- Place of origin:
The Netherlands (made)
van Norenberch, Coenraed (maker)
- Materials and Techniques:
Carved Belgian marble, alabaster and Caen stone
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50a, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery, case LOFT 
Roodlofts were a common feature in Netherlandish churches of the 1200s to 1600s. They performed several important functions. A rood, a cross or crucifix, suspended over the roodloft provided a backdrop to the performance of the Mass. The roodloft also separated the nave from the choir or chancel, provided a platform for an organ and could be used as platform for preaching, the reading of scripture or singing.
This roodloft was erected in 1610-1613 under the supervision of Coenraed van Norenberch. It has a very rich sculptural programme. Towards the top of the main side, which faced west, are three larger figures representing Faith, Charity and Hope. In the recesses are four smaller men bearing shields originally painted with coats of arms. There are six relief sculptures between the figures which represent scenes from the life of Jesus: the Miracle at Cana, the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, the Transfiguration, the Betrayal, Christ presented to the People and the Nailing to the Cross.
Below these reliefs are statues of St Peter, the Virgin and Child, St John the Evangelist and St Paul. Statues representing Justice and Peace and reliefs representing the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Resurrection and the Ascension were originally located on the north and south ends of the Rood-Loft. These are now located under the vaulting.
The side of the roodloft which faced east has less sculpture. There are eight relief panels which represented the Last Judgement and the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy (Feeding the Hungry, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Harbouring the Harbourless, Clothing the Naked, Visiting the Imprisoned, and Burying the Dead). The space below these sculptures was occupied by the woodwork of the choir stalls facing the High Altar.
Most of the sculpture was probably carved in Coenraed's workshop. The figure of St John the Evangelist, however, was carved in 1613 by Hendick de Keyser (b.1565; d.1621). He was the most distinguished sculptor in Amsterdam at the time.
The history of this roodloft is intimately linked with religious protest and reform. It replaced an earlier choirscreen which had been damaged by Calvinist reformers in 1566. During this year many religious images in the Netherlands were destroyed or badly damaged. This new roodloft was clearly intended to communicate strong messages about Catholicism in a city which was very close to territory governed by Protestant reformers.
Part of this Roodloft is made from alabaster. There are two sorts of alabaster. Calcite alabaster is very hard and was used in ancient times. This object is made of gypsum alabaster which is a fine-grained, soft and smooth stone. Although at first glance it looks a little like marble, which it was intended to imitate, it was much easier to carve due to its softness, and alabaster objects were therefore significantly cheaper to produce.
The southern Netherlands were an important centre for the production of alabaster sculpture during the 15th century, and while not producing the numbers that the English alabaster workshops turned out, they certainly exceeded their English counterparts in quality of craftsmanship. The English alabaster-carvers dominated the lower end of the market, catering for patrons right across Europe who could not afford to spend very much but were eager to furnish their parish churches and homes with religious imagery. The Netherlandish workshops, by contrast, produced fewer but many times more carefully finished alabaster sculptures, which were also considerably more expensive to buy.
The main structure is made of Netherlandish marble; the ribs of the vaulting are of Caen stone; the figure sculpture and decoration are of alabaster (partly English); the columns and colonnettes are of red jaspered marble with capitals of grey.
The west façade of the roodloft is divided into three main horizontal bands by three bands of entablature: the lowest has a canonical Doric frieze of triglyphs and metopes; the next runs the full length of the structure above the three arches and is decorated with acanthus and mythological monsters; the uppermost consists of a frieze decorated with masks, cartouches and strapwork. The pairs of columns at ground level, and the colonnettes and figures above, give the roodloft a vertical emphasis.
At the top the main figures are Faith, Charity and Hope. In the recesses are four men bearing shields of arms. The six relief panels between the figures represent the Miracle at Cana, the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, the Transfiguration, the Betrayal, Christ presented to the People and the Nailing to the Cross. The figures beneath are of St Peter, the Virgin and Child, St John the Evangelist and St Paul.
