Flying buttress figurine: Saint James the Greater

copy of sculpture of Apostle James the Greater

The last Apostle

copy of sculpture of Apostle James the GreaterAnother part of the Eusebiuskerk has been completed by us: we have now finished carving all the flying buttress figurines of arc no. 14 and 16, the ones with the musicians and six apostles, for St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem, the Netherlands. The last figurine in this series was Apostle James the Greater, and I tied it to a pallet last Monday, ready for transport.

James the Greater is known to most people for his place of pilgrimage Santiago de Compostela. He is depicted on St. Eusebius's Church with a hat, a shell and a sword. To me, it was a very nice sculpture to work on, because of all the attributes and structures in it. A coarse beard, a thin hat and sword, big hands, a fur coat, a big nose and a hollow shell.

James as a Pilgrim

Acopy of sculpture of Apostle James while ago I carved his colleague James the Lesser in new limestone. Why the shell, hat and sword with the Greater? From what I've read about it, around the year 44 James was beheaded by order of Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem. Around the year 800 legends arose about James, that he would have preached the gospel in the Iberian Peninsula, and that his body was brought to Galicia after his death, where it was buried by his disciples in the place that would later be called Santiago de Compostela. His grave was discovered at some point in the 9th century. In the Middle Ages, there was a lot of money to be made from the miraculous healing power of the relics of saints, so that started a great flow of pilgrims, which continues to this day. James himself is therefore usually depicted as a pilgrim, with hat, staff and shell.

flying buttress 16 St. Eusebius's Church, 6 apostles

the old statues from flying buttress no. 16 before disassembly

Only six out of twelve

Only six of the twelve apostles are depicted on the flying buttresses of St. Eusebius's Church. At the time it had been intended to give all twelve apostles a spot on the flying buttresses, but the work was completed at some point, and the last four arches were already decorated: large flower shapes (crockets), dating still from around 1920 and an earlier restoration. These statues date from the 1950s and were made during the restoration of the bombed church. Inside the church the statue of apostle John can still be found, James' younger brother, with a poison cup in hand. It was never installed on the church.

The sculptor's progress

old flying buttress statue of James in tuff, by Eduard van KuilenburgSculptor Eduard van Kuilenburg had taken his own path with this group of sculptures. His work had become less figurative, heavier, maybe become coarser, but had gained in expression. The apostles sit on the arch like massive humps, hardly liberated from the shape of the tuff blocks from which they were made. In some areas you can still clearly see how the sculptor worked: he traced a side view onto the stone and began to carve right away. We noticed it well during the copying process: we had to remove much less material than in, for example, the Seven Sins. The sculptures were still quite close to the surface of the original block.

face of JamesThe heads of the apostles are equally massive: big noses, rough beards and angular faces. But they do give a very strong atmosphere. The expression of an artist who has grown in his work. There were, as I mentioned earlier, complaints from the church council that these statues were too large and massive for the flying buttresses on which they sit. But now that we are working on it, I would almost say that it is rather the fault of the church that it is too small, than that the statues should be too big. Yes alright, they are heavy and coarse, but they are just right in their own way, and they have been worked on with care. That also makes it fun for us to work on the copies.

Deliberate structures

flying buttress figurinesThat is very different from when we were carving the invalids a while ago, by George van der Wagt, on the south side of the church. In some of those figurines we still found the machine cut surface of the original stone, and it looked like they were made with some indifference, as if the sculptor had said: 'There you go, another one finished. Next!'. Ugly things without attention to their finish.

Rough-carved is not the same as indifferent. Sometimes a coarse structure has a function for a certain image, and Van Kuilenburg knew that. The pointed chisel for the mantle, the claw chisel for hair, the grater and flat chisel for other parts. Van der Wagt seems to have made everything with just 1 chisel, a flat chisel of 25 mm or 1 inch wide.

What next?

