Age: 17th century
Origin: Like many plates in the Dutch style, this plate was cast in Siegerland, Germany
Pro Patria stands for the fatherland. It is one of the first political fireplace plates in the world. It originates from rebellious Holland, which in the 17th century fought for political and republican independence amidst other feudal European neighboring countries.
The figure on the plate is the Dutch maiden of liberty, holding a spear with the liberty cap on it. The crowned climbing lion beside her holds a sword in its right paw and the seven arrows of the seven Dutch provinces united in the Union of Utrecht in its left paw.
The frame around this scene is the so-called Dutch garden, symbolizing the unity of the Netherlands.
The image on this plate became the standard motif of Dutch iconography from around 1580. Various symbols for the liberation of the Seven United Netherlands were combined in it.
The individual symbols themselves are of older origin but gained more than local or regional significance from that time. We will briefly go over them below.
The Dutch garden likely dates back to earlier jurisprudence. In the early Middle Ages, when justice was administered, a cord was used to encircle an area around a tree. Within that area, known as the "rightful tree," there was peace, and no one was allowed to enter without permission.
The Dutch or Geuzen maiden is the personification of liberty. She may have been inspired by the city maiden of Dordrecht, the oldest city in Holland, where the Estates had first convened in a free assembly.
The liberty cap is borrowed from the Phrygian cap. Phrygia was located in Asia Minor and was famous in Greek times for its culture.
The Phrygian cap signified to the Greeks that they were dealing with foreigners from an exotic and different world: foreigners not bound by the same laws and symbolizing change.
Later, in Roman times, the Phrygian cap took on the meaning of the liberty cap ("pileus libertatis"). Freed slaves were given the cap when they became Roman citizens.
Thus, the cap became a symbol of freedom.
Later, the Phrygian cap became a symbol of the French Revolution ("le bonnet rouge"), which is also frequently seen on fireplace plates.
Lion of Nassau
The crowned lion with the sword and bundle of arrows is the heraldic animal of the States General of the United Netherlands. Each arrow is the symbol of one of the seven provinces: Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelre, Overijssel, Groningen, and Friesland.
The lion is the most common heraldic animal, symbolizing nobility and strength.
Bundle of arrows
The bundle of arrows is derived from Scilurius, the king of the Scythians, who had 80 sons. On his deathbed, he summoned his sons and gave them a bundle of tied arrows. He asked them to break all the arrows at once, which proved impossible. He then untied the bundle and broke the arrows one by one. Parallel to this story was the motto of the Dutch Seven Provinces: "eendracht maakt macht, tweedracht breekt kracht" (unity makes strength, discord breaks strength).
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