Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Corpse Statue Gate of Sint Olofskapel, Amsterdam : Guest Post by Jantine Zandbergen

When in Amsterdam of late, I stumbled upon the enigmatic and beautiful gate pictured above, but could find little about it in English. Morbid Anatomy reader Jantine Zandbergen found this article in Dutch; her (very kind!) translation of it appears below. You can find out more about Jantine and her work on her website by clicking here. The photograph is my own, and the drawing comes from the original article, which can be viewed here.
Hope for a better life
The ‘Olofskapel’ (‘Olofs chapel’) originated in the 15th century, and is the second oldest church building in Amsterdam. It’s assumed the chapel was build for sailors from Norway, that’s probably why it’s named after the Norwegian king Olav who converted to Christianity among the year 1000. There are other theories about the name of the chapel though, one of them being named after Saint Odulphus, the Brabantian patron saint of dikes (the chapel is located on the ‘Zeedijk’ and ‘Seadike’).

At the end of the 15th century the chapel had been extended several times. A polygonal chapel was attached (‘Jeruzalemkapel’) which supposedly housed a copy of the Holy Grail. The chapel was torn down in 1644.

In 1917 the building lost its religious purpose. Over time it’s been used a cheese market, a food distribution center and an art contact center. The interior was destroyed by a fire in 1966 and the building now houses a conference center.

The cemetery gate
A design drawing of the port (second image down) is included in the book Architectura Moderna ofte Bouwinge van onsen tyt from 1631 which deals with the work of Hendrick de Keyser. In 1620 a cemetery was created on the Westermarkt, on the north and east side of the Westerkerk (‘Westerchurch’). The cemetery didn’t exist for long, and was moved in 1655 to the end of the Bloemgracht, now ‘Tweede Marnixplantsoen’. The gate to the cemetery on the side of the Prinsengracht is now the entrance to the Prinsenhuis next to the church. The southern gate was relocated to the Olofskapel.

Corpse statue
The sandstone statue is placed above the main entrance, it was made by Hendrick de Keyser. The caption ‘Spes Altera Vitae’ means ‘Hope for a better life’. There are other ‘corpse statues’ like this one known by the hand of sculptor Colijn de Nole: they can be found in the Grote Kerk of Vianen and the Eusebiuskerk in Arnhem. The shown corpses (a skeleton or decaying dead body) lays on a woven mat just like the skeleton above the cemetery gate. Hendrick de Keyser also portrayed the late Willem van Oranje on a similar surface, it might have been a common form of hygiene.

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