Under the vaulting the figures of Justice and Peace are displayed currently with reliefs representing the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Resurrection and the Ascension. All of these sculptures were originally on the North and South ends of the Rood-Loft. There were originally altars of St Luke and St Cosmas and Damien under the arches. An inscription dedicating one to St Cosmas and St Damian, bearing the date 1625, can be found under the northern arch.
One the east-side are eight reliefs represented the Last Judgement and the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy (Feeding the Hungry, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Harbouring the Harbourless, Clothing the Naked, Visiting the Imprisoned, and Burying the Dead). The central niche originally contained a figure. The space below the marble gallery was originally occupied by the woodwork of the choir stalls facing the High Altar.
There are four pairs of large brass candlesticks on moulded plinths associated with the roodloft, and which were previously displayed with it. Avery states that these are 19th century copies of the original set. Two which are engraved with the arms of Hertogenbosch exhibited previously on the stone beam in the archway (Avery p. 10).
Place of Origin
The Netherlands (made)
van Norenberch, Coenraed (maker)
Materials and Techniques
Carved Belgian marble, alabaster and Caen stone
Marks and inscriptions
'DEO. OPT[IMO]. MAX[IMO]
ET DIVAE VIRGINI MARIAE, SANCTISQ[UE] COSMAE ET'
DAMIANO MARTYRIBUS, HOC ALTARE AMORIS, PIETATISQ[UE]
ZELO, CHIRVRGI BUSLODVCENSES POSVERE, A[NNO] 1625
'TO EXCELLENT GREATEST GOD AND THE HOLY VIRGIN MARY, AND THE MARTYRS SAINTS COSMAS AND DAMIAN THE SURGEONS OF HERTOGENBOSCH PLACED THIS AS AN ALTAR OF LOVE AND WITH THE ZEAL OF PIETY IN THE YEAR 1625'
The inscription is located under the north arch and refers to the dedication of an altar to Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian
Height: 780.1 cm, Width: 1044 cm
Object history note
The rood-loft was acquired by the V&A from the art dealer Murray Marks who had purchased it from the cathedral authorities. It was probably removed from the cathedral in 1866 because it obstructed the congregation's view of the high altar and because its style clashed with that of the Gothic church. In 1871 the rood-loft was purchased outright and it was rebuilt on the south wall of the Cast Court. During 1923-4 the roodloft was reconstructed in Gallery 50. The north and south ends cannot be seen properly because of the lack of space so the figures of Justice and Peace were removed and are now displayed closer to ground level in the two altar niches under the north and south arches.
The history of this roodloft is intimately linked with religious protest and reform. It was erected in 1610-1613 under the supervision of Coenraed van Norenberch. The figure of St John the Evangelist (Mus. No. 1046:11-1871), however, was carved in 1613 by Hendick de Keyser (b.1565; d.1621). The rest of the sculpture was probably carved in the workshop of Coenraed van Norenberch. The roodloft has some similarities with a rood loft in Antwerp cathedral (destroyed during the French Revolution).
The roodloft was not the first in the church of St John the Baptist, Hertogenbosch. Mariet Westermann argues that the history of the first 'lost' roodloft may have had a significant impact on how its successor was read at the time (pp384-5). There were tax riots in 1525 during which the citizens of Hertogenbosch attacked the monasteries. Margaret of Austria (the governess) ordered two inquisitors to investigate the role Lutherans may have played in these disturbances. Five men and four women were found to have Lutheran sympathies. They were punished during 1526: during the procession of St Mark they were forced to stand on the roodloft. Therefore it is not surprising that the monument was subsequently a target of iconoclasts.
Iconoclasm was a significant feature of the Protestant revolt in the Netherlands in 1566 (Beeldenstorm, or Storming of the Statues). During the second half of the 16th century the Church of St John the Baptist was damaged during the struggle between the Spanish Catholic regime and Calvinist insurgents. The earlier Gothic roodloft in the Church was damaged in 1566, and in 1584 any plans to restore it had been abandoned when a collapse of the vault damaged it beyond repair.
