Palamedes oft vermoorde onnooselheit

Joost van den Vondel (Dutch: [ˈjoːst fɑn dəɱ ˈvɔndəl];[1] 17 November 1587 – 5 February 1679) was a Dutch poet, writer and playwright. He is considered the greatest poet and playwright of the 17th century Dutch Golden Age. His plays are the ones from that period that are still most frequently performed, and his epic Joannes de Boetgezant (1662), on the life of John the Baptist, has been called the greatest Dutch epic.[2]

Vondel's theatrical works were regularly performed until the 1960s. The most visible was the annual performance, on New Year's Day from 1637 to 1968, of Gijsbrecht van Aemstel.

Vondel remained productive until a very old age. Several of his most notable plays like Lucifer (play) [nl] and Adam in Exile [nl] were written after 1650, when he was already 65, and his final play Noah (play) [nl], written at the age of eighty, is considered one of his finest.


Vondel was born on 17 November 1587 on the Große Witschgasse in Cologne, Holy Roman Empire. His parents, Joost van den Vondel the Elder and Sara (née Kranen), were Mennonites of Antwerpian descent. In 1595 the city officials informed all local Mennonites that they had to leave Cologne within fourteen days. The Vondel family was left adrift and lived at Frankfurt am Main, Bremen, Emden, and Utrecht, before eventually settling at Amsterdam in the newly formed Dutch Republic.

Mennonites were barely tolerated even in Amsterdam, as the State Church of the Dutch Republic was the Dutch Reformed Church, which belongs to the Continental Calvinist tradition within Protestantism. Despite this, Joost van den Vondel the Elder managed to acquire Dutch citizenship, which enabled him to set up a business, on 27 March 1597 and became a silk merchant on the Warmoesstraat.[3]

From age ten, Vondel was schooled in the correct use of the Dutch literary language and also learnt French. As the sons of merchants were not sent to the Latin schools, as an adult Vondel taught himself to read and write in the New Latin.[4] He lived in an Amsterdam neighborhood with other families from Antwerp, and by 1606 was a member of the chamber of rhetoric of 't Wit Lavendel (The White Lavender), a literary society founded by Flemish immigrants from the Spanish Netherlands.[5]

In 1606 Vondel received Mennonite adult baptism. The following year his father died, and Vondel was brought into the family business as a partner.[6]

At the age of 23, Vondel married Mayken de Wolff. Together they had four children, of whom two died in infancy.

In the meantime, he began to learn New Latin and became acquainted with famous poets, such as Roemer Visscher.

During his early life, Vondel became one of the most vocal advocates for religious toleration. After the trial of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt for advocating religious toleration for the Arminians, his beheading at the command of Prince Maurits of Nassau, and the Synod of Dort (1618–1619), the Extreme Calvinist Gomarist faction took over the Dutch Reformed Church. Followers of Roman Catholicism, Anabaptism and Arminianism were subjected to religious persecution, but continued to worship in clandestine churches.

In response, Vondel is known to have suffered from major depression for much of 1620 and a second period also occurred in 1626.[7] Vondel subsequently wrote many plays and satires criticizing the Gomarists and defending Oldenbarnevelt. That made him a very unpopular figure in both Church and State circles.

Vondel was widowed when Mayken de Wolff died in 1635.

Around the year 1641, Vondel converted to the Roman Catholic Church, which was a great shock to many of his fellow countrymen. Although the intellectual process behind his conversion remains largely unknown, Vondel's well-documented opposition to the religious persecution of non-Calvinists and his love for a Roman Catholic woman are both very likely to have played a role.

According to P.H. Albers, the Dutch Reformed ministers (Dominies) of the Gomarist faction had accused Vondel's writings of expressing Catholic sympathies for several years previous to his conversion. Furthermore, the 1641 Litterae Annuae of the Society of Jesus states that Vondel was received into the Catholic Church in the Netherlands by their priests at De Krijtberg, where Father Petrus Laurentius is believed at least to have participated in Vondel's conversion.[8]

Vondel's conversion seems to have been very sincere and he vigorously defended the doctrines of his new Faith in his subsequent literary works. In 1645, Vondel defended the doctrines of the Real Presence within the Blessed Sacrament in the Altaargeheimenissen ("Mysteries of the Altar"). In 1646, he paid tribute to Mary, Queen of Scots in Maria Stuart of Gemartelde Majesteit ("Mary Stuart, or the Martyred Majesty"). In 1654, Vondel published the anti-Calvinist stage play that is still considered his masterpiece, Lucifer. The piece was interdicted by the Dominies and was consequently so popular that it ran through four editions in just the first year of its publication (1654).[9]

Vondel also defended his new Faith in De heerlijkheid der kerke ("On the Church").[10]

Vondel died a bitter and impoverished man, though honoured by his fellow poets, on 5 February 1679. He was 91 years of age.

