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Cornelis Liefrinck (Leiden c. 1581 – after 1652)
‘Departure of Puritans from Delft harbour to join the ‘Speedwell’ to the New World, 1620’


Oil on oak panel (single sheet), H. 44.7 x W. 58.1 cm


The Duke of Marlborough Collection, Blenheim Palace (according to a label on the reverse); Collection of the Anglo-American painter George Henry Boughton (1833-1905), London/New York, by 1895; (presumably) by descent to his wife Katherine Louise Boughton née Cullen (1845-1919); Collection of the ambassador James John Van Alen (1848-1923), Newport, Rhode Island; by descent to his wife Margaret Louise Van Alen Bruguière née Post (1876-1969); her deceased sale, Christie’s London, 5 December 1969, lot 61 (as Flemish School 17th century); Bought by the consortium of dealers Herbert Terry-Engell, London (advertised in Apollo, May 1970), Hermann Abels, Cologne, and Evert Douwes, Amsterdam (as by Adam van Breen and as depicting the Pilgrim Fathers with the Mayflower); Purchased from the latter, 26 October 1972, by a Swiss private collector

- Not in the Blenheim Palace collection catalogue of 1862 (by George Scharf)
- Harper’s Weekly, Vol. XXXIX, no. 1994 (March 9, 1895), p. 228 (ill.)
- Joseph Dillaway Sawyer and William Elliot Griffis, History of the Pilgrims and Puritans. Their ancestry and descendants, basis of Americanization, New York 1922, ill. p. 248 (as the Departure of the Speedwell from Delfshaven)
- F. Ziner, The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony, New York 1961, p. 53
- L.W. Cowie, The Pilgrim Fathers, London 1970, pp. 50-51 (as the Departure of the Speedwell from Delfshaven), pp. 50-51 & cover (ill.)
- Nick Bunker, Making haste from Babylon. The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World. A new History, New York, 2010, cover (ill.)
- Laura Hamilton Waxman, Why did the Pilgrims come to the New World? And other Questions about the Plymouth Colony, Minneapolis, 2010, p. 15 (ill.)
Otto Nelemans, Lost in interpretation. De zoektocht naar een verloren titel van een schilderij van Adam Willaerts (1577-1664), Utrecht, 2020, p. 17, fig. 19 (as by Adam van Breen)


Terry-Engell Gallery, London, Twenty-Five important Dutch and Flemish Master Paintings, no. 2 (as by Adam van Breen and with ‘illegible signature)
- Abels Gemälde-Galerie, Cologne, Niederländische Gemälde von 1540-1700, 15 April – 31 May 1972, ill. cat. p. 7 (as by Adam van Breen and reported as being signed)


The present picture is part of the collective memory of all those interested in the early history of the United States, as it is reproduced in many publications dealing with the Pilgrim Fathers and their exodus to the New World. In 1608, a group of about a hundred deeply religious Calvinists, refusing to subordinate themselves to the ordinance of the Anglican church, set sail from Nottinghamshire to escape persecution under James I. Their leader, the elderman William Brewster, chose to set course to the Dutch Republic, known for its religious tolerance. After a short stay in Amsterdam they settled in the city of Leiden, where they moved into some small houses, also known as the Wevershuisjes, close to the Pieterskerk church. Even though they were allowed to have their own sermons and to live life according to their principals, the group were weighed down by poor poverty. Besides, their leaders feared assimilation with lesser orthodox puritans within the Leiden community.

From 1617 the idea emerged to emigrate to the ‘New World’. Here they would eventually start a society in compliance with their strict interpretation of the Bible. The ship ‘Speedwell’ was equipped to transport a selection of members from the group, and the departure took place from Delfshaven as soon as July 1620. The painting shows the ship and its passengers in advance of their long journey, probably at the very moment they took off for a Day of Solemn Humiliation, of fasting and Bible lecture. In all their actions, the colonists coordinated with God to be assured of His approval.

The intention for the ‘Speedwell’ had been to join the ship ‘Mayflower’ off the coast of Southampton, from where the two ships with pilgrims would continue in convoy. Unfortunately, the ‘Speedwell’ proved unfit for the transatlantic journey as it leaked. Therefore, the crew of the Dutch ship went on board of the ‘Mayflower’. After some detours the puritans arrived in Massachusetts where they established Plymouth Colony. At the very beginning the inexperienced settlers met with the friendliness of the local native Americans, who supported them in their basic needs.

Until this day the story of the Pilgrim Fathers is a central theme in the history and culture of the United Sates. It has been calculated that there may be as many as 35 million living descendants of the Pilgrims worldwide. The settlers in Plymouth Colony are credited with organizing the first Thanksgiving Day, which would have derived from the October 3rd-celebrations in Leiden, honouring the Relief of the city from the Spanish siege.

A citizen of Leiden and later bailiff of the neighbouring village of Rijnsburg, the painter Cornelis Liefrinck lived in the Mandemakerssteeg, not far from the Pieterskerk. He was the son of a painter-cartographer from Antwerp, Hans Liefrinck II, a specialist in the maritime genre, who must have been Adam Willaerts master during the latter’s sojourn in Leiden. As Otto Nelemans has observed, the figure of the markententser walking a dog in the left foreground of our picture, also appears in Willaerts’ painting of ‘The Departure of the Pilgrim Fathers from Delfshaven’ in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ( 2020.408).

Cornelis Liefrinck, in turn, may be credited for being Willem van de Velde the Elder’s master. The Van de Velde family inhabited a house in the very same alley as the Liefrinck’s did. Apart from that, in 1621, the young Willem and his father joined their neighbour as a representative of the city’s militia on a mission to Grave in Brabant. The operation is the subject of a series of three etchings by Liefrinck junior, dating from 1622. The idiosyncratic rendering of the masts in one of these prints is remarkably equal to our picture. The staffage - most particularly the dog - compares well to Liefrinck’s signed picture in the Lakenhal, Leiden ( S 3533).

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