Art (1955)

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The following treatment of the theme is limited basically to the graphic arts, in particular painting, drawing, and etching. For treatment of other forms of art and related topics and for analysis from the 1980s see Folk Arts, Filmmaking, Fraktur, Literature, Music. The article is subdivided as follows: (1) The Mennonite Theme in Art, (2) The Mennonite Attitude Toward Art, (3) The Mennonite Contribution to Art, (4) Mennonite Artists.

The Mennonite Theme in Art


Seldom have major artists used Mennonite themes in any form of great art, although Mennonite subjects were frequently portrayed by able Dutch painters and etchers. The chief instance is the great Dutch master Rembrandt, who painted, etched, and drew the Amsterdam Mennonite preacher C. C. Anslo, a Waterlander leader. His oil painting of Anslo and his wife hangs in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin; an original copy of the etching is in the Art Institute of Chicago; both were done in 1641. A copy of Rembrandt's etching of Anslo alone is in the Fogg Museum of Art at Harvard University. Rembrandt also painted or etched various other Waterlander Mennonites. His portrait of Trijn Jans (Catrina Hoogsaet), the wife of preacher Hendrick Jacobsz Rooleeuw, made in 1657, is now in the Lord Penrhyn Collection in England. Several members of the Amsterdam Mennonite Bruyningh family were also painted by Rembrandt, e.g., Nicolaas Bruyningh, whose portrait of 1652 is now in the Gemälde-Galerie at Cassel, Germany. Rembrandt's painting of Lieven Willemsz van Coppenol is in the Edward S. Harkness Collection in New York. Van Coppenol was a noted Mennonite teacher. H. F. Wijman has shown that the portrait by Rembrandt once assumed to be Hans Alenson is actually one of the English clergyman John Ellison.

"Portrait of the Mennonite preacher Cornelius Claesz Anslo and his wife Aeltje Gerritsdr Schouten" by Rembrandt, 1641.
Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Other outstanding Dutch artists produced portraits of Mennonite preachers, among them being the Mennonite artist M. J. van Mierevelt (d. 1641), who painted Hans de Ries (d. 1638), the great leader of the Waterlanders, and also produced a portrait of the prominent preacher Lubbert Gerritsz (d. 1612), which hangs in the University of Amsterdam; and the artist Lambert Jacobsz (ca. 1598-1636), himself a Waterlander preacher, who painted his fellow preacher, Jeme de Ring. There is a portrait, formerly ascribed to Rembrandt but actually by his Mennonite pupil Govert Flinck (1615-1660), of Gozen Centen, a regent (member of the board of directors) of the Amsterdam Mennonite old people's home called Rijpenhofje. Two other Mennonite regents of the Rijpenhofje, Gozewijn Centen (with family) and Job Sieuwerts, were painted by the Dutch artist Christoffel Lubienietzki in the years 1721 and 1713 respectively. Both pictures, though the property of the Amsterdam Mennonite Church, now hang in the Rijksmuseum. The well-known elder, Jan Gerrits van Emden (d. 1617), was painted by Rombout Uylenburch. The prominent Mennonite preacher of Amsterdam, Johannes Deknatel (d. 1759), also co-founder of the Amsterdam Mennonite Seminary, was painted in a miniature, which is now in the possession of the Mennonite Historical library of Goshen College. A bust of Menno Simons and one of N. C. Hirschy (d. 1925), first president of Bluffton (Ohio) University, both done by the Mennonite artist J. P. Klassen, are in the Bluffton University Library.

Jan Beukelszoon (John of Leyden)
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Many wealthy Mennonites had their portraits painted by noted Dutch artists. F. Schmidt Degener has made a thorough study of this in his article "Menniste Portretten" in the magazine Onze Kunst (1914, I, 1 ff.). Hendrik Sorgh (1611-1670) depicted the Jacob Abrahamsz Bierens family in Amsterdam in 1663. Lucas de Clercq and his wife, both Mennonites, had their portraits made by the renowned painter Frans Hals in 1635. Jan van Hoeck, a member of a well-known Amsterdam Mennonite family, had his picture made by Cornelis van der Voort. If one may include the revolutionary Anabaptists here, then it should be noted that Jan van Leyden (d. 1535) was painted several times and that H. Aldegrever made a fine copper-engraving of him in 1536. A good oil painting of him by Herman tom Ring now hangs in the Grandducal Museum at Schwerin, Germany. Of David Joris there is a portrait by the Dutch painter Jan van Scorel, now in the Oeffentliche Kunstsammlung at Basel, Switzerland. The greatest Dutch poet, Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), who was a Mennonite (for a time deacon) for many years until his conversion to Catholicism, was often pictured, as for instance by Govert Flinck and Philip de Koninck.

