As Villa Next Door 2 has reached its maximum of 3 GB it will stop here, but i will continue in a new blog called Villa Next Door 3 (you guessed it!). Click here to go to Villa Next Door 3 (and don’t forget to renew your subscription there!!).
During and after the Iconoclasms of the 16th century church buildings were often kept intact, as the protestants also needed a place to worship. Quite a few of these churches in the north were built on so-called “terps”, mounds built against the unpredictable sea. Frisians eked out a living in an environment prone to floods and these terps were already built in times long gone, so to many Frisians they were a common and precious feature in their landscape. They were places of safety and salvation. Churches were built on top of them. Originally they were of course built with clay and wood.
But the local monks fostered new technologies for agriculture and for building. Around the year 1000 and afterwards many stone churches were built, like in the rest of western Europe. The international style then was the Romanesque with its sturdy, robust walls and small round-arched windows. There were of course no rocks in Friesland to hew stones from, and the technique of making bricks was lost centuries ago, so building stones had to be shipped from as far afield as the Eifel in Germany. The oldest churches still have masonry with these stones. Good examples amongst the six churches we visited are the ones in Genum/Ginnum and especially the very old one in Hogebeintum/Hegebeintum.
When brick making was reintroduced in the Low Countries at the beginning of the 13th century, the Gothic style had already replaced the Romanesque in more southern parts of Europe from the middle of the 12th century onwards. The Gothic had bigger, pointed-arched windows and more refined and elegant building techniques and as such it was more able to represent the glory of the creed (and those in power). For that last aspect there was probably not much interest amongst the Frisians in the countryside. The Gothic became only fashionable up north in the 13th century. It was used in a very practical way to allow more daylight in the church, to make some new architectural decorations and to enlarge the existing smallish and dark Romanesque buildings.
Characteristic of the village churches in the two northern provinces throughout the ages are the gable roofs (instead of pointed spires) on the bell towers. It gives them a particularly robust character that didn’t really fit in very well with the Gothic or any other later style. Of the six churches we visited, only one – St Martin’s in Hallum – has a pointed spire, which is an early 19th century replacement of a once gable-roofed bell tower. And there is of course the small church at Janum/Jannum which has no bell tower at all, but a hanging belfry with one bell. It was interesting – just as interesting as any big Gothic cathedral – to see these old structures in their modern day context; sometimes on terps and surrounded by houses and trees they stand out as landmarks in the very flat and agricultural Frisian landscape. Which makes a trip to that part of the province all the more worth it.
As some readers may know i have a keen interest in European art and architecture made and built before 1600. Especially the so-called Middle Ages are interesting. They are dated usually from about 500 to 1500, but for the Low Countries it would be stylistically more appropriate to let the Middle Ages end in 1566 with the Iconoclasm starting that year. That definitely brought a radical end to Gothic art (which was already being replaced by the more fashionable Renaissance style in the cities). Church interiors old and new were torn down, sculptures and paintings were destroyed, frescos were covered with whitewash, and later on abbeys were confiscated and torn down, erasing a long social, aesthetic and religious history.
In fact this was the end of a long development starting with legalising Christianity and incorporating it into the Roman Empire by Constantine the Great in the 4th century. After that the Roman Catholic Church became powerful and even omnipotent in Western Europe, with the Popes in Rome becoming princes as powerful, greedy and corrupt as any other secular king. Conservatism, oppression, corruption and religious opportunism led to social and political unrest, and in the end it led to the Protestant Reformation of which the Dutch Iconoclasm was a result. In spite of that devastating Iconoclasm there are still tangible remnants of the Middle Ages in what is now called the Netherlands. The Dutch Middle Ages are of particular interest because the country as a political entity didn’t yet exist.
In medieval times the Low Countries were a collection of dukedoms, counties and bishoprics, spreading from modern day northern France to the North Sea, trading with each other as often as fighting with each other, often at war with or taken over by more powerful neighbours, but generally behaving quite independently. The present day Dutch are only interested in their Medieval heritage because it is all very old and still there, but they cannot take pride in it because there is no national Dutch heroism in it. Generally there is the idea that Medieval society was barbaric and intolerant. That ignores the fact that the Middle Ages were a long development of civilisation with both its shiny pages of enlightenment and its dark pages of barbarism, traces of which are still visible in the present. Amongst the oldest architectural remnants in the present day Netherlands are village churches in the two northern provinces Groningen and Friesland.
During the week before Christmas i was on a family visit in a village northeast of the Frisian capital Leeuwarden/Ljouwert. It was a much wished for relaxed and worry-free holiday with loved ones i only see a very few times a year (or hardly at all under corona circumstances). The new Covid lockdown barred us from any visit to a museum, but then the Frisian countryside is as much an open air museum as any place could be. It is a museum of the present, of modernism, of nature, of agriculture, of geography and….. of Medieval times. So we took the opportunity to see some of these old Medieval churches.
As you may have noticed, reporting in Villa Next Door has become less frequent. That has two main reasons. The first is that i’m concentrating more on writing (in Dutch) these days, as i feel not enough is written about art. Writing, to me, has proven to be a more creative process. Alternating with viewing art it deepens my understanding of what i see, and not just in art. I hope, of course, that reading will stimulate the same process with you. However, writing costs time. The second reason is that reporting by camera about exhibitions in (and sometimes outside) The Hague is one thing, but Villa Next Door is a one man’s business. I must admit it’s nice to show on a blog something of my excitement while seeing exhibitions, but processing all the pictures for Villa Next Door is, although a critical, not a very creative process, which, even so, costs a lot of time. So there will be less Villa Next Door and more Villa La Repubblica the coming time. I apologise to my non-Dutch readers for that. The good news is that Villa Next Door will be continued though less regularly and, as to the artists and gallerists, even less democratically.