Broken flying buttress statue Fortitudo Seven Virtues, man with lionWe don't have to worry about work for the time being. We recently got confirmation for the last 10 flying buttress figurines, namely the Seven Virtues and three blocks that will be placed at the top of the four arches with the crockets: a man with a watering can near a flower, a goat eating a flower, and a two-headed eagle. They are in bad shape, some are missing many parts and all are broken.

Next I have to make a gravestone for my father, which I have been designing in between all other jobs, and I still have some private assignments. We also have the prospect of all kinds of other work, about which I cannot say too much at the moment. And finally, we are not afraid of a quieter period, because then we finally get to make our own work. I have all kinds of ideas for that, and it would be nice to work them out. Facade reliefs with the four cardinal directions, the four Seasons, the four or the five elements, I also have ideas for entire entrances… bring it on! is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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An angel and a Shivalingam

fine sanding the Shivalingam

It's not all about carving (flying buttress)sculptures in the Sculptor's Workshop. Last week I copy-sawed an angel and made a Shivalingam.


polishing the lingam

the sanding and sweetening’ of the lingam

A customer told me he would like to own a Shivalingam. Not because he has a special religious connection with it, but he just liked the shape, he said. Now he still had a piece of Black Swedish granite lying around, from which it could be made. He himself drew the outline on a piece of drawing board. I traced this contour onto a piece of plywood, which allowed me to cut this shape out of the granite with my copying saw.

Fortunately I did not have to polish the lingam, but after the copysawing I spent more than a day of sanding the stone. He wanted it to be finely sanded up to grit 200. The most difficult thing is to get all false dents out of the oval shape, so that a nice smooth shape is created. You can feel it best with your eyes closed. During the work I sang all the Shivabhajans that came to mind, a beautiful meditation.

What is a Shivalingam?

A Shivalingam is an egg-shaped stone, a symbol for God in his unformed state of being. The male principle of Being-Awareness-Bliss (Sat-Chit-Ananda), resting in itself, all-encompassing but unformed. Often this egg-shaped stone is placed in a yoni or panipitha (water seat), a kind of foundation that is a symbol of the feminine principle (Shakti). The Shiva- aspect is Being, Shakti is Becoming. Shakti stands for the expression in all-that-is, the entire creation. So the same energy is Shiva when it is unformed, and the moment it decides to unfolds itself into full creation, you get the feminine creation energy, the Shakti. These are two aspects of the same energy. During rituals, Shiva is worshiped by pouring water and milk over it.

Read here↑ a number of posts about the lingams and panipithas I made earlier.

An angel in two attempts

The block is cut in half and is upside down for gluing

Then there was the sandstone angel I was going to copysaw for my colleague Serge. It is a commission from St. John's Cathedral, similar to my statues of Thomas Aquinas and Pope Leo the Great. He will make a fine copy of this pre-sawn angel again . Last time, Jelle sawed a similar angel, read here↑ more.

However, it was a chore with a few snags. A few months ago I received a large block of Udelfanger sandstone for this angel. I immediately thought I saw something that wasn't right, and sure enough: the block was more than 10 centimeters too small!

After some deliberation it was decided to attach the bottom 15 centimeters of the statue separately. The reasons are the same as I explained earlier with Thomas Aquinas and Pope Leo: preferably they have the layering (the layers in the block of stone) run horizontally through the statue, instead of vertically, because otherwise whole slices can suddenly fall off. In contrast, you could argue that the thin wings might have been better made from vertical layers, because for that part that position is actually more favorable. It remains a struggle to find the best solution.


crack in sandstone block

the crack runs right through the entire block

at the top left and top right a large crack is visible in the block

at the top left- and right a large crack is visible in the block

So I had recieved a block of stone that was way too big, but not tall enough. I cut it lengthwise with my concrete chainsaw in two pieces, and made a separate base from the lower part of the spare. I glued it to the bigger piece and started copy-sawing. But it soon turned out that the small black line I had found was a big crack, that ran through the block, from top to bottom. Oops! I put the block aside and made some phonecalls, and a week later I received a better block.

