Enigmatic Etchings True Religion in Romeyn de Hooghe's Hieroglyphica

Trudelien van 't Hof

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


This thesis analyses Romeyn de Hooghe’s (1645-1708) Hieroglyphica, a heavy tome consisting of 63 elaborate etchings combined with explanatory text. Although the book proves hard to pin down, it has a twofold goal. On the one hand there is the artistic genre and style which can be best characterised as a collection of allegorical etchings which educate readers in the depiction of ancient gods and religions. Whereas De Hooghe’s artistic originality is foregrounded time and again, this thesis shows that quite a few of his images in Hieroglyphica are adaptations of the work of people like Pierio Valeriano Bolzani and Cesare Ripa and also parts of the text are copied. De Hooghe’s second goal is to present an historical argument on religious decline and reformation. This is where the focus of the thesis is on. With its production period somewhere around 1700 the book can be seen as a representative of a period of change in the religious culture of the Dutch Republic. Whereas the seventeenth century had been a period of sectarian conflicts and even schisms, the eighteenth century witnessed a religious sphere that can be characterized as focussing on piety and personal spiritual rebirth. This change is usually explained in terms of a crisis with predominantly philosophical roots, which resulted in the Enlightenment. At first sight, both Romeyn de Hooghe and his Hieroglyphica raise a suspicion of a critical, or ‘radical’ Enlightened view on religion. De Hooghe had a reputation of mocking God and of atheism, and the allegorical imagery in Hieroglyphica might have been used to veil his enlightened ideas and critical historicism. Looking closer, however, the book contains as many (if not more) mainstream Reformed ideas. Researching the complete book shows that it does not present a clear opinion on religion or religious topics which can be categorised as ‘radical’, ‘moderate’ or ‘orthodox’. This seemingly ambivalence in Hieroglyphica should, however, not be understood as veiled radicalism but makes sense within a more historical view on the Reformed Church. Contrary to the existing view of the church as immutable, unworldly, strict and anti-pagan, it shows quite an amount of flexibility; theological issues were discussed internally and publicly, different opinions on matters coexisted, and many issues were undecided upon and far from written down in dogmas. The debates and themes that are present in Hieroglyphica – such as reason versus revelation, the comparison of Christian religion with other religions, anticlericalism, and a focus on minimal dogmas, the human heart and piety – all have roots in mainstream Christian discourses on true religion, present long before ‘the Enlightenment’ entered the scene. This religious change around 1700 should rather be connected to two larger ‘internal’ phenomena: the continuation of a ‘Long Reformation’ and the flexibility of Christian apologetics.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Meyer, Birgit, Primary supervisor
  • Spaans, Jo, Co-supervisor
Award date3 Jun 2019
Place of PublicationUtrecht
Print ISBNs978-90-393-7150-3
Electronic ISBNs978-90-393-7150-3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2019


  • Romeyn de Hooghe
  • Hieroglyphica
  • seventeenth century
  • history of religion
  • Enlightenment
  • allegory
  • etchings
  • mythography
  • decline
  • reformation


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