Depth of Field, volume 1, no. 1 (October 2011)Maartje van den Heuvel: Erwin Olaf: The Siege and Relief of Leiden

To refer to this article use this url:


This article deals with the recently produced series The Siege and Relief of Leiden by Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf, a commission of Leiden University and Leiden’s municipal Museum De Lakenhal. This series of a monumental history piece, six figure pieces and two still lifes deals with an important event in the history of The Netherlands: the siege of Leiden by the army of Spain's Philip II, and the relief of the city by the rebellious Dutch ‘Sea Beggars’ on 3 October 1574. The author examines how this series adds to a centuries-old tradition of history paintings on the same subject and how it forms a new step in the development of Erwin Olaf’s oeuvre. The series is representative of a trend in which lens-based media (photography and video art) explicitly refer to compositions and iconographic formulae that are known from painting. Erwin Olaf’s series is compared with work by Andreas Gursky, Jeff Wall and Bill Viola. The author finds that the series by Olaf is more in situ, functioning more purely for the commemoration of historic events, as history painting used to do. She introduces the term ‘history photography’ for this case of remediation of a tradition of painting into photography.