Making its debut at West Kingdom Arts and Sciences tournament on June 6th, 2015 De Muis in de Kaas (The Mouse in the Cheese), was a conceptual playspace pulled together from elements of paintings depicting 16th century Dutch brothel scenes.
The visual sources span from roughly 1537 until 1584. The earlier paintings are painted by the Brunswick Monogrammist, sometimes called the Braunschweiger Monogrammist. This anonymous painter painted religious scenes as well as brothel scenes.
Other artists who painted scenes of general merriment are Joachim Beuckelaer and Pieter Aertsen, both also painting market scenes and kitchen scenes in Antwerp.
While Aertsen’s Egg Dance and Peasants by the Hearth do not appear to be brothels, according to Nicholas Pioch, Aertsen’s Egg Dance does depict a brothel:
At the back of the room an old man is playing the bagpipes. Because of its shape, the instrument often symbolised the male genitalia. In the window is a jug containing a leek, a vegetable of the onion family. A sixteenth-century viewer would immediately have realised that the scene was a room in a brothel. Onions were supposed to be a stimulant. All around lie onion flowers, leek leaves and mussels, which were supposed to have the same quality. It was also thought to be true of eggs, the theme of the painting.
The mussels strewn upon the floor in Peasants by the Hearth as well as the birdcage are also representative of a lusty scene. Pioch writes, “The bird-cage next to the door on the left tells us that the scene is taking place in a house of ill repute, such as a tavern or brothel. Other elements combine to suggest the latter – the way the young man places his arm around the girl’s waist, the copious eating and drinking.” A birdcage is visible in the Brunswick Monogrammist’s Brothel Scene painted in 1537.
Other elements seen in the paintings include acrobatic feats usually performed by a youth wearing yellow on an upside down driestaal (three legged stool). There are also drinks being tallied up, most visibly in Beuckelaer’s Brothel Scene and on the walls in the Brunswick Monogrammists various brothel scenes. Paintings depicting the tale of the Prodigal Son are usually representative of brothels and prostitution as well.
Frans Pourbus Prodigal Son features a woman tallying drinks on a board hanging from the wall, versus tallying directly on a mantel or a wall itself.
Larger, higher resolutions of almost all of these images can be found online via a quick Google search. Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons have very large resolution images.
De Muis in de Kaas is a brothel in Antwerp operating generally between the years of 1537 and 1566. 1566 is when the first iconoclastic attack led by Calvinists happened in Antwerp. The protestant reformation changed prostitution in the Low Countries. Lotte C. van de Pol writes:
Reformation authors fulminated against any toleration of prostitution. In the sixteenth century, the policy toward prostitution in Protestant Europe changed from regulation to prohibition and the Netherlands were no exception. Whenever a city was taken over by the Calvinists during the course of the Dutch Revolt, one of the first acts of the new city government was to close down the municipal brothels and to suppress prostitution. In Amsterdam, this happened in 1578. All forms of illicit sex became criminal offenses to be dealt with by criminal courts. Prostitution as such was not mentioned; the word dates only from the nineteenth century. In the early modern period, concern lay not with prostitution in its current sense but with hoererij, “whoring,” a word used for all sex outside the marriage bed, irrespective of whether money changed hands. “Public whores,” their procurers, and brothel-keepers, however, were accorded special punishments in municipal and provincial ordinances; brothels were to be “disturbed” and closed.
Prior to the protestant reformation, “sex workers were ubiquitous to the bath houses and public squares of cities such as Bruges, Brussels, Mechelen and Antwerp” (Arnade).
Per what is depicted in some of the brothel paintings, we strewed leeks upon the ground. We also recreated some of the furniture, namely the three-legged stools. The night of the party, hung a birdcage outside. Master Vyncent found a birdcage with an animatronic bird, but the bird song was not that amazing so he used a track played off of an mp3 player for more realistic birdsong.
What’s On The Table
The brothel scenes and paintings featuring the prodigal son have simply set tables. So that our guests didn’t starve we provided bread, waffles, cheese, fruits, pickles, and hardboiled eggs for eating and egg-dancing with. There was hypocras and beer, no hard alcohol.
The staff served drinks poured from pitchers. Our bouncers checked nobody was unwelcomely handsy. Our bouncers checked ID at their discretion.
The egg dancing definitely helped the ambiance of the party.
Friends were very enthusiastic about the idea. I would like to thank everyone who helped helped me make my vision a reality. Thanks goes out to Mistress Genevieve de Vendome and Duke Steingrim, who agreed to host the brothel; Mistress Gianetta del Bene, who planted this idea in my head about the Dutch gentlemen’s club and agreed to cook dinner for the brothel staff; The brothel staff. There are so many of you and I hope I am not forgetting anyone! Duchess Etaine du Pommier, Viscountess Erzsebeta Magdalena, Mistress Elena Edgar, Baroness Violet Ruthvene, our bouncers Sir Connall Eoin MacTavish and Lord Janech Hvideharsen; everyone who donated food and drink to the brothel – Mistress Éireannach Katleen Nic Ghiolla Chainnigh for the 5 gallons of beer and Lady Heidi von der Burg for the hippocras, Master Wulfric of Creigull for always being willing to share his meat, Mistress Crystal of the Westermark for the wafers, Mistress Flidais ni Etigen for the bread; Master Vyncent atte Wodegate for donating a case of Lambrusco and his time and garage to getting the three-legged stools done; to Sir Geoffrey Matthias for the music; and thanks to the West Kingdom, for being the perfect place to throw a party like this. And although not many of you may know him, I’d like to thank my husband as well. He has no interest in the SCA but knows it makes me happy and he fully supports my creative endeavors.
Also thanks to Luthold, who made the pewter wangs (my thank you tokens).
The site didn’t allow driving on the grass and setting up a party by hauling everything in a handcart is something I’ll never do again, even though I had a ton of help.
It was tight under the day shades so there wasn’t much room for sitting on laps. I had moved the tables so that the “brothel employees” would be able to move freely and pour beer, but somehow the tables got moved again. /shrug
Arnade, Peter and Prevenier, Walter. Honor, Vengeance, and Social Trouble: Pardon Letters in the Burgundian Low Countries, Cornell University Press, 2015. Google Book. https://books.google.com/books?id=FOm4BgAAQBAJ&lpg=PT102&dq=prostitution%20low%20countries%20renaissance&pg=PT154#v=onepage&q=prostitution%20antwerp&f=false
Pioch, Nicholas. “Pieter Aertsen. Peasants by the Hearth.” Web Museum Paris. Web. 17 May, 2015.
Pioch, Nicholas. “Pieter Aertsen. Egg Dance.” Web Museum Paris. Web. 17 May, 2015.
van de Pol, Lotte C. “The Whore, the Bawd, and the Artist: The Reality and Imagery of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Prostitution,” JHNA 2:1-2 (2010), DOI: 10.5092/jhna.2010.2.1.3