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House of Vineyard, 2023, Bete van Meeuwen

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Grand March

A Historic House through a Ballroom Lens

2 Dec - 26 May 2024
The Willet-Holthuysen House

    A damaged statue as a centerpiece

    Torn statue unearthed 39 years ago

    This masterpiece from the exhibition Panorama Amsterdam was discovered in a special way. In fact, it was excavated 39 years ago on the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal. The stone statue is a so-called "pietà," a representation of a dead Jesus Christ, lying in the arms of his mother Mary. Although the statue is badly damaged, it contains a unique story about the history of Amsterdam.

    Gedeelte van een piëta, ca. 1450. Maker onbekend.

    The pietà stood in the chapel of the Catholic Saint Geertruiden monastery, which was founded at the beginning of the fifteenth century between what today is called the Suikerbakkerssteeg and the Nieuwe Nieuwstraat. The nuns who lived in the convent could pray in the chapel. The standing statue was originally much larger than this fragment, where only the upper bodies of Mary and Jesus are visible. It was probably about 1.35 meters high. Red, blue and gold paint remains on the statue suggest that it was once colorfully painted.

    A century later, the Netherlands fell under the spell of riotous Protestantism. The bomb burst during the Iconoclasm of 1566, when churches and monasteries in Amsterdam were looted and destroyed. Images of saints like this one were deliberately mutilated, in protest against Catholic worship of images. Finally, in 1578, Amsterdam's Catholic city government was deposed in a revolution called the Alteration.

    Ab Lagerwey van Afdeling Archeologie bij opgegraving van de piëta, 1984

    The statue was severely damaged in the process. The anger focused mainly on the faces of Mary and Jesus, which people tried to scratch off. It was probably concerned nuns who eventually put the remnant in a coffin and buried it in the convent's cemetery in an attempt to save or lay the statue to rest. Here it was discovered by archaeologists during an excavation in 1984.

    Today, the Pieta can be admired in the permanent exhibition Panorama Amsterdam at the Amsterdam Museum. The battered statue has become a symbol of the great religious upheaval that took place in our country in the sixteenth century.

    Panorama Amsterdam, 2023, Francoise Bolechowski
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