At the request of Gaasbeek Castle, the leading Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf created new work based on Louis Gallait’s most famous painting The Last Honours to Counts Egmond and Hoorn (1851).
The Count of Egmond, one of the best-known of Gaasbeek Castle’s owners, grew to become a national hero of the young Kingdom of Belgium during the Romantic era, and his legacy was subsequently recuperated within the Flemish Movement as well. In 1565, the Counts of Egmond and Hoorn joined the Confederation of Noblemen, a group of several noblemen from the Low Countries united in their opposition to the rule of Philip II. They appealed to the Spanish king for better treatment of the Southern Netherlands, after which Egmond and Hoorn were accused of high treason, a charge also stemming from their ties to William of Orange. In 1568, they were beheaded on the Brussels Grand Place under orders from the 3rd Duke of Alba, the ‘Iron Duke’. In Gallait’s scene, they are attended by members of the Brussels Crossbow Guild after being beheaded. This renowned Romantic-era canvas counts itself among the great icons of our historicising painting tradition, and speaks to the public’s taste for tragedy during the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Gaasbeek Castle wants to call into question our (historic) heritage by systematically juxtaposing it with contemporary art, which is why it asked Erwin Olaf to turn Gallait’s iconic painting into a contemporary tableau vivant. In earlier work Olaf had demonstrated an extraordinary affinity with the macabre side of romanticism and with historical scenes and situations, which he styled with his characteristic perfectionism and a touch of irony. Olaf created a contemporary version of Gallait’s painting in analogy with the work he made last year as part of the exhibition about the Siege of Leiden. Gaasbeek asked him not for a literal reproduction of Gallait’s painting, but for a free interpretation, a modern-day ‘translation’ of the atmosphere of blood-curdling romanticism. By way of veiled reference to the last owner of the castle, the Marquise Arconati Visconti, he added a few striking women, and integrated Belgian fashion into the main scene and the separate portraits in collaboration with stylist Linda Van Waesberge (featuring designs by Delvaux, Ann Demeulemeester, Jean-Paul Knott, Jean-Paul Lespagnard, Elvis Pompilio, Kaat Tilley, Dries Van Noten, Wouters & Hendrix and others).
The original text can be found here:
All images © Erwin Olaf