29 maart 1995 promoveerde ik aan de Katholieke Universiteit van Nijmegen op het proefschrift Arbeid & Bezieling, de esthetica van P.J.H. Cuypers, J.A. Alberdingk Thijm en V.E.L. de Stuers, en de voorgevel van het Rijksmuseum. Daarna zou het nog twee jaar duren eer de handelseditie van het proefschrift uitkwam. Het was een hele eer dat het werk in datzelfde jaar, 1997, bekroond werd met de Karel van Manderprijs voor beste boek op het gebied van architectuurgeschiedenis en beeldhouwkunst van de Vereniging van Nederlandse Kunsthistorici (VNK).
Dat het die onderscheiding ontving, mag best een wonder heten, want het is een buitengewoon complexe studie. Ik heb nooit meer iets geschreven dat zo ingewikkeld is: in de beste tradities van de grote iconoloog Erwin Panofsky is op grond van kunsttheoretische, filosofische, theologische en architectuurhistorische bronnen getraceerd, wat mogelijkerwijs achter het beeldprogramma van de voorgevel van het Rijksmuseum schuilgaat. Ook andere delen van het museumgebouw zijn daarbij betrokken, maar het accent ligt op de façade aan de Stadhouderskade die als een compendium in steen opgevat kan worden van de opvattingen van het driemanschap Cuypers, Thijm en De Stuers. Hoe ik dit onderzoek heb aangepakt kun je lezen in de inleiding die de veelzeggende titel draagt: Een poging in de kunst.*
Een van mijn dromen is om op basis van Arbeid & Bezieling een klein, makkelijk toegankelijk boekje te schrijven over de buitenkant van het Rijksmuseum, zodat de bezoeker met dit bijzondere programma kennis kan maken. Tot het zover is, nodig ik je graag uit om onderstaande samenvatting te lezen.
Labour and Inspiration
An iconological interpretation of the façade of the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum based on the aesthetics of P.J.H. Cuypers, J.A. Alberdingk Thijm and V.E.L. de Stuers
Bernadette van Hellenberg Hubar
Labour and Inspiration (Arbeid en Bezieling) is a study of the theories on the active and passive process of artistic creation of P.J.H. Cuypers, J.A. Alberdingk Thijm and V.E.L. de Stuers as they were expressed in the sculpture of the façade of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the decoration of the Arts & Crafts School in Roermond. Although in both cases the design of the ornament was supervised by Cuypers, the programme of meanings to be expressed in and through the decoration was devised in frequent consultations between the aesthetician and man of letters Alberdingk Thijm , the civil servant De Stuers and the architect Cuypers. In order to present their theories on both the active creative process of making a work of art and the passive artistic experience of the public and to interpret their formal expression in the Rijksmuseum and the Arts & Crafts School in Roermond, the methods of iconography and iconology have been used. In spite of their drawbacks, these methods have proved themselves to be useful instruments for an inquiry into the meaning of these decoration programmes. However, it should be remarked at the outset that the aim was not to reach quasi-objective results, but to enter into a dialogue with these works of art, leading to interpretations and reflections in which the role of the educated guess is openly acknowledged.
Order and Movement
Labour and Inspiration is devided into three parts, called after a triad of concepts which play a central role in Thijm’s view of the development of a contemporary Christian art formed after a devine model: “the Holy Type of Unity and Multiplicity, Order and Movement, and Harmony and Diversity”. Part I (Order and Movement) presents the opinions of the three men on the practical and idealistic aspects of the creation and enjoyment of art. In three chapters Cuypers’ education as an architect, Thijm’s aesthetic theories and De Stuers’ policy concerning artistic education and public art collections are discussed. Each chapter is preceded by a short biographical sketch of the dramatis personae of this study.
A close study of the years Cuypers spent at the Académie des Beaux Arts in Antwerp reveals not only the wide range of ‑ often conflicting ‑ theories of art that prevailed in Belgium and The Netherlands in the first half of the nineteenth century, but also the artistic practice at that time. The transformation of the classicist ideal of the ‘universal master’ into a romantic, quasi-mediaeval ideal of the Magister operum is a central theme in this chapter; another is the discovery that Cuypers’ professors, under the influence of J.-F. Blondel’s Cours d’Architecture, held a rhetorical view of architecture which was a major factor in determining Cuypers’ ideas on the meaning and impact of architecture, on the role of iconological programmes and on the use of building styles and ornament.
