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The monumental landscape from below: public statues, popular interaction and nationalism in late nineteenth-century Amsterdam



Public monuments are considered an important tool in the nineteenth-century nation-building project. Yet while the intended (nationalist) message of the monumental landscape is often clear, the popular perception of the statues and memorials has been little problematized. This contribution analyses the popular interaction with public monuments in late nineteenth-century Amsterdam and questions whether ordinary people understood the nationalist meaning. With the help of visual sources – engravings, lithographs and the novel medium of photography – we become aware of the multilayered meanings and usages of the monuments in daily urban life, thus tackling the methodological challenge of studying the monumental landscape from below.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and my colleagues Dirk Alkemade, Carolien Boender and Joris Oddens for their very useful comments on earlier versions of this text



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1 Agulhon, M., ‘La statuomanie et l'histoire’, Ethnographie Française, 8 (1978), 145–72; idem, Histoire vagabonde, vol. I: Ethnologie et politique dans la France contemporaine (Paris, 1988), 101–36, 137–85; Ch. Martinet, ‘Les historiens et la statue’, Le Mouvement Social, 131 (1985), 121–9; A.R.M. Jourdan, ‘Les monuments de la Revolution française. Le discours des images dans l'espace parisien 1789–1804’, University of Amsterdam Ph.D. thesis, 1993; Ch. Rausch, H., Kultfigur und Nation. Öffentliche Denkmaler in Paris, Berlin und London 1848–1914 (Munich, 2006); Tollebeek, J. and Verschaffel, T., ‘Group portraits with national heroes. The pantheon as a historical genre in nineteenth-century Belgium’, National Identities, 6 (2004), 91106; Deseure, B., Onhoudbaar verleden. Geschiedenis als politiek instrument tijdens de Franse periode in België (Louvain, 2014), 214–22.

2 Hobsbawm, E.J., Nations and Nationalism since 1780. Programme, Myth, Reality, 2nd rev. edn (Cambridge, 1993), 10. Only recently have nationalism studies started to criticize this top-down approach: Van Ginderachter, M. and Beyen, M. (eds.), Nationhood from Below. Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century (Basingstoke, 2012).

3 Bickford-Smith, V., ‘Introduction. The case for studying cities and nationalisms’, Journal of Urban History, 38 (2012), 855–61; Whyte, W. and Zimmer, O. (eds.), Nationalism and the Reshaping of Urban Communities, 1848–1914 (Basingstoke, 2011); Edensor, T., National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life (Oxford, 2002), ch. 2 (‘Geography and landscape. National places and spaces’).

4 A classic here is Olsen, D.J., The City as a Work of Art. London, Paris, Vienna (New Haven, 1986). With regard to public monuments: Rausch, H., ‘Staging realms of the past in 19th-century Western Europe: comparing monumental strategies of middle-class nationalists’, East Central Europe, 36 (2009), 3762.

5 This article is based on the first chapter of my Ph.D. thesis: A. Petterson, ‘Eigenwijs vaderland. Populair nationalisme in negentiende-eeuws Amsterdam’, University of Amsterdam Ph.D. thesis, 2017.

6 Aerts, R. and de Rooy, P. (eds.), Geschiedenis van Amsterdam. Hoofdstad in aanbouw 1813–1900 (Amsterdam, 2006).

7 Cowan, A. and Steward, J. (eds.), The City and the Senses. Urban Culture since 1500 (Aldershot and Burlington, 2007).

8 Kenny, N., The Feel of the City. Experiences of Urban Transformation (Toronto and London, 2014), 10; Gunn, S., ‘The spatial turn: changing histories of space and place’, in Gunn, S. and Morris, R.J. (eds.), Identities in Space. Contested Terrains in the Western City since 1850 (Aldershot, 2001), 114.

9 Trentmann, F., ‘Political history matters: everyday life, things and practices’, in Steinmetz, W. et al. (eds.), Writing Political History Today (Frankfurt, 2013), 397408.

10 Jerram, L., Streetlife. The Untold History of Europe's Twentieth Century (Oxford, 2011). See also the studies on politics and the city culture of twentieth-century Moscow and St Petersburg by Karl Schlögel: Schlögel, K., Im Raume lessen wir die Zeit. Über Zivilisationsgeschichte und Geopolitik (Munich and Vienna, 2003); idem, Terror und Traum. Moskau 1937 (Bonn, 2008).

11 Jerram puts this down to a lack of clarity in the definitions of ‘space’, ‘place’ and ‘location’: Jerram, L., ‘Space: a useless category for historical analysis’, History and Theory, 52 (2013), 400–19.

