Tim Soens and Iason Jongepier (University of Antwerp, Belgium)
Rural History Conference (2013)
In Early Modern Europe, embankment of polders and drainage of wetlands were high status activities, even among the highest nobility of Europe. This painting was commissioned around 1784 by the blind duke of Arenberg, Louis Englebert (1750-1820) and shows us in unusual detail the embankment works on his so-called New Arenberg-polder on the left-bank of the river Scheldt near Antwerp. The painting reveals some of the charcteristics of late 18th century dike-building:we see the main dike being built, with a steep land-side and a more gentle sea- side. To the sea-side a so-called ‘karreveld’ or ‘earth-extractment place’ is constructed, protected by a smaller dike (the achterkade).
– the most difficult part is left to the last: the closing of the tidal channels that crisscrossed the area.
-Essential labour-tools were the wheel-barrow (probably with boards that could be removed), the spade, foot planks, a sort of sledge to carry earth, and flat-bottomed ships which can travel easily through the mudflats.sods were cut on the higher places of the saltmarsh, and intended to reinforce the dike.
– We also see some details which are not that evident: normally embankment projects embank raised saltmarshes (rijpe schorren), which were no longer flooded during normal floods and could easily be converted to agricultural land. Here, we see that not only saltmarshes but also a good deal of mudflats were embanked.