Second try

the block of stone is cut in half with the chainsaw and glued. The plywood contour templates are there for the sizes

the second block of stone is cut in half with the chainsaw and glued. The plywood
contour templates are next to it for the sizes

I cut up this block lengthwise with the chainsaw as well. Then I hoisted it upside down onto the copy-sawing machine, where I cut a nice flat surface. The spare part also underwent this treatment, and I cut a slice of about 20 cms from it. I was asked to glue these two pieces together. But if you have been reading along for a while, you'll know that I can't just put a thick layer of epoxy glue between them. You'd get a waterproof layer that will cause all kinds of problems.

I put both pieces upside down. After I made the surfaces to be glued as flat as possible, I prepared a special mortar in the right colour. I applied this thin mixture on the surface and lowered the smaller block onto it. For just a little while I was able to move that block, until the parts suddenly sucked tight .

clay bowls with poured epoxy

drilled holes with stainless steel pins and poured epoxy

It worked, a minimal, permeable connection was made. After the weekend, the mortar had cured and I drilled two deep holes with the diamond drill. In these, two stainless steel rods were glued with epoxy. A day later, everything had set and I was able to turn the block and start copy-sawing the sculpture.


step 1 and 2 of the pre-sawing process. an angel in Udelfanger sandstone

roughly presawn (at the top) and medium fine (at the bottom)

It was not for nothing that this angel was to be replaced: it was heavily weathered and Serge had filled in all the missing parts with modeling material. That stuff is easy to remove afterwards, because it never hardens. But as far as I am concerned it is very difficult to work like this. I had to hoist and move the statue a few times, so I had to be very careful not to distort anything. And it's extra difficult during copy-sawing, because I could easily push through the surface of the clay with the feeler disc. I prefer plaster or hard mortar for repairs, because then I have to be much less careful. Fortunately, I managed to do it with a lot of patience.

You can see in the photos of the end result that I was very careful especially at the nose.

copy-sawed angel on the sawing machine

pre-sawn angel

If I'd pushed through the clay there, this would have also happened on the cutting side, in the stone. One saw cut that ends up a little too deep, would create a lot of problems. In that case, the whole head will have to be adjusted, and be made further back. So rather a fraction too much material than too little in that place! And it turned out that the glue seam was almost invisible, you really need to know where it is, to spot it. It might end up a bit more visible in the sanded end result, but even then it will barely be visible.

copy-sawed angel on the sawing machine

pre-sawn angel

copy-sawed angel from Udelfanger sandstone is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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Video: visit to the Sculptor's Workshop

Koen, Jelle, customer and Stide at flying buttress statues carved by Jelle during visit to the sculptor's workshop

Koen, Jelle, customer and Stide near flying buttress sculptures carved by Jelle

We're going viral

Last month I would have had visit to the Sculptor's Workshop again: customers of St. Eusebius's Church who had bought one of the old flying buttress sculptures, could come over and have a look at the place where they are being copied into new stone. But a spanner was thrown in the works. At the moment everything is about that darn coronavirus and I too seem to be unable to avoid having things cancelled. I received a cancellation and a request to make a video of our work, so that the buyers/viewers can still get an impression.


Now it is different when I'm telling something all by myself than when people ask questions. Most of the work has become so obvious to me that I don't realize that parts of the work process are not yet clear to others. The best interaction is of course if you can answer questions directly, and often one question leads to another. And explaining things gives a different nuance than if you'd tell stories and quote anecdotes.

Image thinkers

But the Chinese already said it: a picture paints a thousand words. So here goes my replacement tour of the sculptor's workshop, with performances by colleagues Stide and Jelle. So the whole story revolves around flying buttress figurines that we're currently replacing, and these are some of the last of arc no. 14 and 16, with the musicians and apostles. Learning to film and edit was an interesting challenge, so I'm probably going to do that more often. I have plenty of plans, now to find some free time for it.

James the Lesser

The flying buttress sculpture I am working on in this video is now finished. Read in this post↑ more about the statue of James the Lesser. You will find the accordionist in this post↑. I have also started on the last flying buttress statue for now, that of James the Upper, about which more later. is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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