The Twelve Years Truce (1609-1621) divided the Netherlands into the Protestant United Provinces in the north, and the Spanish Netherlands in the south. Hertogenbosch was the furthest north of the Spanish dominated towns, almost on the frontier between the two. The town became a bastion of Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation. In September 1610 the authorities sought out a master and a design for the new rood-loft. The details are recorded in the Municipal Archives at Hertogenbosch. The master was Coenraed van Norenberch from Namur whose family specialised in rood-lofts. The Hertogenbosch roodloft is particularly complex in terms of sculpture and architecture, and was clearly designed to communicate clear unequivocal messages about Roman Catholicism, and the then rulers of Hertogenbosch.
Hendick De Keyser was one of the leading sculptors in Amsterdam. When the Protestant authorities of Amsterdam discovered that De Keyser, the official city sculptor, was working on the figure of St John he was told to desist. St John was the patron saint of the church.
By the time the time the Dutch gained control of Hertogenbosch iconoclastic fervour had declined, and the rood-loft escaped total destruction. The figure of Christ the Saviour in the niche facing east has been removed. Some of the images of the Virgin in the narrative reliefs may have been deliberately decapitated.
The sculptural programme can only be fully understood in relation to the specific circumstances in which it was commissioned. The Virgin had originally been second patron of the church. Peter and Paul can be interpreted as the pillars of the Roman Catholic church, and therefore representing the return of Hertogenbosch to Rome. The chancel was the preserve of the cathedral chapter. Therefore the Seven Works of Mercy and the Last Judgement would only have been seen by the clergy or members of a privileged secular elite. The Seven Works were necessary to salvation, hence the representation of the Last Judgement which is also included. The reliefs demonstrated to viewers the importance of good works in obtaining salvation which the Catholic Church argued could not be achieved by faith alone. Charles Avery has identified twelve print sources for eighteen of the relief panels on the Rood Loft (pp.11-17).
Westermann argues that heraldic representations on roodlofts are rare. The roodloft would have had four: Duke Godfrey III of Brabant (the presumed founder of the city) is represented bearing his own coat of arms; the figure of a Wildman originally bore the coat of arms of 's Hertogenbosch; a soldier in armour carried the coat of arms of Brabant; and the figure in antique armour carried the coats of arms of Albert and Isabella (Duchy of Brabant). The heraldry can also be read as a statement of the importance of a secular overlord in providing good government and protecting the church. Westermann argues that the figures of Peace and Justice are also homages to the arch-dukes. The palms and laurels may refer to the victory of peace, and the Cornucopia may be an allusion to the fruits of peace.
Westermann argues that the roodloft design has strong links with triumphal arches, and that the design deliberately highlighted the restoration of Roman Catholicism to Hertogenbosch (p401). Several builders of roodlofts were also associated with temporary victory or triumphal arches. Westermann argues that Hapsburg coats of arms on roodlofts were not common but that Hapsburg rulers were closely associated with triumphal arches (p. 402).
Historical significance: Charles Avery described the rood-loft 'as the very climax of the development during the Renaissance of this peculiarly Netherlandish type of structure'. He further describes it as 'virtually the last major monument in the Renaissance style'(p25).
Historical context note
Roodlofts were a common feature in catholic churches in Europe from the 13th-17th centuries and were versatile pieces of ecclesiastical architecture or furniture. They performed several important functions: during services they could be used for preaching, the reading of scripture or singing; they separated the nave from the choir or chancel; they provided a platform for a Calvary group, organ and choir. Other uses could include the display of relics, or as a place for the performance of secular ceremonies or rituals. A roodloft, with a crucifix or rood suspended over it, formed a backdrop to the performance of the Mass.
