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Iconoclasm at the Nieuwe Kerk

15 August 2007 - Given the current Dutch obsession with national identity, an exhibition on hero worship on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter might well have turned into something rather boring.

Fortunately, the organisers of the Heroe exhibition at the Nieuwe Kerk realised that hero worship cannot be separated from controversy, immorality and iconoclasm.

A centrepiece of the exhibition is a large painted portrait of Queen Wilhelmina, damaged with knives in 1960 by Indonesian students protesting against the Netherlands’ refusal to give up New Guinea.

The exhibition also features social anarchist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis, which can be understood as an unintended comment on the recent lese majesty controversy.

Other examples of inconoclasm include the pie thrown in the face of right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn, who would be murdered in 2002, and the smearing and bombing of the Van Heutz monument in Amsterdam in the 1960s. General Van Heutsz is known for the violent subjection of Aceh.

Someone who was one step ahead of the iconoclasts was Jan van Speijk, who blew up his ship in 1831 to prevent it falling into the hands of Belgian rebels, killing himself, his crew and a number of Belgians. The exhibition features a rather amusing drawing of Van Speijk ascending to heaven, while Belgians are picked up by a little devil to be brought to hell.

Illustration: detail of the damaged painting of Wilhelmina, Rijksmuseum. Nieuwe Kerk


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