Thijm’s aesthetics is presented by means of a discussion of one of his most beautiful historical novellas, The Organist of the Cathedral (De Organist van den Dom, 1848). In this work Thijm combines without effort typical Renaissance motifs such as the furor poeticus and the furor melancholicus with a general romantic and catholic atmosphere, thus throwing new light on the mediaeval Cathedral of Utrecht, where the action takes place.
To end Part I, De Stuers’ cultural and educational policy is discussed. Both the state-supervised national programme for schooling in the arts and crafts and the idealistic programme of the National Museum for History and Art (Nederlandsch Museum voor Geschiedenis en Kunst), a subdivision of the Rijksmuseum, were dictated by the same vision on the role of the arts and crafts in society. One of De Stuers’ preoccupations was the problem of translating a creative concept into a practicable drawing and subsequently into an artistic product; another was the appeal of the work of art on its public, whose participation is made possible by the moving effect of aesthetic experience. This rhetorical view of art, in which its capacity to move the beholder is so central, is one of the characteristics of De Stuers’ museum ideology. This ideology was partly based on the “propre musée” located at the house of Cuypers’ first mentor Charles Guillon. Both preoccupations of De Stuers have clearly informed the conception of the Rijksmuseum and its annexe, the Art Training School (Oefenschool).
Harmony and Diversity
Part II (Harmony and Diversity) is devoted to the Arts & Crafts School in Roermond and especially to its tile decoration of images of Labour and Inspiration. Although the Rijksmuseum antedates the Roermond School, the latter is discussed first because this offers the opportunity to present the thoroughly catholic and mediaeval pair of concepts ‘inspiration’/’conception’ and ‘labour’/’craftsman’ as the background to the partly ‘Oudhollandsche’ (Old-Dutch) and partly classicist use of these concepts in the façade of the Rijksmuseum. To begin with, the building history and the architectural composition of this Gesamtkunstwerk is elucidated. Because of its liveliness and subtle balance between variety and variation, movement and asymmetry it is one of the outstanding Dutch examples of ‘picturesque’ architecture. Cuypers ‘picturesque’ and varied design received added lustre by the colourful decoration of the exterior, where different kinds of brick, complex masonry motifs, sculpture and tile pictures were used. Secondly, the programme which formed the basis of all this ornament is interpreted. The representation of ‘inspiration’/’conception’ is based on Mariological metaphors as they occur in the dogma De immaculata conceptione (1854); it strongly resembles the iconography of the decorations designed by Cuypers for the piano he gave as a wedding present to his second wife, Thijm’s sister Nenny. The figure of ‘inspiration’/’conception’ expresses an analogy between the ‘inspiration’ of Christ in Mary and the inspiration of the creative concept in the artist. This analogy was based on the interpretation of the articles devoted to Mary by Thijm’s friend, the priest and theologian Cornelis Broere. The figure of ‘labour’/’craftsman’ on the other hand shows the romantical, ‘mediaeval’ labor ethic of the three friends, which was held up to the citizens of Roermond as a harmonious model of a prosperous society.
Unity and Multiplicity
Part III, Unity and Diversity, is devoted to the iconography and iconology of the Schauseite of the Rijksmuseum. The analysis of its content and meaning is preceded by a chapter which reconstructs the development of the plan, the building history and the façade sculpture, and describes the complex. The statues of Labour and Inspiration which support the façade, are the central themes here. In Thijm’s aesthetical theory and the series of conceptual associations which form an important part of it this pair of concepts is identical with that of Matter and Spirit. ‘True’ works of art can only be created in and through their interaction. The matter and craft aspect is reflected in the complex of meanings attached to the figure of Labour-Luke-Apelles as a patron of Painting, which combination goes back in essence to the apocryphal biblical story of Saint Luke painting the Madonna. In the representation of Labour-Luke, drawing takes precedence over painting because drawing is the visual equivalent of verbal language. Labour-Luke thus illustrates the belief of Thijm, Cuypers and De Stuers in the Renaissance notion of drawing as the mediator of Platonic Ideas. The origins of this conviction can be traced through contemporary art criticism, philosophical treatises and the ‘Oudhollandsche’ artistic theory to the Platonist humanism of Marsilio Ficino and his classical sources.
Inspiration on the other hand turns out to be John the evangelist, represented as the personification of the art of building, beholding the perfection of the heavenly Jerusalem. He is pictured in accordance with both the type of Meditatione and that of the furor poeticus, derived from the ‘Oudhollandsche’ edition of Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia. By this typology, which was extremely popular, the young man Inspiration symbolizes Thijm’s view of the creative power of sublimated melancholy. This theme, which was known above all through Dürer’s Melencolia I, can also be traced back to Ficino.
