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Jan Toorop: Apostles Window

ArtWay Visual Meditation September 19, 2021

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Jan Toorop: Apostles Window

Lines Suggesting Faith and Hope

by Jonathan Evens

Maurice Denis, in an address on ‘New Directions in Christian Art’ given to the Revue des Jeunes in February 1919, cited the Apostles Window by Jan Toorop at what is now the Titus Brandsma Memorial Church in Nijmegen as a source of hope for a renaissance of religious art.

Toorop was a significant and influential Dutch artist who used a great diversity of styles including Realism, Impressionism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau, Pointillism and Catholic Symbolism. He worked with James Ensor, Fernand Khnopff and Johan Thorn Prikker whilst being an influence at different points on Piet Mondrian and Gustave Klimt. Mondrian said of him, “I could tell that he goes to the depths and that he is searching for the spiritual.” Across his career he designed book bindings, illustrations, ceramic objects and advertisements. His church commissions can also be found at the Sint Bavo Cathedral in Haarlem and Sint Bernulphuskerk in Oosterbeek. During the later phases of his career, he distributed reproductions of his saints' prints that ended up in countless households.

For both the Apostles Window and his popular reproductions such as Pietà, Toorop moved beyond the arabesques of his Symbolist works to take his linearity in a more geometric and monumentalized stylistic direction. Kees Veelenturf in writing about the Apostles Window notes the extent to which artists of that time had been searching for a universal grammar of form, emanating from a wish to make genuine ‘Christian’ art.

Critic Mieke Janssen said about this style, “... the severe mathematics and the clean lines make it seem to have the form of a building .... In the structure of this work, the lines give a suggestion of the Infinite." These are compositions that have a strong orientation toward the vertical. Christ is always the central figure, flanked by varying groups, occasionally mirroring each other. Yet, as Eileen Toutant has written, beneath “the hieratic rigidity and stylized stances there is a force and emotional intensity that cannot be ignored.”

In the Apostles Window, Toorop has set the 12 symmetrical standing apostles in characteristic clear lines, two by two, each looking devoutly upwards to Christ, who is set in a round rainbow fringed window above. The apostles’ faces are realistic with one bearing the features of Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, a key figure in Toorop’s faith journey, and another that of the artist himself. The rainbow is the sign of God’s promise of faithfulness and the hands of Christ are stretched out in a sign of blessing. On each side are the Alpha and Omega but reversed, so that the end is the beginning.

Veelenturf summarises, “Looking upward, the apostles see their Lord and in the act of looking they themselves are seen by him, with the beholder invited to join in this interaction.” So, “the determining geometrical principle seen in the solemn, hieratic tranquillity of the composition and the simple vertical treatment of the human bodies, unites mystical inspiration and calculated angles.”   

Both works feature in the exhibition ‘Toorop: Between Faith and Hope’ (until October 24, 2021) at Museum Villa Mondriaan in Winterswijk. A unique feature of the exhibition has been the collecting of stories from the owners of prints by Toorop. These enable us to understand the impact of his work on the faithful. Around 1930 Toorop was one of the most reproduced artists of his time.

The impact can be sensed in this story about the Pietà: “This print was in a 'junk box' that I received after the death of an aunt and uncle. The picture was in a hideous and damaged frame and was glued to a black cardboard with a page from a 1946 newspaper on the back. The work really appealed to me, because I know the Passion of Christ and because I love Jan Toorop. I think it's lovingly made. That's why I had it framed. The print has been in my possession for five years and has been given a beautiful place in the hall and I look at it every day.”

To this day, these accessible reproductions – in series or separately, as Christmas cards, picture postcards or prayer cards – remain popular collector’s items and an accessible way for the owner to be surrounded with ‘works of art’. Many of those who have loaned their prints for the exhibition inherited them from relatives, meaning that there are personal associations as well as an appreciation of Toorop’s style and, often, an identification with the sentiment depicted.

Someone else remarked about Surrender: “The image refers to my own family history and especially to the family home. In her simplicity, the woman in prayer pose radiates a sincerity and surrender that can still inspire and silence me.”

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Jan Toorop, Apostles Window, 1911, Titus Brandsma Memorial Church Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Jan Toorop, Pietà, lithographic postcard.

Jan Toorop, Surrender, 1927

Jan Toorop (1858, Purworejo, Indonesia - 1928, The Hague, The Netherlands) was a Dutch-Indonesian painter, who worked in various styles including Symbolism, Art Nouveau, and Pointillism. From 1882 to 1886 he lived in Brussels where he joined Les XX (Les Vingts), a group of artists centred on the Belgian painter James Ensor (1860-1949). After his marriage to Annie Hall (1860-1929), an English woman and model, in 1886, he alternated his time between The Hague, England, and Brussels, and after 1890 also the Dutch seaside town of Katwijk aan Zee. During this period he developed his unique Symbolist style with dynamic, unpredictable lines based on Javanese motifs, highly stylised willowy figures, and curvilinear designs. From 1897 he lived for 20 years in the seaside town of Domburg in Zeeland where he worked with a group of artists including Marinus Zwart (1882-1970) and Piet Mondrian (1877-1944). In 1905 he converted to Catholicism and began producing primarily religious works. He also created book illustrations, posters, and stained-glass designs. Toorop died on 3 March 1928 in The Hague in The Netherlands.

