Large finials for the Dom tower of Utrecht

finials for the dom tower of Utrecht

Our first work on the Dom Tower

The restoration of the Dom Tower is in full swing in Utrecht. We cannot escape it either and will provide a whole batch of ornamental work for this. In October we received the first parts: three large finials for the Dom Tower. They will be placed on the balustrade at the top, at approximately 100 meters up. We divided these three finials among Serge, Jelle and myself. Soon we will get 16 large crockets. Jelle and I have been up the tower before to carve a number of trial ornaments, read a short article about this in the annual overview of 2019.

Meticulous copying

finials for the dom tower of Utrecht

First making the large shape on the bottom

The old finials were made from a French limestone, but this type is no longer available because the quarry is closed. These copies were therefore made in English Portland stone. The ornemants are 80 x 80 cm wide and about the same height.

That is a laborious job that takes three weeks of work, and then also the tails have to be made on it, where it used to be just two separate parts. Because these were the first ornaments we'll be making for the tower, the restoration committee wanted to be sure that the old quality was preserved. In particular, some consultation was needed about the type of surface treatment. That is why there has been a viewing twice during which all details were discussed. All parts will be placed together on the tower later on, where they are now made in two separate workshops and by three different sculptors. This consultation is necessary in order to maintain unity.

Why replace them?

finials for the Dom tower of Utrecht

rough-carved finial

The old finials of the Dom Tower actually still look quite good. But a closer look shows that cracks are appearing and the stone is coming to an end. These ornaments have been carved over the years 1903 to 1911 and are therefore over 100 years old. These limestones are known for deteriorating after 100 years in our climate and are at the end of their life cycle. They sit at a great height and if a small piece should fall down, where there are always many people walking around, then it could be deadly. One of the premises for this restoration is that the next major overhaul will be in 50 years and that this restoration therefore should last for 50 years should last. That would be an awful lot to ask from these old finials.

Rigid design

These finials for the Dom Tower were made under a strict regime at the time and are carved almost geometrically. So our task was to imitate this work just as accurately and to allow ourselves little in the way of freedom. I noticed that the whole ornament was still tightly embedded in the original block of stone. The masses were still following the outlines of this block and from a slight angle you can clearly see that all the highest points are in one plane and only the leaf edges are slightly undulating. True gothic crockets are often much looser and make smooth movements that are more difficult to follow, but these neo-gothic ornaments are quite regular and rigid. That also makes it a lot easier to copy: with a plastic template you can copy many of the shapes.


Below is a photo impression of my work on the finials for the Dom Tower.

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Flying buttress figurine: An accordionist

Accordionist new, Muschelkalk limestoneSecurely bolted down

Amelodeon, black and white drawingn fact it was actually not an accordionist. More like a man with a melodeon, that small thing that they use in sailor's choirs. But at last it had arrived! I 'd been waiting for it for a long time, because it was stuck. To the new Focus Filmtheater. When I first asked for it, the replies were not good: the figurine (that I still was to copy) was temporarily borrowed out to the theater, but apparently it was attached so very rigidly that it was impossible to ever get it loose again. The roof would have to come off, or I would have to recieve the sculpture with the Film theater attached, you get the point.

After much consultation, calling and meeting the sculpture turned out to be a bit easier to disassemble and it came my way.


old flying buttress sculpture on pre-sawing machineWhen I got it in, the long pieces of threaded rod were still attached. That was actually a bit of a bother, because I had to make an entire construction for it to properly anchor the statue on my presawing machine. But a challenge from time to time is fun, so with some inventiveness we were able to come up with a good solution. It wasn't all that complicated from that point on: presawing the sculpture, copying it and sharpening up the details.


new flying buttress figurine accordionistThe two flying buttresses that we are currently tackling have been carved (around 1956) quite roughly by Eduard van Kuilenburg. Add to this the fact that this accordionist spent more than sixty years on top of the church and you'll understand that it has all become a bit vague. The challenge in this sculpture is therefore not so much in the technical difficulty. The statue of Pope Leo the Great was a much more difficult job. When carving this group of sculptures, the main issue is with the details and finish.

These statues don't have many details, and the parts that were there were carved very simple. The finish is coarse. Therefore, the most interesting part is carving things like the face, the hands and feet in such a way that these show a bit more, but still clearly match the style of the rest of the sculpture. And as for the finish: by playing with different surfaces such as bush hammered, pointed, toothed or flat chisel marks, lively surfaces can be created that enhance the design.

Giving it hands and feet

new flying buttress figurine accordionistThe accordionist's hands were not equal on the left and right. The right hand did have somewhat like fingers, but on the left he only had a lump with a few stripes. However, the sculptor had chosen a nice position of the fingers, which indicates the playing on the keys. The feet were never really detailed, and after that it all weathered down further. The position of the hands and feet has remained the same in the new copy, but I've made more obvious fingers and toes on it. They're still huge lumps, though. The accordionist's face was slightly turned to the right, and he had a nice crooked smile, as if he was completely absorbed in a difficult piece of music. It was almost impossible to see anymore, so I recreated it a little more clearly in the new copy. The eyes of these figurines all have only upper eyelids and a hole underneath. However, it works very well in terms of shading, so I left it that way.


It is striking that almost all heads that Van Kuilenburg carved are so strongly asymmetrical. Foreheads that run in an odd angle, a cheekbone two centimeters deeper than the other, eyes that are in a completely different plane. More and more often I wonder if he might have had trouble seeing depth, or that he only had sight in 1 eye. This sculptor's life was very tragic and he only got 39 years old. Maybe someday more about his life will be published, but it is not up to me to do that here. In any case, we try to make those crooked heads a bit more plausible without detracting too much from the character of the original sculpture. If you'd copy it exactly like this you'd get a sculpture that is even worse than the original, because you can't transfer some of its directness into the copy. Therefore, in order to maintain this fluency, we don't copy it with a pointing machine, but we work partly in the same way as Van Kuilenburg: shaping directly into the stone.

ornaments south portal Eusebius Church, in Baumberger stone

South Portal

ornaments south portal Eusebius Church, in Baumberger stoneA partial assignment that came in between all of this was the ornamental work for the South Portal of St. Eusebius's Church. We suspect that this too was originally carved in the 1950s. But it is known that Baumberger stone doesn't last that long and washes out quite quickly into a shapeless mass. Because a number of parts were already missing and chipped, a lot of natural stone has been replaced. We did some of those ornaments, our colleague Serge did the largest part at our request.


Finally, someone came by this week with a scanner and laptop: Emiel Frederiks from Nidim. He recorded the copy of the accordionist into a 3D model, from which one day maybe small versions will be printed. We'll see.

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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Ornaments in basaltic lava for the Utrecht Dom Cathedral

large crockets in basaltic lava for the cathedral of Utrecht, ready for transportThese last months were a period when we were mainly busy carving stone ornaments. After all the carving of crockets for finials of St. Eusebius's Church in Arnhem we went straight ahead with these large crockets in basalt lava for the Utrecht Cathedral. During my vacation the blocks were …Read the whole article…