12 A good example is Whelan, Y., Reinventing Modern Dublin. Streetscape, Iconography and the Politics of Identity (Dublin, 2003). Also the city as a whole could become a metaphor for the nation. For the Netherlands: H. te Velde, ‘The nation is a town. The Netherlands and the urban content of the national “imagined community”’, in Whyte and Zimmer (eds.), Nationalism, 234–56. Wagenaar, M., ‘The capital as a representation of the nation’, in Dijkink, G. and Knippenberg, H. (eds.), The Territorial Factor. Political Geography in a Globalizing World (Amsterdam, 2001), 339–57.

13 See for example Rausch, ‘Staging realms’; Ch. Tacke, Denkmal im sozialen Raum. Nationale Symbole in Deutschland und Frankreich im 19. Jahrhundert (Göttingen, 1995); K. Vannieuwenhuyze, ‘Affected by statuomanie. The Antwerp urban government and its political claim of the urban space 1830–1914’, University of Antwerp Ph.D. thesis, 2018.

14 Rausch, Kultfigur und Nation.

15 Of course, a wide range of international case-studies is available here: Hargrove, J., Les statues de Paris. La representation des grands hommes dans les rues et sur les places de Paris (Paris, 1989); Blackwood, J., London's Immortals. The Complete Outdoor Commemorative Statues (London, 1989); Weinland, M., Kriegerdenkmäler in Berlin, 1870 bis 1930 (Frankfurt, 1990); Pohlsander, H.A., National Monuments and Nationalism in 19th Century Germany (Oxford and Berlin, 2008); Völcker, L., Tempel für die Groβen der Nation. Das kollektive Nationaldenkmal in Deutschland, Frankreich und Groβbritannien im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt am Main and Berlin, 1999).

16 Vale, L.J., Architecture, Power and National Identity, 2nd edn (New York, 2008).

17 Rausch, ‘Staging realms’, n 23; idem, Kultfigur und Nation, 71–2.

18 A well-known example is Mosse, G., The Nationalization of the Masses. Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany from the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich (New York, 1975), esp. ch. 3. Savage, K., Monument Wars: Washington, D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape (Berkeley, 2009).

19 Hobsbawm, E.J., ‘History from below. Some reflections’, in Krantz, F. (ed.), History from Below. Studies in Popular Protest and Popular Ideology in Honour of George Rudé (Montréal, 1985), 6373; see also idem, Nations and Nationalism since 1780, 78.

20 See the discussion of Joan W. Scott's essay ‘The evidence of experience’ (1991), in Kenny, The Feel of the City, 16–19.

21 Even the smaller, neighbouring country of Belgium had welcomed dozens of monuments to celebrate the new nation after the secession of the Netherlands in 1830: Kerremans, R., ‘De openbare monumenten in Brussel en Wallonië’, and P. Verbraeken, ‘Standbeelden in Vlaanderen’, in van Lennep, J. (ed.), De 19de-eeuwse Belgische beeldhouwkunst (Brussels, 1990), 149–68 and 169–81.

22 van der Wal, M., ‘1800–1914’, in Beerman, M., van Burkom, F. and Grijzenhout, F. (eds.), Beeldengids Nederland (Rotterdam, 1994), 22–9.

23 de Gooijer, A.C., Op een voetstuk gezet. Standbeelden in Amsterdam (Baarn, 1984).

24 Aerts and De Rooy (eds.), Geschiedenis van Amsterdam.

25 Petterson, Eigenwijs vaderland; de Rooy, P., Ons stipje op de waereldkaart. De politieke cultuur van modern Nederland (Amsterdam, 2014); van Sas, N.C.F., De metamorfose van Nederland. Van oude orde naar moderniteit, 1750–1900 (Amsterdam, 2004); Bank, J.Th.M., Het roemrijk vaderland. Cultureel nationalisme in Nederland in de negentiende eeuw (The Hague, 1990).

26 Veen, V., Het Rembrandtbeeld. Hoe een kunstenaar in de 19de eeuw een nationale held werd (Amsterdam, 1977). On Rubens, see Croon, B., ‘Toe-eigeningsstrategieën bij stedelijke en nationale identiteitsvorming in de kunst- en handelsmetropool Antwerpen: de negentiende-eeuwse Rubenscultus’, Volkskunde, 104 (2003), 1983.

27 Algemeen Handelsblad, 8 May 1852.

28 Anon., Toespraken gehouden ter gelegenheid der onthulling van het standbeeld van Rembrandt (The Hague, 1852), 78.

29 Beliën, H. and Knevel, P., Langs Rembrandts roem. De reputatie van een meester (Amsterdam, 2006).

30 Anon., Programma van het Rembrandts-feest. Uitgegeven met goedkeuring van de kommissie (Amsterdam, 1852).

31 For the Netherlands, see Mathijsen, M., Historiezucht. De obsessie met het verleden in de negentiende eeuw (Nijmegen, 2013), 385; see also Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses; Rausch, Kultfigur und Nation, 68–9; Corbin, A., Gérome, N. and Tartakowsky, D. (eds.), Les usages politiques des fetes aux XIXe–XXe siècle (Paris, 1994).