Next comes the interpretation of the decoration programme of the façade, presented as a book for the laity. The strikingly classical design of the sculpture can be explained by connecting it with the double aim of emulating both the Parthenon and the Amsterdam Town Hall by Jacob van Campen. By means of a construction of the history of art that had been prepared symbolically by Thijm and rationally by Viollet-le-Duc, Greek and mediaeval art could be considered as equivalents because they both represented the flowering of a culture. As a result of this specific concordance masterpieces of Greek art ‑ here the Parthenon ‑ also served as a model for contemporary projects. The emulation of the Town Hall was legitimated because its designers, Van Campen and Artus Quellinus, had tried in a similar way to find a national, classicist-’Oudhollandsch’ answer to the classics. In virtue of the central role of the Virgin, the sculpture of the Rijksmuseum can be interpreted as a litany in stone to the Madonna: the Parthenon, originally a temple devoted to a virgin goddess, had been consecrated tot the Mother of God in the early Christian age; the Amsterdam Town Hall had the Amsterdam Virgin as patroness, and the Rijksmuseum the Dutch Virgin. In both cases, this use of a virgin patroness originates in the use of Mary as a symbol of architecture, city-state or society. Moreover, in virtue of a multiplicity of ‘Oudhollandsche’ motifs, the Rijksmuseum would grow into a monument of patriotic feeling: a cultural and historical pantheon for national heroes, exempla virtutis, whose names and portraits were immortalized in the tympana of the windows on the exterior. Thus the decoration of the façade presents us with a summa in which varying motifs had been connected by the “fertility and elasticity of the Christian-symbolical system” (Thijm). Various controversial catholic elements received in this fashion a different, ‘Oudhollandsche’ and ‘classical’ interpretation.
One of these ‘elastic’ themes of the façade is represented in the relief ‘The Art of Drawing and Painting’, which is in fact an anachronistically ‘Greek’ variation of the theme ‘Saint Luke paints the Madonna’. Instead of Luke we find the painter Apelles and instead of the Virgin with Christ sitting on her lap we find Venus Urania with Amor. The analysis of this relief is preceded by the iconographical explanation of the tile tableau with the Three Graces ‘Beauty, Truth and Goodness’ above the entrance to the Art Training School (Oefenschool). This picture especially demonstrates the importance of the part played by De Stuers as iconographer and the great knowledge of ‘Oudhollandsche’ culture both he and Thijm possessed. Ficino’s concept of the Geminae Veneres ‑ heavenly Urania and earthly Pandemos ‑ is mixed with that of the Three Graces as they are represented in the tile tableau. These twins also appear in the relief with the Greek ‘Luke’ or Apelles: Venus Urania as a model, the other Venus drawing. The design of the relief of ‘The Art of Drawing and Painting’ is based on a harmony between a classical, humanistic and mediaeval motif, devised by Thijm as an allusion to the Concordia Veteris et Novi Testamenti. Again, Mary is the link: she is prefigured as “the highest ideal in art” by Venus Urania, who in turn is often used as a visual metaphor for the Idea of beauty.
The counterpart for the relief of Apelles is the tableau depicting ‘The Art of Building and Sculpture’. Here, the motif of the Greek Magister operum is represented on the basis of a similar concordance. Holding a banderole showing the almost magical emblem of circle, square and triangle, the architect refers as well to Vitruvius as to the mediaeval technique of triangulation. Thus this representation of an architect can be linked to the portrait of Cuypers as an architectus doctus painted in Roermond by his brother in 1853: it shows the sitter against a richly filled book-case, with a drawing-case, an equilateral triangle and a Roman-Gothic capital. Similarly, the Amsterdam relief shows the symbiosis between vitruvianism and organicism in Cuypers’ thought and work in so far as the ‘master of the works’ also refers to the demiourgos, the architect of the universe. Analogous to this divine architect, the Magister operum creates architecture as a “second nature” (Thijm).
Victory-imagination is the central theme of the last chapter of Part III. The three friends considered imagination as a powerful creative instrument, active in a poetical, combining and perfecting way, but only if it is divinely inspired and recognized as a gift from heaven. Because of the analogy between God and man the latter is almost forced to use his imagination and to work creatively. From this results both the victory of mind over matter and the connecting link between heaven and earth. It is quite remarkable to see that this concept turns out to be similar in countless points to the aesthetics of the agnostic Carel Vosmaer, the most important opponent of Thijm, Cuypers and De Stuers.
