Unique project in Veghel-1

In the deepest secret

It's been rather quiet on this blog over the past year because I had to keep still about a huge project. It was a gift to the Lambertus Church and the people of Veghel, sponsored by the Van Eerd family, owners of supermarket chain Jumbo. This project had actually since 2017 been in preparation, but only in february 2021 did we actually start carving the first ornaments. However, this was preceded by a long process of studying grainy old photos, enlarging, enhancing, drawing, modeling designs and researching sources.

Two facades

black and white photo old niches Veghel

It concerned two facade claddings for the side gables on the west side of St. Lambert's Church. The entrance side. This church was only the second one that the later famous architect Pierre Cuypers was asked to build, and it was also quite a bit simpler than many of his later buildings. But the building pastor at the time thought that was too meagre. From 1850 (ten years before the start of construction) Catholics were allowed to openly proclaim their faith again and that had to be celebrated in a big way. It had to be richer. More decoration on the outside. And that's how almost 30 statues were added to the tower and how the side facades were covered with natural stone moldings and arches. Until the year 1960, when in the context of a major 'restoration’ the claddings of both side facades were removed. The sculptural parts on the tower were to remain. But the ornaments on the sides had all become a bit jaded, people thought, and in addition, there was still visible damage that had originated during the Liberation of 1944 at the end of the Great War. Good riddance.

Renewed interest

condition of the facade of the Lambertuskerk in Veghel before the restoration of the archesIf we fast forward to the year 2017 we notice that there is renewed interest in the old front view of the church. There were still faded traces on the church that made it clear that at one time something must have been there before, and when some old photos appeared as well, the desire to restore this again arose. It is thanks to the volunteers of the Lambertuskerk that this has been taken up energetically, that a sponsor has finally been found and that it has now come about. On 3 October 2021 the whole project was unveiled by the bishop.

How to tackle such an undertaking?

CAD drawing of the arches for reconstruction and stone carving Already in 2017 I was asked about my thoughts about this reconstruction, but in the end I was involved as a subcontractor of Slotboom Stonemasons in this project. At Slotboom, the existing facades have been accurately measured and compared with the photos, and every part has been worked out in a large three-dimensional computer drawing. The ornaments we were to carve later on fitted snugly inside this main drawing.

I started by blowing up the photos a lot, sharpening them, clarifying details and trying to understand what the project entailed.

Actually, what we see here is a set of arcatures: ten niches with pointed arches and a roof-like structure, which ends in several vertical lines around the neogothic arch window of the church itself. At the start of this window arch we see a horizontal line on the left and right, after which the vertical lines are narrowing again until they end in a niche with a statue of a saint, crowned with a few small finials. The most striking part were the depictions in the bottom ten niches. At first I thought these were ceramic panels, but apparently it was originally done in two-tone stucco. We were asked to also reconstruct these parts. I decided to take it on together with Jelle, and later Nico also joined the team.

Unfamiliar territory

Because there is still yellow Jaumont Limestone to be found at the capitals of the portal, it was quite an obvious choice to carry out most of the natural stonework on these parts in Jaumont as well. It's easy to carve and it also creates nice shadows. Cutting ornaments is not new to me, so I wasn't too worried about this part. After all, gradually many things become clear by themselves if you go at it one thing at a time. Making a proper quotation is sometimes more difficult than the implementation!

However, the design was much more stylized than I normally find in Gothic and Neo-Gothic churches, so that was a bit of a switch. At the top were two statues of St. Peter and Paul, and though the pictures were quite blurry, one will find a way through it if you just tackle it step by step: first a small model at scale 1:4, then at full size and then reproduce that into stone.

Panels

But the most difficult were the panels with ten scenes from the life of Jesus. I honestly don't know much about ceramics and thought I had to outsource this part, until someone suggested I carve it in basalt lava and then have it enameled. So we did, just as we were told. About that later meer↑.