Jonathan Evens is Associate Vicar for HeartEdge at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, England. Through HeartEdge, a network of churches, he encourages congregations to engage with culture, compassion and commerce. He is co-author of The Secret Chord, an impassioned study of the role of music in cultural life written through the prism of Christian belief. He writes regularly on the arts for a range of publications and blogs at https://joninbetween.blogspot.com.

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ART NEWS INTERNATIONAL

1. ARTWAY – In the Art & Poetry section of our website we posted Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poem ‘How to be alone’ with a video with Pádraig Ó Tuama reciting the poem made by Argentinian designer and animator Leo G. Franchi. Click here

* In The Art & Music section you will find the official video of  the song ‘I Can Cross the Sea’ performed by The Welcome Wagon. Click here

2. THE BIG PICTURE ISSUE 2 OUT NOW – At the Kirby Laing Centre we are convinced that Public Theology is of little use if it does not enter into that play in every area of life. The Big Picture is our magazine available as an online magazine and in print, in which as a community we give expression to our celebration of life. As such we are very excited to announce that Issue 02 of The Big Picture is now available for purchase in print (UK only) and digitally on our website! As with Issue 01 of the magazine, available here, this second issue is an exploration of all the multifaceted areas in life where Christ is present and at play. The many contributions in this latest edition cover everything from mathematics and faith, art, poetry, the spiritual significance of rabbits, and spiritual retreat, to why Herman Bavinck is an essential read for today, and John Stott's approach to political theology. We even explore the life giving gift that is keeping chickens! The magazine is available on our website in three formats: If you're in the UK you can purchase it in print. You can read and share the individual articles from both Issue 01 and 02 right from your device. You can download the digital PDF for free in double-spread or single scroll versions.

3. CANA CONFERENCE IN MALAWI IN 2023 – Mrs. Chimwemwe and Christopher Agbesi of The Christian Artist Networking Association (CANA) have decided to spearhead an Africa CANA conference in 2023 in Malawi. Malawi whose capital is Lilongwe is a landlocked country in Southeastern Africa. It has a population of about 20 million people. We have chosen Malawi because it is one of the peaceful countries in Africa. Secondly, CANA is active there. There are many enthusiastic Christian artists who are ready to support this cause and to pursue the vision and mission of CANA. Organizing a CANA conference in a country whose president is a Christian (a former Superintendent of the Assemblies of God Church), is a move in the right direction. CANA needs a kind of transformation that’ll make it relevant to the needs and aspiration of society. We are imploring Christian artists all over the world to get involved and make the Malawi conference a success.

4. MYSTICS & MAKERS SUMMER PODCAST SERIES – Recent episodes include: Art & The Hustle - a roundtable discussion with singer/songwriter John Marl McMillan, author & Illustrator. Vesper Stamper and visual artist/designer Brandon Willett. In this podcast they discuss art and commerce. This podcast can be heard on Itunes: https://tinyurl.com/utd3wez

5. COMING UP

21 September – 22 September, Concordia Seminary | 801 Seminary Place, Saint Louis, MO: Whatever is Lovely: The Role of Beauty in Theology and Ministry. The church has had a long and restless relationship with beauty and the arts. Sometimes the celebration of beauty has been eagerly embraced, and relics of this history surround us — soaring church arches, shining windows, carved figures, fugues, poetry of praise and piety. But beauty also has been deemed excessive, unnecessary and even idolatrous. How can we receive and encourage the place of beauty and the arts so that our preaching and piety more fully reflect the love and creativity of God? The 2021 Theological Symposium will explore the possibilities of beauty for the life of the church and its witness in a world that still groans for redemption. Plenaries and sectionals will offer various ways that the arts can enrich ministry, inspire hope and surprise with joy. https://www.csl.edu/resources/continuing-education/theological-symposium/

22 September, 18.30 – 20.30 h, Central Commons, 4711 Westside, Dallas, TX: Being Still in a Noisy World: The Arts as Invitation to a Contemplative Life. A conversation with James K.A. Smith. We most powerfully encounter the infinite God when we turn to the depths of our interior life, as Augustine said. But our hurried lives distract us from the contemplative stillness required to confront ourselves and meet God. Thankfully, the arts come to us as a gift in the practice of contemplation; paintings and poems arrest us and ask us to attend to the world, and ourselves, in a different way. https://allevents.in/dallas/an-evening-with-james-ka-smith/10000168635963707

24 September – 26 September, Glen Eyrie Castle, 3820 N 30th St, Colorado Springs, CO: Imagination Redeemed Conference. It will explore the theme, Finding Your Place in the Great Story. Conference details: https://www.anselmsociety.org/events/imaginationredeemed2020-2ybkj

29 September, 18 – 20 h, Swiss Church, 79 Endell St, London: Art in churches network event. Commissioning Works of Art and Exhibitions in Churches. For clergy and lay people wanting to bring the visual arts into their church. An ‘art in churches’ surgery to help parishes and artists work together to identify and achieve best practice. https://www.artandchristianity.org/upcoming-events/2021/8/23/commissioning-works-of-art-and-exhibitions-in-churches

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc., click here

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