Statue, alabaster, part of roodloft from the St Jans Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc), depicting Faith, by the workshop of Coenraed van Norenberch, the Netherlands, ca. 1610-1613
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Westermann, M. A monument for Roma Belgica - Functions of the oxaal at 's-Hetogenbosch. Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek. 45, 1994, pp. 382-446
Avery, C. The Roodloft from Hertogenbosch. London: Phaidon Press, 1969
Williamson, Paul. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996, pp. 128-129
List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington, Acquired During the Year 1871, Arranged According to the Dates of Acquisition. London: Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode for H.M.S.O., p. 83
The Builder. XXIX, 1871, p. 8
Neurdenburg, Elisabeth. De zeventiende eeuwsche beeldhouwkunst in de noordelijke Nederlanden. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff, 1948, p. 93, fig. 63
Steppe, Jan Karel. He Koordoksaal in de Nederlanden. Brussel: Paleis de Academiën, 1952, pp. 279-256, pls. 101-105
National Art-Collections Fund review. 1983, no. 3016, pp. 148-149
Keutner, Herbert. A History of Western Sculpture: Renaissance to Rococo. London, 1969, fig. XXI, pp. 39, 322
Vlieghe, Hans. Flemish Art and Architecture, 1585-1700. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1998, p. 233
De triomf van het maniërisme. pp. 170, 180, cat. no. 372, 334, Catalogue of the Council of Europe exhibition held Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, July-October 1955
Trusted, Majorie. ed. The Making of Sculpture: the Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: V&A Publications, 2007, p. 14, pl. 6
[Dearler's catalogue] Trinity Fine Arts Ltd., 31 May-20 June 1990
Whinney, Margaret Dickens., revised by Physik, John. Sculpture in Britain, 1530 to 1830. London: Penguin Books, 1988, 2nd ed. p. 68
De Koorbanken in de St.-Janskathedraal te 's-Hertogenbosch. 's-Hertogenbosch, 1991, pp. 10-18
Westermann, Mariët. A Monument for Roma Belgica, Functions of the Oxaal at 's-Hertogenbosch. Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek. 45, 1994, pp. 382-446
Wyatt, Matthew Digby. Art Referee's Report vol I, no. 10159
Also see bibliographic reference of 1046:11-1871
Labels and date
'OBJECT LABEL in GALLERY 50'
[transcribed 12th September 2004]
Rood-loft from the Cathedral of St John at 's-Hertogenbosch (Bois-le-Duc), the Netherlands.
The main structure is Netherlandish marble; the ribs of the vaulting are of Caen stone; the figure sculpture and decoration are of alabaster (partly English).
West (Main) Side
At the top the principal figures are Faith, Charity and Hope. In the recesses are four men bearing shields of arms. The six reliefs represent the Miracle at Cana, the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, the Transfiguration, the Betrayal, Christ presented to the People and the Nailing to the Cross.
Below these are figures of St Peter, the Virgin and Child, St John the Evangelist and St Paul. The figure of the Virgin and Child was originally on the east side. In its place on the West was a figure of Christ, which is now missing.
Under the vaulting are displayed figures of Justice and Peace with reliefs representing the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Resurrection and the Ascension, all of which were originally on the North and South ends of the Rood-Loft.
The eight reliefs represented the Last Judgement and the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy (Feeding the Hungry, Giving Drink to the Thirsty, Harbouring the Harbourless, Clothing the Naked, Visiting the Imprisoned, and Burying the Dead). The central niche originally contained the figure of the Virgin and Child now exhibited on the West side. The space below the marble gallery was occupied by the woodwork of the choir stalls facing the High Altar.
In 1866-67 because it obstructed the view of the High Altar, the roodloft was pulled down and sold to a dealer from whom it was obtained for the Victorian and Albert Museum in 1871. [pre September 2004]
Marble; Alabaster; Caen stone
Masks; Acanthus; Cartouches; Strapwork
Architecture; Sculpture; Religion; Christianity