Flying Buttress Figurines: four times Noah's Ark

Theo van Reijns theme of Noah's Ark

There are 96 flying buttress figurines on St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem (the Netherlands), distributed over 14 flying buttresses. Four of these are filled with animal figures on the theme of Noah's Ark, designed by the Haarlem sculptor Theo van Reijn (and for the most part carved by his artisan sculptor Eduard van Kuilenburg). He crowned each of the flying buttresses with the ark itself, in several episodes of the story of the Great Flood.
The past year I have mostly spent copying 26 of these figurines. It seemed a good moment to show these four arks next to (or underneath) each other. These are the four copies I made in new Muschelkalk limestone.

Noah's ark: a zoo in a boat-copy of the ark

1: All animals have been boarded

In this first image you can see the ark full of animals, ready to depart. It's still on its struts, because Noah's ark was built on dry land and he stowed it full of animals before the rains came.

flying buttress sculpture of Noah's Ark: Noah fleeing the rising waters

2: The water comes up in wild waves and Noah climbs up into the ark

The second image shows how the rains have started and the water is swirling around below the ark. Noah escapes the onrush of the waters.

Noah's ark

3: After forty days of rain Noah is praying for a solution. The dove is ready to leave.

It rained for forty days. Here we see Noah kneeling down to pray in his rowboat. I don't quite understand why Van Reijndepicted a dove with something in its beak here. It was so weathered that it was not clear what it was supposed to depict. I made an olive branch out of it, although the pigeon only carried that in its beak at the second return to Noah's ark.

Noah's ark

4: The pigeon has already landed on the roof, but Noah is still looking for it.

In the fourth scene Noah looks out the window, searching for the dove. The donkey's looking out the window too, but the pigeon is already on the roof.

Noah's ark: new in Muschelkalk limestone, old in Ettringer tuff stone. Tower of St. Eusebius' Church

Noah's ark: new in Muschelkalk limestone, old in Ettringer tuff stone

Another little corbel with its copy next to it. I added some more details. is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

Corbel for the Eusebius Tower: a bird-like beast?

Bird beast: a copy of a tufa stone corbel by John Grosman in new Muschelkalk limestone for the Eusebius Tower in Arnhem
One of the last of the 10 corbels for the South- and North side of the tower of the Eusebius Church at 23 meters high was this winged bird-like beast. It sits somewhat cramped in its corner and there spreads its claws and wings. This piece was originally carved in 1954 by John Grosman, who also adorned a pair of flying buttresses with statuettes. I already copied his seven trumpet angels of the Apocalypse earlier; read the report here↑.

Style characteristics

Grosman at the time quickly carved these figurines out of the original tuff, and the chisel strokes can still be recognized from up close. I have not changed their style. Stide and I both agreed: if you'd think it necessary to leave your mark on this work and go about changing things, then you'd violate their original intention, it would detract from the atmosphere of an era and you'll either end up with something completely different, or something that makes no sense at all, ending up being neither this nor that. So with great pleasure I copied this figure pretty closely. A while ago I was able to inspect the whole group on site at the tower and it became clear that these five by Grosman form a coherent ensemble, even though I have no idea of their meaning. Most of the five figurines have a rather triangular, flat face which was carved close to the original surface, and are portrayed with wings.

Legs and wings

This bird beast was slightly damaged. It missed a claw on its right leg and there was some surface damage. Although it still looks okay, it's being replaced now because of this Ettringer Tuff is already showing signs of decay, such as tiny cracks, which will in the coming decades inevitably lead to danger of falling parts. Also, the original is still clearly readable now, so it will be easy to copy faithfully. There are sculptures on the Eusebius Church that are already falling apart now and have some parts missing. This would therefore require that a reconstruction is made before a copy can be cut.

As I said, I copied this bird-like beast reasonably precise, except that I've carved the wings a bit thinner. Muschelkalk can be detailed a bit finer than tuff and is also stronger, so I can carve some things slightly slimmer than its original. In my opinion this doesn't detract from the original intention of the sculpture in any way.

Carving by pointing machine, or CNC milling…

presawing a flying buttress figurine on the copy saw

presawing a flying buttress figurine on the copy saw

There are of course methods to copy this sculpture much more precise. I could accurately copy it with a pointing machine to the millimeter and carve it into new stone. Or I could complete the bird beast with plastiline clay to a mint condition, then have it scanned with a 3D scanner, and then have it milled out of a new block of stone with a CNC five-axis milling machine. It may be clear that those methods, along with the advantage of accuracy, also have a number of disadvantages such as longer delivery time and a much higher price tag. A CNC milling will copy every little dent, so you'd need to prepare each model either to a mint condition or you'll need to keep a wide margin above the final processed surface. These are also costly machines, so this milling work does not come cheap. By the time the scan is processed and the robot and the stone are ready, I've already finished presawing. Besides, no further transport is required.