George Borrow, however, has called Vondel "by far the greatest [man] that Holland ever produced."[11]

P.H. Albers has also written of Vondel, "He is the greatest poet the Netherlands have produced, one who is distinguished in every form and who occupies a place among the best poets of all time."[12]

Alleged Influence upon John Milton's Paradise Lost[edit]

Portrait of Joost van den Vondel by Cornelis de Visscher, 1657

It has been suggested[13] that John Milton drew inspiration from Vondel's stage plays Lucifer (1654) and Adam in Ballingschap (1664) for his Paradise Lost (1667).

Canadian poet and Milton scholar Watson Kirkconnell agreed with this theory enough to translate both plays into English Blank Verse and publish them. Although unaware of Vondel's well-documented hostility to the religious intolerance of the Dutch Reformed Church following the Synod of Dort, Kirkconnell did notice that both of Vondel's plays about Lucifer offered very harsh criticisms of Calvinism and defended theological beliefs completely opposed to the Puritanism of John Milton. According to Kirkconnell, "Vondel's portrayal of Lucifer, which seems to combine traits of William I of Orange and of Cromwell, in settings reminiscent of the Dutch and English revolutions, is immensely interesting. In the case of Adam in Ballingschap, Vondel's own introduction acknowledges his debt to the Latin play of Grotius, but his treatment is much more free, and the metre is that of contemporary French drama."[14]

Despite the religious differences between their authors, the two works have similarities: the focus on Lucifer, the description of the battle in heaven between Lucifer's forces and Michael's, and the anti-climax as Adam and Eve leave Paradise.

One example of similarity is the following:

"Here may we reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell.
Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."
Milton's Paradise Lost

"Is ’t noodlot, dat ick vall’, van eere en staet berooft,
Laet vallen, als ick vall’, met deze kroone op ’t hooft,
Dien scepter in de vuist, dien eersleip van vertrouden,
En zoo veel duizenden als onze zyde houden.
Dat valle streckt tot eer, en onverwelckbren lof:
En liever d’ eerste Vorst in eenigh laeger hof,
Dan in ’t gezalight licht de tweede, of noch een minder
Zoo troost ick my de kans, en vrees nu leet noch hinder."

Is it fate that I will fall, robbed of honour and dignity,
Then let me fall, if I were to fall, with this crown upon my head
This sceptre in my fist, this company of loyals,
And as many as are loyal to our side.
This fall would honour one, and give unwilting praise:
And rather [would I be] foremost king in any lower court,
Than rank second in most holy light, or even less
Thus I justify my revolt, and will not fear pain nor hindrance.

Vondel's Lucifer


Amsterdam's biggest park, the Vondelpark, bears his name. There is a statue of Vondel in the northern part of the park. Also, there is also a Vondelstraße in the Neustadt-Süd-district of his native Cologne.

The Dutch five guilder banknote bore Vondel's portrait from 1950 until it was discontinued in 1990.

All works of Joost van den Vondel (WB-editie) were published in 10 volumes (1927-1937).[15]


His plays included:

  • The Passover or the Redemption of Israel from Egypt (1610),
  • Jerusalem Destroyed (1620),
  • Palamedes (1625),
  • Hecuba (1626),
  • Joseph (1635),
  • Gijsbrecht van Aemstel (1637),
  • The Maidens (1639),
  • The Brothers (1640),
  • Joseph in Dothan (1640),
  • Joseph in Egypt (1640),
  • Peter and Paul (1641),
  • Mary Stuart or Tortured Majesty (1646),
  • Lion Fallers (1647),
  • Solomon (1648),
  • Lucifer (1654),
  • Salmoneus (1657),
  • Jephthah (1659),
  • David in Exile (1660),
  • David Restored (1660),
  • Samson or Holy Revenge (1660),
  • The Sigh of Adonis (1661),
  • The Batavian Brothers or Oppressed Freedom (1663),
  • Phaeton (1663),
  • Adam in Exile from Eden (1664),
  • The Destruction of the Sinai Army (1667),
  • Noah and the Fall of the First World (1667).


  1. ^ Van and den in isolation: [vɑn], [dɛn].
  2. ^ Guerber, H. A. (1913). The Book of the Epic. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott. p. 356.
  3. ^ Grootes (2012), 102
  4. ^ Grootes (2012), 103
  5. ^ Grootes (2012), 104
  6. ^ Smits-Veldt and Spies (2012), 52
  7. ^ Smits-Veldt and Spies (2012), 57
  8. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia: Joost van den Vondel.
  9. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia: Joost van den Vondel.
  10. ^ Verwey, Albert. Vondel: volledige dichtwerken en oorspronkelijk proza (in Dutch). H. J. W. Becht. p. 41.
  11. ^ George Borrow, Wild Wales, p. 105.
  12. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia: Joost van den Vondel.
  13. ^ Cf. George Edmundson, Milton and Vondel: a curiosity of literature, London: 1885.
  14. ^ Watson Kirkconnell (1967), A Slice of Canada: Memoirs, published for Acadia University by University of Toronto Press. Page 225.
  15. ^ DBNL. "Joost van den Vondel · dbnl". DBNL (in Dutch). Retrieved 15 September 2021.


External links[edit]