Art, art and more art: museums of Den Haag

Portrait of Escher from the Nationaal Archief NL via Wikimedia Commons

Back in 2019 an exhibition catalogue of M.C. Escher works inspired me to write about the Alhambra in Granada. Escher is in my thoughts again as we approach the 50th anniversary of his death on 27 March, and I am reminded of a happy visit with my family ten years ago to the Escher museum in The Hague, Escher in Het Paleis. 2022 is a significant date for other museums in The Hague as well, and so this gives me the excuse to look in more detail at the wealth of art and museums in the Dutch capital, relating it to books in the UL.

The Escher museum is housed in the 18th century Lange Voorhout Palace which belonged to members of the Dutch Royal family for almost 150 years. It is now owned by the city and has been home to the Escher exhibition since 2002. Continue reading

Water and books don’t usually mix: North Sea floods

The threat of rising sea levels is a major concern related to climate change, and has undoubtedly led to increased research interest in historical floods and storm tides. A new book that has just arrived in the library, De grote en vreeselike vloed: de Sint-Elisabethsvloed 1421-2021 (C217.c.8893), looks at the St. Elizabeth’s flood, one of several large flood disasters affecting the Netherlands, which took place 600 years ago on the night of November 18-19 1421. It resulted in the city of Dordrecht becoming an island and the disappearance of many villages. The book accompanies a current exhibition (and related symposium) at Dordrecht Museum, showing the painted panels of a late 15th century altarpiece that was commissioned by relatives of villagers who fled the floods. Other cultural depictions of the flood are considered as well as a look at what lessons can be learned from the impact of the flood. Continue reading

From occupied city to infected city

Two years ago I wrote about the important modernist work, Bezette stad, by Paul van Ostaijen, an experimental piece of literature describing the World War I German occupation of Antwerp, with illustrations by Oskar Jespers. Now, 100 years after this was published and 125 years after van Ostaijen was born, we have taken delivery of a copy of the complementary Besmette stad in which 65 contemporary artists take inspiration from and reference the original work while also responding to the coronavirus crisis. The parallels between the 21st century pandemic lockdown and the earlier wartime siege and occupation are clearly recognised: empty streets, death lurking around the corner and a realisation of how fragile human existence is. Continue reading

Dutch resources on slavery and colonialism: an update

Earlier this month the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam finally opened its doors to visitors for a major exhibition which examines the history of Dutch involvement in the international slave trade.  This exhibition, first conceived four years ago, was delayed due to COVID-19 but was officially opened in May by King Willem-Alexander and now runs until 29 August, with a powerful online version for people not able to visit in person. The exhibition tells the stories of slaves and the Dutch people who enslaved them, homing in on ten individual people and using oral history alongside historic objects and documents. There is a Cambridge connection as a plantation bell displayed at the entrance was until 2019 on display at St Catharine’s College. We have a copy of the accompanying exhibition catalogue: Slavernij: het verhaal van João, Wally, Oopjen, Paulus, Van Bengalen, Surapati, Sapali, Tula, Dirk, Lohkay (C216.c.9769)

News of this exhibition reminded me that a year ago I wrote about online Dutch titles on race and decolonisation. Since then we have looked out for relevant new titles to buy; already in October I reported on new Dutch books on race and identity. Here I will highlight some more new titles, mainly on slavery, along with a few older titles in print that we already had, now more accessible than a year ago. Continue reading

Kartini and Dutch colonial literature

Kartini, picture from Tropenmuseum via Wikimedia Commons

April 21 in Indonesia is Kartini Day, marking the anniversary of the birth of Kartini (1879-1904) who is regarded there as a national heroine for her feminism and for her promotion of the education and emancipation of Indonesian women during the Dutch colonial era. This occasion gives us the opportunity to look more closely at her short life but also to consider the wider topic of Dutch colonial literature, a growing area of interest in recent years. Most of the resources I reference here are available online. 

Kartini was born in Jepara, northern Java to an aristocratic family but attended a Dutch primary school where she learnt to read and write Dutch, which later gave her the chance to absorb Western ideas. From the age of twelve she experienced the tradition of pingitan, when a teenage girl was kept at home after their first menstrual period until they were married, often denied further education. She was more fortunate than most, however, as her father did permit her to read books and to send letters to Dutch friends. From the age of 16 (the age at which most young women were expected to marry) she was also occasionally allowed to leave her seclusion for the wider world. She strongly resisted the pressure to marry for some time but eventually in 1903 she did agree to marry a man from another aristocratic family. The following year she gave birth to a boy but sadly died a few days later. 

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