Therefore my copy saw turns out to be for the flying buttress figurines a perfect compromise: I can accurately and quickly remove a l arge amount of stone, and at low costs. Yet little preparation of the original is needed and I keep just about as much margin as I have set in advance. Unfortunately I can not make good use of this machine for the corbels because these figures are embedded into crisp masonry . I cannot risk damaging this with an overshot saw kerf. For the flying buttres figurines, this risk is practically non-existent, since they need to be cut all around. Hence I carved this bird-like beast and all his other brothers by hand and measured them with the aid of compasses and profile templates.

Two winged cubistic creatures: old tufa stone corbels from 1954 by John Grosman from the Eusebius Tower in Arnhem is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

Corbel: a cat with wings

copy of Corbel for Eusebius Tower: cat with wings to tufa original new muschelkalksteen
copy of Corbel for Eusebius Tower: cat with wings to tufa original new muschelkalksteenThis next corbel for the Eusebius Tower is destined for the north side at 22 meters height, and is part of a group chimeras or a kind of winged cats.
The cat with wings on this corbel is holding some kind of pot or bag, it is not clear what was intended. copy of Corbel for Eusebius Tower: cat with wings to tufa original new muschelkalksteenI made a purse out of it by carving a rope at the narrowest part. These five cats all have the same flat triangular face and the same bulky wings. copy of Corbel for Eusebius Tower: cat with wings to tufa original new muschelkalksteenWith a lively claw chisel stroke, just like the original had, I tried to maintain the smooth appearance of the original sculpture. This group of sculptures carved by John Grosman, also the seven trumpet angels I got hacked earlier progress.

Flying buttress

presawing a flying buttress figurine on the copy sawThe corbels for these two groups shooting already well on, So I immediately continued with foresaw a series flying buttress figurines Air bow 33, originally created by George van der Wagt. More on this later. is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

Corbel for the Eusebius Tower: 1 lady with two doves

Copy of Corbel in new Muschelkalksteen of 1 lady with two doves

Lady with two doves

As you can read in the most recent posts on this blog, these past few weeks I've been busy carving corbels for the Eusebius Tower. This tower of the Eusebius Church in Arnhem has been covered in scaffolds for several years already, mainly to replace large parts of Ettringer tuff from its outside walls with the more weather resistant Weiberner tuf. All of the sculptural parts are being replaced with Muschelkalk, a coarse German limestone with lots of pores. Because of its coarseness this type of stone matches well with the rough character of the original tuff, but it is however much more resistant to weathering. Over the years the soft brown parts will wash out, but the white parts will become ever lighter, and the inclusion of some dirt from the air will cause the sculpture stand out more clearly over time.

Two levels with architectural sculpture

There are large and small corbels on two levels of the tower: on scaffolding layer 20 (on 45 meters height) and on scaffolding layer 10 (on 23 meters height). At this latter level there are also many stone masks with grotesque heads . These masks have meanwhile already been copied by my colleague Stide. We both are now busy working on 10 South and 10 North, and the next one of those was this lady with two doves.


blocks for new corbels in the yard of the studio

New blocks of limestone for corbels

As you can see in the picture of the blocks above, the stone is delivered to me after it has already been worked on. The stonemasons have already carved the profiles, and the part that will sit inside the wall is roughened up, so that the mortar will properly adhere to it. A mere slick surface will not offer enough grip for the mortar to adhere onto. On the lower part of the corbel, another round profile can be seen. Strictly speaking, this would be stone masonry, but this time it was left to me. After I've carved that neatly to size, I can start carving the actual sculpture. Usually I start with a template profile of the head and trace that onto the stone. From there I can start measuring the remaining parts of the head and carve those into the new stone.

I usually measure a lot of this with compasses, but with blocks like these, the place of the main components can be found faster and easier with a transparent film. Parts such as the doves and the hands almost entirely fall within one convex surface. On this transparent film I can quickly trace the outlines with a marker pen and then transfer this back to the stone. To see how this works in practice, it is best to read the following blog post about this: ten tips 2: from design to stone.

Copy of Corbel in new Muschelkalksteen of 1 lady with two doves is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

Second visit to the scaffoldings of St. Eusebius's Church

Scaffold Visit at St. Eusebius's Church according flying buttress figurinesI almost forgot, but just a few weeks ago I've been back to the Eusebius Church for a second visit to the scaffolds, to check out the second group of flying buttress figurines on site. The first half was installed last year, and recently the second series of 12 statuettes was installed.