Finally, by way of a conclusion and synthesis of the meanings connected with the programme of the façade, the most important lines and patterns ‑ both compositional and allegorical ‑ are discussed. As in a perpetuum mobile a limited number of themes dominates the front in ever changing forms and combinations. Among these are Mary as the highest ideal in art, the Magister operum, Beseleel and the demiourgos, the heavenly Jerusalem and the temple of the arts, Venus Urania and Venus Pandemos, the art of drawing as the mediator of the idea, the furor poeticus and many more. By continually balancing on the razor’s edge, turning necessity into a virtue by taking into account the criticism of opponents and incorporating it in the visual programme, the iconology of the Rijksmuseum has acquired its acuteness and its subtle and inspired content. Yet at the same time this programme has remained incomprehensible for the average visitor because of its extreme difficulty. Even if countless symbolical ‘beams’ (Thijm) in the façade flash out with the aim of striking each other in the mind of the beholder, the programme remained too exclusive for the unsuspecting public. One can therefore safely state that similar to the mediaeval cathedral, the Rijksmuseum did not succeed completely in being a book for the layman.
The epilogue first gives an evaluation of the degree in which ‘Oudhollandsche’ conceptual triads such as nature, teaching and exercise ‑ which were known from the writings of Vondel, Dürer, Ripa, Van Hoogstraten and others ‑ could be successfully transformed into the trio Labour, Inspiration and Victory. Again, it transpires that Cuypers, Thijm and De Stuers possessed a very solid and profound knowledge of such ‘Oudhollandsche’ metaphors. In this way, they can be considered as the precursors of the iconography and iconology of the twentieth century, in spite of the lack of actuality of the metaphors they used for contemporary art. Secondly, the epilogue considers whether and in which way the programme of the completed museum has influenced the work and opinions of the next generation of artists: the architect H.P. Berlage, the writers A. Verwey and L. van Deyssel (Thijms’ son), the painters R.N. Roland Holst, J. Toorop and A. Derkinderen and the composer A. Diepenbrock (Cuypers’ and Thijm’s relative), who summarized their ideals in the concept of ‘community art’ or Gemeenschapskunst.
Arbeid & Bezieling heeft uiteraard behalve lof ook kritiek gekregen. Dat is met name omdat de betekenis van Thijm te zwaar aangezet zou zijn en omdat de analyse een dolgedraaide iconologische exercitie heet te zijn: de bewijsvoering – voor zover van zoiets al sprake kan zijn – is te uitputtend en te abstract, en dus in meer opzichten onnavolgbaar. Vooral Elineor Bergvelt heeft het er moeilijk mee en veroordeelt Arbeid & Bezieling in één adem met het artikel van Jochen Becker uit 1985 dat me inspireerde tot het proefschrift. Deze opstelling doet vermoeden dat ze van geen van beide echt kennis genomen heeft, want het gaat om twee heel verschillende studies. Dat zou tegelijkertijd verklaren waarom het haar is ontgaan dat Arbeid & Bezieling juist op het punt van de moeilijkheidsgraad een hoog oplossend vermogen heeft. Het is namelijk zo opgezet dat je snel tot zeer snel van de hoofdlijnen en conclusies kennis kunt nemen zonder de breed uitgewerkte onderbouwing door te hoeven ploegen:
- de Engelse samenvatting – die hierboven staat – beslaat slechts 4 pagina’s.
- ieder hoofdstuk wordt voorafgegaan door een samenvatting vooraf, waardoor je in om en nabij de 35 pagina’s in vogelvlucht over het onderzoek scheert.
- wie daarna voor diepgang wil gaan, kan het hele boek lezen, maar desgewenst ook via de inhoudsopgave en de index kiezen voor een selectie van onderwerpen.
Wat betreft de de rol van Thijm zijn het met name Ype Koopmans en Aart Oxenaar die ten strijde trekken, zij het wel ieder om andere redenen. De eerste is van mening dat ik Victor de Stuers als programmamaker te kort doe en de laatste vindt algemeen dat Thijm teveel gewicht krijgt als het om de productie van Cuypers als architect gaat. Beide gewaardeerde collegae hebben net zoveel gelijk als ongelijk, waarmee ik maar wil zeggen dat een andere aanvliegroute niet hoeft te betekenen dat we niet vrij dicht bij elkaar op dezelfde bestemming landen.
Dit item kan geciteerd worden als: Hubar, Bernadette van Hellenberg, ‘Proefschrift Arbeid & Bezieling’, op: Vanhellenberghubar.org, http://bit.ly/Arbeid-Bezieling (2014). ↩