The limestone ornaments

After working in Photoshop and a number of other programs (including the fantastic free program Faststone Image Viewer, in which you can also do some editing at lightning speed) to get the old images enlarged and sharpened, I was able to get a good impression of most of the ornaments and the two statues of the saints. With prints of these photos I could model the maquettes for the ornamental work and cast them in plaster. Jelle took care of the capitals, while Nico already started carving the first pieces inside the top of the niches: leaf motifs in basalt lava that would later be enamelled.

Meanwhile, all the photo editing added up unnoticed, until I had been staring at it for days, but it gave me a nice handle for the reconstructions. With one exception that we couldn't really get a grip on. At the bottom of the frames at the start of the large gothic arch window are a total of four very unclear ornaments. You can discover one in the photo above. This is the clearest of the four, but the meaning of it completely eluded us. Taking the plunge, I then proposed to replace these four corbels with the four evangelist signs according to tradition.

small corbels with the four evangelists fot the Lambertus Church in Veghel

The Four Evangelists

roof parts with ornamentsHalfway through the facade you will now find four small corbels with an angel on them, a lion, a bull and an eagle, all four with a book. They are the age-old symbols of the evangelists, in response to a text in the Bible book of Revelation:

Revelation 4:6-8: In the midst of the throne and around the throne were four creatures . The creatures were full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature looked like a lion. The second creature looked like a young bull. The third creature had the face of a human. The fourth creature looked like a flying eagle. Every creature had six wings and every creature was full of eyes inside and out.

Although I don't think this is about evangelists at all, also because this bible book is full of astronomical and astrological references, in later centuries people invariably represented the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John according to these four symbols. In any case, as a sculptor you can make something fun out of it.

Playing with composition

sketch for corbel with bullThese are the parts we like to make the most. How do you design something like this? Just the four heads or the whole beasts? With or without wings? Should we add a book or a scroll or neither? Do we just carve a very cubist, Art Deco-esque head or emblem? These were very small and shallow blocks in which we had to fit the ornament, with a continuing column on one side.
So after a few quick little sketches and a bit of rough sculpting, we carved these corbels in a sort of mix between direct carving and working from a model.. Jelle made the angel and the lion, I did the bull and the eagle. I made a clay model of the bull after a tiny drawing, the eagle was done a bit more in the direct carving method.

corbel stone St. Luke's Bull VeghelWe always have a lot of fun putting little details into it and making it a little bit odd, just like this sort of thing is always meant to be. Of course they are often not quite anatomically correct and the stone was actually a bit coarse for these kind of small details, but it's a lot of fun to cram it all in and find an interesting composition for it. Jelle made his angel and lion so that they looked down, and I thought that was a good idea, that I followed for my eagle. The bull is the only one looking over his bible book and holding it with his paws. On the left facade you see Matthew and Mark: a downward flying angel and lion, each with a book. On the right facade we have Luke and John: a seated bull with book and a descending eagle with book. The book indicates that these are the four evangelists.

Carving voluptuous ornaments

band with ornaments in yellow limestone for the church of VeghelThere is a horizontal band with ornaments on the two facades, for which I first made a plaster model to explore the shapes. Gradually I got some fun carving the curvy shapes of these bands, that somehow reminded me of a well-filled lady. Jaumont is also a type of stone that lends itself to this work, because it is easy to finish with a sharp wood rasp and it also draws nice shadows with that yellow.

All ornamental work in Jaumont limestone

the left facade with arches, here without enamelled panels (photo: Bas Mulder, Slotboom Stonemasons)

Thus we carved all the ornaments on the two facades. Above the pointed arch window you will find four large crockets on each facade, Nico made two more French lilies, there are two small capitals next to each statue and at the very top you will find two small pinnacles and a small finial. All other yellow natural stone parts were supplied by Slotboom Steenhouwers, who also took care of the installation.

Gallery

-click on 1 of the pictures for the larger version-

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Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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the right facade with arcatures, here without enamelled panels (photo: Bas Mulder, Slotboom Stonemasons)

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.

Gallery

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

Links

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

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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.

Presawing

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.

Rough

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.

Crooked

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.

3D-scan

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→

Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl

Follow me on Instagram↑
and Twitter↑
and on YouTube↑