32 Algemeen Handelsblad, 11 and 18 May 1852.

33 Ibid., 28 May 1852.

34 Anon., Toespraken, 7.

35 Anon., Het feest van Rembrandt van Rijn, verhaald door Joris Praatvaar (Amsterdam, 1852), 3.

36 Rausch, Kultfigur und Nation, 674; idem, ‘Staging realms’, 44 (in particular to oppositional groups).

37 Algemeen Handelsblad, 28 May 1852.

38 Anon., Het feest, 3.

39 Stadsarchief Gemeente Amsterdam (SGA), Collectie Tekeningen en Prenten (CTP) 10097/010097007715, ‘Onthulling van het standbeeld van Rembrandt’, 1852. Praatvaar could not meet this dress code: ‘me and my boy weren't dressed properly enough to join this party of decorated and all tied up gentlemen’ (Anon., Het feest, 3).

40 SGA/CTP 10097/PT00200038000001, ‘Het Monument gewijd aan den Volksgeest van 1830 en 1831’, 1856.

41 Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 19 May 1876; Matthey, I., ‘“Een diepe hulde, een warme toon”. De oprichtingsgeschiedenis van het Thorbeckebeeld’, Jaarboek Amstelodamum, 85 (1993), 133–66.

42 Becker, J., ‘“Justus ex fide vivit”. Over het Vondelbeeld (Amsterdam, 1867)’, in Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 1983 (The Hague, 1983), 132–93, at 178.

43 Algemeen Handelsblad, 28 May 1852.

44 Cited in Zimmerman, J.C., ‘Het standbeeld van Thorbecke’, De Gids, 40 (1876), 524–39, at 529. Tacke, Denkmal im sozialen Raum, esp. ch. 4.

45 SGA, Collectie kaarten van geheel Amsterdam 10035/D10100000064, ‘Amsterdam bij Vogelvlucht’, 1882. The monuments were not positioned according to a predetermined plan because of the limited involvement of the local and/or national government. Wagenaar, M., Stedebouw en burgerlijke vrijheid. De contrasterende carrières van zes Europese hoofdsteden (Bussum, 1998), who describes a similar strategy by the authorities for public architecture in nineteenth-century Amsterdam.

46 Leith, J.A., Space and Revolution: Projects for Monuments, Squares, and Public Buildings in France 1789–1799 (Montréal, 1991). About nationalism and the urban landscape in a broader sense, see Daniels, S., Fields of Vision. Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States (Cambridge, 1993); Driver, F. and Gilbert, D. (eds.), Imperial Cities. Landscape, Display and Identity (Manchester, 2003).

47 Kuijpers, E. et al. (eds.), Memory before Modernity. Practices of Memory in Early Modern Europe (Leiden and Boston, MA, 2013).

48 Vislaake, F.W., Het standbeeld van Joost van den Vondel (Amsterdam, 1867), 3.

49 The committee's plans to create a brand-new square for the monument failed due to construction problems: Heijder, M., ‘C.W.M. Klijn. Een bejubeld en verguisd ambtenaar’, Ons Amsterdam, 342 (1982), 4652; Arti et Amicitiae Archives, Amsterdam, committee minutes 1848–51, 216, meeting 18 May 1850.

50 Anon., Mejuffrouw Eendragt door Mijnheer Rembrandt uitgenoodigt (Amsterdam, 1856).

51 Anon., Zamenspraak tusschen Rembrandt en de Botermarkt (Amsterdam, 1852).

52 SGA, Collectie topografie 30578/483/419, book reviews 1852.

53 Schenkman, J., Jeremiade van Rembrandt van Rhijn (Amsterdam, 1852), 16 (my italics).

54 Halberstadt, A., ‘Botermarkt en Kaasmarkt’, Jaarboek Amstelodamum, 8 (1910), 155–80, at 169–70. Decision municipal council: Gemeenteblad, 1876, Afdeling I: 104–5.

55 Palonen, E., ‘The politics of street names. Local, national, transnational Budapest’, in Beyen, M. and Deseure, B. (eds.), Local Memories in a Nationalizing and Globalizing World (Basingstoke, 2015), 5171.

