CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Ontsnapt aan de beeldenstorm: middeleeuwse beeldhouwkunst

Surviving the iconoclasm: medieval sculpture Exhibition: 16 November 2012 - 24 February 2013

From the museum’s website, 16 July 2012

Museum Catharijneconvent is presenting a major exhibition of medieval Utrecht sculpture from before the Iconoclasm, the period when mobs destroyed many images in the city’s Catholic churches. Never before has there been a display of so many sculptures that escaped the waves of destruction unleashed between 1566 and 1580. The selection comprises more than 90 superb wooden, stone and pipeclay statues. They were all made in Utrecht, which was the economic, religious, political and cultural centre of the Northern Netherlands during the Middle Ages. Surviving the Iconoclasm will be a rare opportunity to admire the riches and beauty of medieval Utrecht sculpture, and is on view from 16 November 2012 to 24 February 2013.

Disastrous consequences

Utrecht suffered three separate iconoclasms between 1566 and 1580. Churches were stripped of objects that were used in Catholic services. Unused churches and religious houses were soon demolished, and their statues were dumped into rubbish tips, buried or removed from sight in some other way. Utrecht suffered another disaster in 1674 when a tornado destroyed most of the nave of the city’s cathedral. All things considered, it is a miracle that so much of its medieval artistic heritage has survived.


The lengthy construction of the cathedral, starting in the second half of the thirteenth century, was of great importance for the development of Utrecht sculpture. Between 1450 and 1520, in particular, many sculptors profited from this gigantic building project. They worked not only on the cathedral fabric but for canons, priests and wealthy private citizens as well.

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