Introduction: Divided by Death? Staging Mortality in the Early Modern Low Countries


  • Isabel Casteels KU Leuven
  • Louise Deschryver KU Leuven
  • Violet Soen KU Leuven



death, historical anthropology, Dutch Revolt, religious war


This special issue examines the multifaceted phenomenon of death in the early modern Low Countries. When war, revolt, and disease ravaged the Netherlands, the experience of death came to be increasingly materialised in vanitas art, funeral sermons, ars moriendi prints, mourning poetry, deathbed psalms, memento mori pendants, grave monuments, épitaphiers, and commemoration masses. This collection of interdisciplinary essays brings historical, art historical, and literary perspectives to bear on the complex cultural and anthropological dimensions of death in past societies. It argues that the sensing and staging of mortality reconfigured confessional and political repertoires, alternately making and breaking communities in the delta of Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt. As such, death’s ‘omnipresence’ within the context of ongoing war and religious polarization contributed to the confessional and political reconfiguration of the early modern Low Countries.


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Author Biographies

Isabel Casteels, KU Leuven

Isabel Casteels studied history at the University of Amsterdam and is currently a research fellow of the FWO (Research Foundation – Flanders). Her research interests combine the fields of cultural and anthropological history and the history of knowledge in the sixteenth-century Low Countries. She has published on religious rituals in merchant guilds in Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis and on knowledge circulation in Enkhuizen in Tijdschrift Holland. A member of the KU Leuven research group of Early Modern History, she is now preparing her doctoral dissertation on the agency of audiences attending executions during the Dutch Revolt under the supervision of Violet Soen and Johan Verberckmoes.

Louise Deschryver, KU Leuven

Louise Deschryver studied history at KU Leuven and is a research fellow of the FWO (Research Foundation – Flanders) at the research group Early Modern History of the same university. She researches the dynamics of sensory community formation and death rituals in the sixteenth-century Low Countries, on which she published an article in volume 4.1 of Early Modern Low Countries. The doctoral dissertation she is preparing under the supervision of Violet Soen and Johan Verberckmoes focuses on how the body and the senses created dynamics of confessional confrontation and/or co-existence in the religious and political upheavals of the Dutch Revolt.

Violet Soen, KU Leuven

Violet Soen is Associate Professor of Early Modern History at KU Leuven, and editor-in-chief of the series Habsburg Worlds at Brepols and Journal of Early Modern Christianity at De Gruyter. Her research focuses on the twin dynamics of religious war and peace in France, the Low Countries, the wider Habsburg World, and especially their borderlands. She is PI of the project Rest in Peace? Death during the Dutch Revolt (FWO, Research Foundation – Flanders) and co-PI of the EU Horizon 2020 Research & Innovation programme RETOPEA, which studies religious peace and tolerance through history. She is the author of Vredehandel. Adellijke en Habsburgse verzoeningspogingen tijdens de Nederlandse Opstand (1564-1581) (Amsterdam 2012).





How to Cite

Casteels, I., Deschryver, L., & Soen, V. (2021). Introduction: Divided by Death? Staging Mortality in the Early Modern Low Countries. Early Modern Low Countries, 5(1), 1–16.