19 July 2013

Still in Gouda

We continued to enjoy Gouda. We are so close to the heart of the old city that we have not yet been tempted to take the bikes off the foredeck. We walked extensively through the streets and along the canals.

On one of our walks, the operator of Dirk Crabethbrug had arrived just before us and was cranking open the swing bridge, going along for the ride in the process. The bridge is a rather new one, dating only to 1887, but it is named for one of the famous two brothers who created many of the oldest stained glass windows for Sint Janskerk in the mid-1500s. We did what the locals do; we paused to watch the bridge open.

Then we watched as an antique tour boat slowly motored through with its load of sightseers, who watched us watching them.

On Wednesday we used our museum cards to gain free admission to Museum Gouda. The museum is housed in an interconnected group of buildings across the lane to the south of Sint Janskerk. One of the main buildings is the former Chapel of Saint Catharine’s Hospital, which traces its origins to the fourteenth century, though much of the existing building is from the seventeenth century.

The first displays we saw were some of the original designs and cartoons for the famous stained glass windows in Sint Janskerk. Almost the entire collection of drawings has been saved and preserved, and they have been repeatedly used over the centuries to assist in the maintenance and repair of the windows.

The displays continued with paintings. Many of these are religious works that had been removed from the churches after 1572 when they ceased to be Catholic. One of these is a set of altar panels that had been commissioned to replace damage from the devastating fire of Sint Janskerk in 1552. The panels were done on oak planks by Gouda artist, Michiel Claesz. With the Protestant takeover in 1573, the panels were removed from the church and kept for centuries in the Orphanage of Gouda. The central panel depicts the flight of Joseph and Mary to Egypt.

Other religious paintings were commissioned by various clandestine Catholic groups, such as this one done for the local Jesuits for their house chapel. It is the work of the well-known Antwerp painter, Cornelius Schut around 1630-35 and depicts a favourite theme of the Jesuits, the adoration and glorification of the Virgin Mary.

This painting of the Adoration of the Magi was done as part of a series painted by Wouter Crabeth the Younger in the 1630s and early 1640s. It was painted in 1631 as a commission for the clandestine conventicle of Sint Jan, a rather modest and inconspicuous building on the banks of the river Gouwe, where Father Petrus Purmerent conducted clandestine Catholic services.

Fortunately, all the paintings in the museum are not of a religious theme. There is a fine assortment of lighter themes, such as this one by Jan Steen. It is titled “The Quack” and depicts a common scene of the seventeenth century; an open air play at an annual fair.

Of course, there is a collection of group portraits of civic and military officials in the stilted poses typical of the genre. This painting is the first in a series in the collection done in 1616 by Jan Daemsz de Veth. It portrays the officers of the militia under the command of Colonel Gijsbert ‘t Hert. Interestingly, in this painting, rather than being placed in the conventional most prominent place in the group, the Colonel chose to be placed where the best light would fall in the room where the painting was to be hung.

Among the group portraits is one of four deans of the Enkhuizen surgeons guild titled: The Anatomical Lesson of Dr Zacheus de Jager. It was painted by Christiaan Coevershof in 1640 and the deans are posed in the manner used by Rembrandt in his famous 1632 Anatomical Lesson of Dr Tulp. However; unlike Rembrandt, Coevershof did not portray an anatomy lesson, rather the painting served only as an historical record of the deans.

Among the displays is a reconstruction of the surgeons guild room, with its table and chairs and cabinets of seventeenth century surgical instruments. With the crude instruments fresh in our minds, we went down for a look at the dungeons, cells and torture chamber. The instruments we saw there were much more crude. It is definitely not a place we would want to have been when it was in use.

On a much lighter vein, there is a wonderful display of Gouda pottery. The museum has a collection of more than 5000 pieces and the displayed pieces are frequently changed. Those not on display at the moment can be seen arrayed in large glass cabinets in an adjoining room. We thought this a wonderful use of the collection. 

Desiderius Erasmus is one of the most famous sons of Gouda. Although he was born in Rotterdam and died in Basel, the city of Gouda has adopted him. He is said to have been conceived in Gouda; his father was a Catholic priest and curate there and his mother is thought to have been the housekeeper. Erasmus spent his youth and had his early education in Gouda. On our way out we paused in the museum’s garden cafe for koffe en appeltaart to relax and contemplate what we had seen.

On Thursday morning we walked into the city centre. As we approached the Markt, the number of parked bicycles increased rapidly. At the rear of De Waag there was not a free spot to be found. We were pleased we had left our bikes aboard. 

The reason for the crowd was the Thursday morning Gouda cheese market. From 1000 to shortly past noon teams from the guild of cheese-porters carry the farmers' cheese on handbarrows and lay them out in the Markt. Traditionally, buyers then sampled the cheeses and negotiated prices using a ritual system called handjeklap, in which buyers and sellers clap each other's hands and shout prices. Once a price was agreed, the porters would carry the cheese to De Waag and complete the sale.

The first mention of the cheese of Gouda was in 1184 and it is one of the world’s oldest cheeses still being made. These days most Gouda is produced industrially and the name is not protected internationally. However, there are still about 300 farmers in the area around Gouda who produce Boerenkaas, Farmers Cheese, which is a protected name of Gouda and is made in the traditional manner, using unpasteurized milk.

Having filled ourselves with a sampling of the history and culture of Gouda, we were ready to stock-up on Boerenkaas and continue our voyage.

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