Noah and his ark: from tuff to limestone

…to the first post about this project↑

Noah new in MuschelkalkAfter the previous series of flying buttress statues for the Eusebius Church in Arnhem (read here more) it has been quiet at my studio for a long time -with regards to the work on the Eusebius church at least. Funding had been allocated for its restoration, but before it's finally on the bank account of the church, apparently a lot of water first needs to pass under the bridge. But now that all suffering is over with, I can speed along with the work on a series of flying buttresses on the north side of the church.

Design and execution

Noah is presawn and ready for carving

Noah is presawn and ready to start the carving

The characters for the first four flying buttresses were designed at the time by the Haarlem sculptor Theo van Reijn, who however in 1953 was already quite elderly and left the carving work to the much younger Eduard van Kuilenburg (ref: St. Eusebius Church in Arnhem- Elisabeth den Hartog en Ronald Glaudemans, ISBN 978 90 663 0018 7). Van Reijn was originally planning to decorate all flying buttresses with figures and animals around the theme of 'Noah's Ark,’ which however his successors after his death soon discontinued. The top stone of these four flying buttresses is always the ark, at different stages, and below these are its inhabitants.

Cup or horn?

Copying Noah

The first statue I started working on was Noah himself, with something to his mouth. I first thought he was biting into a cup made of a cow's horn, and that he inserted it the other way around into his mouth in a drunken episode. But now I'm not so sure anymore, it looks more like a horn for sounds. In the book of Genesis you'll find the whole story, but I summarized in a previous post the whole story in one paragraph, if you want to read it. In any case, at the end there is a piece about the drunkenness of Noah. But here he has a wind instrument, apparently. Instead of Noah being drunk and horny, he blows a horn.

An ark, a pigeon, three fish and a donkey

copying the ark

The second flying buttress statue I started carving was the ark. I had looked forward to this piece specifically, because the original tuff was very difficult to interpret from a distance. I thought in the new stone it would all be much clearer. I had already before, when carving a small corbel with an ark made a number of planks on the boat, and thought this would work well with the big ark too. Here the pictures of before and afterwards. There is a giant pigeon on the roof, Noah is looking where the animal has gone, a donkey sticks his head through a window, and between the curling waves three big fish are swimming.

I gave the fish some scales and the boat some boards, and furthermore I've cut all the parts slightly sharper and deeper.


ark old tufa

copying the arkI've discussed it once before a while ago, but I didn't just go about changing the original sculpture on my own. In consultation (with, among other, the National Office of Cultural Heritage) we discussed that the old stone species (Ettringer tufa) was so coarse that detailing was almost impossible. The restoration in this new limestone (Muschelkalk limestone) leaves some room to carve the details more clearly than before. I didn't change the entire sculpture: everything is exactly the same size and in the same place in the new stone. I made it just a bit sharper and deeper and with some details. To me the work is a lot more interesting because of this. It is frankly a technically not too challenging sculpture, and mere copying is not always exciting, especially for such an easy piece. If I can occasionally just add to or sharpen it a little bit, then it remains fun for me to do.

copy ark 2

copy ark 3

My colleague didn't totally agree. He told me that the work was made at the time in a certain style, without much frills, and that I shouldn't just go adding all kinds of things. The art of the Reconstruction Era has its own unique atmosphere and it would be unfortunate if it is lost. I do understand his objection; you're meant to be working on restoring it, not taking over the helm and sailing a completely different course. It would also be very pigheaded if I suddenly was doing completely my own thing. Therefore Noah for instance was copied exactly, except for the opening of two holes under his arm and in the rear hand, because this stone is much stronger. So will most of the figurines be accurately copied, because more definitely not always means better. But when I see that the story that's told is unclear, and there remain only vague lumps from an otherwise nice composition, then I will take that space.

the presawing of a flying buttress sculpture (dog)

In the meantime, I moved the saw machine and put it underneath my new hoist. This way it's much easier to lift the stone pieces on and off it. I'm already busy presawing the next two statuettes, about which more later.

on to the next flying buttress figurine→ is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well:

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