Adjusting the fit

Scaffold Visit at St. Eusebius's Church according flying buttress figurinesThere was still some work at the upper arch images, where blocks of stone merge into the wall of the church. That connection wasn't entirely flush yet, So I was asked if I wanted to adjust the vertical surfaces to fit in with the surrounding work. Scaffold Visit at St. Eusebius's Church according flying buttress figurinesIn Holland we call it something like according here. I had brought along my small compressor and my air hammers and chisels. It was a great opportunity to look how the four flying buttresses with 26 statuettes present themselves now, to soak up the atmosphere and make some pictures.

Very tight

Scaffold Visit at St. Eusebius's Church according flying buttress figurines

Especially the last one with the animals in Noah ark required a lot of attention: everything fit just fine at the top, but down below the stone protruded over 3 centimeters outside the wall face! I have no idea how that could happen, but it was fairly easy to put that right. Working on scaffolding does provide its own challenges: I had to squeeze myself into a small hole to adjust the profile on its underside. Fortunately there was just enough space and everything is now neatly adjusted. It was good weather for a second scaffolding visit, to look around again and admire the view over Arnhem.

Read here all posts on flying buttress statuettes for Eusebius's Church

Links to all the individual figurines:

Flying buttress 5: Razorbill, Elephant, Sea lion, Cape Buffalo, Squirrel, Praying Man, Noah fleeing the rising waters.

Flying buttress 4: A Bear with a honeypot, Monkey in a wig, Noah-caller, despairing Monk, Ark with animals.

Read here↑ the first scaffold visit- is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

Corbel: Fat man with ears of corn

Corbel Eusebius Tower: man with ears of corn, copy in muschelkalk limestone

Corbel Eusebius Tower: man with ears of corn, copy in muschelkalk limestoneThe next corbel for the Eusebius Tower the head of a man holding ears of corn. The tuffstone original was a bit damaged and missed part of his nose. Before I began carving in new Muschelkalksteen I first reconstructed with plastiline clay his nose, so I had some idea of what I was about to make. Plastiline is clay that never hardens, so I can easily remove it again after work.

Theme and finishing

Corbel Eusebius Tower: man with ears of corn, copy in muschelkalk limestone

I do not know quite what the theme of these heads is; there are two women (with tulips and doves) and three men (with a falcon?, corn and owls). But in any case, the representation is consistent.

I carved the last man's head quite coarse to resemble the weathered head, but I finished this man with ears of corn with a coarse rasp to do justice to the smoother look of the original. As you can see the hands with the cornstalks all fall within a single large circular area. From there point on I could quite easily copy the major shapes with a template. These are very nice objects to carve, because I like the search for the character of the head in question. The whole thing has not much artistic pretense, which is actually sort of a given with architectural sculpture. Often there is a certain playfulness and not much pretension. I think it is unfortunate that we completely banned architectural sculpture from the street scene. Apart from a single project, for example, the Haarlem gable stone reliefs. More about corbels later! is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

Corbel: A man with bird

corbel Eusebius Man with bird1 The second corbel I carved for scaffolding layer no. 10 of the Eusebius Tower was a man with a bird. Like the original, this copy in Muschelkalk limestone is carved pretty rough, with the tooth chisel marks still clearly visible. This gives the surface of the stone a lively effect; chisel traces strengthen …Read the whole article…

Corbel for the Eusebius Tower: woman with tulips

Corbel of a Woman with tulips for the Eusebius Tower at 22 meters heightIt's a nice and busy time at the moment. We were not yet finished with a series of ornaments for the Utrecht Cathedral or a truckload of stone 18 limestone blocks for new flying buttress figurines and 10 large blocks for corbels. The flying buttress figurines are for the Eusebius Church in Arnhem, and the corbels will be placed at a height of 22 meters in the tower …Read the whole article…

Side crockets: Gothic ornaments for the Utrecht Cathedral

Reconstruction of gothic ornaments

weathered old crockets in Ettringer tuff at the cathedral in Utrecht

weathered old crocket in Ettringer tuffstone

The Cathedral in Utrecht is partly covered in scaffolding at the moment. Specifically a large part of its stonework is being overhauled, and part of this project are 16 large tuffstone crockets, or Gothic leaf shapes adorning the frames of the lancet windows. After several centuries of copying there was not much left of their original shape. That was reason enough …Read the whole article…

Crockets and finials for Aachen Cathedral

Two new finials for the Aachen Cathedral in Irish bluestone

For Aachen Cathedral some pinnacles had to be replaced. The old ones were worn and had cracked because of rusting iron and because the layering of the stone was not properly applied. The deposition direction of the stone should preferably be processed horizontal, otherwise there is a risk that a long vertical slice breaks off. In this case, they applied it vertically.

The material for these pinnacles is Irish bluestone. It is …Read the whole article…