56 SGA, Archief van de Gemeentepolitie, 5225, 651, Agenda op de Ingekomen Stukken, 202, 203.

57 Bos, D., Waarachtige volksvrienden. De vroege socialistische beweging in Amsterdam, 1848–1894 (Amsterdam, 2001), 152–3.

58 Thijssen, Th., In de ochtend van het leven. Jeugdherinneringen (Amsterdam, 1999; orig. edn 1941), 50.

59 For an insightful anthropological approach, see Nas, P.J.M., Cities Full of Symbols. A Theory of Urban Space and Culture (Leiden, 2011); idem, ‘Jakarta, city full of symbols. An essay in symbolic ecology’, Sojourn. Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 7 (1992), 175–207. Cf. the cultural-geographic perspective in Cosgrove, D.E., Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (London, 1984); Till, K.E., ‘Political landscapes’, in Duncan, J. et al. (eds.), A Companion to Cultural Geography (Malden, 2004), 347–64.

60 Jourdan, ‘Les monuments’, 299: ‘Que le peuple soit ici négligé ne découle pas de la difficulté à retrouver sa voix mais plutôt du fait que dans la création d'une imagerie politique – qui en principe s'adresse à lui –, il tient en fin de compte bien peu de place.’

61 SGA/CTP 10097/010097004845, ‘Onthulling van het standbeeld van Rembrandt’, 1852, or 010097003676, ‘Het standbeeld van Rembrandt’, undated.

62 Algemeen Handelsblad, 24 Dec. 1856.

63 In the case of the Thorbecke statue, the fence did not prevent disrespectful treatment: ‘Every time we passed the monument it was littered with stones and dirt, thrown by street youth.’ Algemeen Handelsblad, 2 Apr. 1893.

64 SGA, Collectie foto-afdrukken 10003/OSIM00001002332, ‘Vondelpark’, 1868. Mathijsen, M. in van Tilburg, M. (ed.), Beelden van Amsterdam. Amsterdammers vertellen (Amsterdam, 2006), 92–3.

65 SGA, Collectie stereofoto's (CS) 10007/010007000880, ‘Vondelpark’, c. 1880.

66 SGA, Collectie Jacob Olie Jbz (CJO) 10019/40074469, ‘Sarphatipark’, 1896. See also SGA/CJO 10019/40074482, ‘Sarphatipark’, 1896 and 10019/40072332, ‘Vondelpark’, 1895.

67 van Veen, A., ‘“Ik heb een plastic zak gezien”. Fotografie en stedelijkheid, 1852–2000’, in Bool, F. et al. (eds.), Dutch Eyes. Nieuwe geschiedenis van de fotografie in Nederland (Zwolle, 2007), 246–89.

68 van Veen, A., Amsterdam 1900. Foto's van Olie, Breitner, Eilers en tijdgenoten (Bussum, 2016); idem, The First Photographs of Amsterdam, 1845–1875 (Bussum, 2010).

69 Stieber, N., ‘Postcards and the invention of old Amsterdam around 1900’, in Mendelson, J. and Prochaska, D. (eds.), Postcards. Ephemeral Histories of Modernity (University Park, PA., 2010), 2441.

70 SGA/CS 10007/010007000383, ‘Amsterdam. Statue de Rembrandt sur la place du marche au beurre (Botermarkt)’, 1864.

71 van Maurik, J. Jr, Van allerlei slag. Novellen en schetsen, 2nd print (Amsterdam, 1882), 137–8.

72 Algemeen Handelsblad, 29 Oct. 1858.

73 For example SGA/CTP 10097/010097015809, ‘Gedenkteeken aan den Volksgeest van 1830–1831’, 1856.

74 SGA/CJO 10019/40074386, ‘Thorbeckeplein 2 t/m 30’, 28 Mar. 1896.

75 Although Amsterdam (in contrast to The Hague) erected no other monuments for the House of Orange in the nineteenth century, the royal family was quite popular with ordinary citizens – so this could not be the reason for the lack of attention to the bust of Prince Hendrik.

76 Het Nieuws van den Dag, 28 Aug. 1896. The next paragraphs of the newspaper article reflect, however, on the (historical) meaning of the monument.

77 For example, Council Member Fabius in Algemeen Handelsblad, 29 Oct. 1896; van der Wal, M., ‘“Even onwrikbaar als de geschiedenis onuitwisbaar is” De roerige ontstaansgeschiedenis en het roemloos einde van Naatje op de Dam’, De Negentiende Eeuw, 5 (1981), 228–49.

78 This survey was taken in the online image databases of the local archives of The Hague, Rotterdam, Haarlem, Utrecht, Nijmegen and Groningen.

* I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and my colleagues Dirk Alkemade, Carolien Boender and Joris Oddens for their very useful comments on earlier versions of this text

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