Of the various extant portraits of Menno Simons, none historical, possibly only three have much artistic value, the one of 1683 by Jakob Burkhardt of Hamburg-Altona, that by Jan Luiken of 1743, and the etching of 1949 by the gifted contemporary Dutch etcher, Arent Hendriks. (See the authoritative article by G. J. Bockenoogen, "De Portretten van Menno Simons," in DB 1916, 33-106, with reproductions of all then extant portraits, also "The portraits of Menno Simons," by S. Smeding in Menn. Life, July 1948, 16-19.) In 1743 a collection of 30 portraits of Dutch Mennonite leaders from Menno Simons on down appeared in book form in Amsterdam under the title Versaameling van de afbeeldingen van veele voornaame Mannen en leeraaren, die zoo met het begin der Reformatie als ook in laater tijd het leeraars ampt onder de Doopsgezinde Christenen bedient hebben. Alle op nieuws na de originele, door bekwaame meesters in 't koper gebragt. In 1677 at Middelburg appeared a collection of etchings by C. van Sichem, Het Tooneel der Hooftketteren bestaande in verscheyde afbeeltsels van valsche Propheten, naekt-loopers, etc., which included Menno Simons and David Joris among its pictures of archheretics. The 1608 Historische Beschrijuinge Ende Affbeeldinge der voornaemste Hooft Ketteren contains 15 large engraved portraits by van Sichem, among them Balthasar Hubmaier, Adam Pastor, Melchior Rinck, Hans Hut, Ludwig Haetzer, Melchior Hoffman, and the Münsterite leaders, but not the van Sichem portrait of Menno Simons, which was printed as a separate sheet already in 1605 or earlier. Most of these were reproduced in smaller size also in 1608 in Apocalypsis Insignium Aliquot Heresiarcharum. The larger collection was reproduced in several editions with varying content, finally in the 1677 edition.

It was very common in the 16th and particularly in the 18th century to hang portraits of the regents, usually painted as a group, in the board rooms of Dutch orphanages and old people's homes. Some Mennonite charitable institutions have pictures of their regents, but they are not so common nor of such an early time.

Outside of Holland, Mennonite preachers and wealthy lay members of Emden, Danzig, and Hamburg in North Germany were portrayed in paintings, etchings, or miniatures, none outstanding.

Events, Activities, and Scenes

There are very few pictures of events in Mennonite history. In the old Town Hall of Amsterdam there were once six oil paintings by Doove Barend, of the Wederdoperoproer (assault on the town hall by a group of revolutionary Anabaptists in 1535), but they have disappeared. In a number of old books certain sensational scenes are reproduced from early Anabaptist history, e.g., the story of the Naaktloopers, which was depicted again and again. But these pictures are seldom of artistic value, and generally not authentic but merely fantastic.

Source: Mennonite Encyclopedia, vol. 1, photo page 21, no. 2
Martyr scene by Jan Luiken in Martyrs' Mirror

The most extensive use of Mennonite themes was by the noted Dutch etcher Jan Luiken (d. 1712), who created the 104 copper engravings used in the second Dutch edition of theMartyrs' Mirror (1685) later published separately as Theatre des Martyrs (Leyden, 1685?). The original copper plates were extant in Munich in 1929 and were examined by the writer. They had been used in the Pirmasens (1780) German edition of the Martyrs mirror.

Of great interest are a set of copper engravings from about 1735, representing the ceremonies in Dutch Mennonite churches. In volume VI of The ceremonies and the religious customs of the various nations of the known world (London, 1733-37), also published in French (1736) and in Dutch (1738), the noted French engraver, Bernard Picart (1673-1733), and his Dutch associates, who did most of their work in Amsterdam, reproduced two scenes from a Dutch Mennonite communion service in the Amsterdam Singel Church, two engravings of a Mennonite baptism, and two engravings of an Amsterdam Mennonite man in costume, all of 1736 or thereabouts. F. ter Meer painted (Krefeld, 1845) Die Gehetzten, a scene showing 16th century Krefeld Mennonites worshiping in a barn.

There is a fine engraving of the old Witmarsum church of about 1820, and many good engravings, mostly from the 18th century, of the churches of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leiden, Zaandam, and others. A symbolic engraving by D. Kerkhoff (1792) bears the title Monument van de Doopsgezinden.

Preacher visiting a Anabaptist family in the Bernese Jura by Robert Aurèle.
Source: S. G. Geiser. Die Taufgesinnten Gemeinden. 2. Auflage. ([Brügg, Poststr. 3, im Selbstverlag], (Vertrieb: Christian Schmutz, Courgenay.) 1971. [front matter p.13]

The copper engraving of 1782, The Mennonite proposal for marriage, by the Danzig artist Daniel Chodowiecky (d. 1801), not a Mennonite, portrays a custom of the Mennonites of that city. The Swiss artist, Aurèle Robert (1805-1871), painted a picture of a Swiss Mennonite family of near Tavannes, Bernese Jura, about 1850, which hangs in the Lausanne (Switzerland) Museum (Musée des Beaux-Arts), entitled L'Anabaptiste ou ferme Bernois. The Swiss artist Joseph Reinhard (1749-1829) produced a colored etching of a Mennonite couple at the Johannestor in Basel, entitled Costumes des Anabaptistes Suisses, which was published in his noted work on Swiss costumes ca. 1824. An 18th century gravure by E. Maaskamp depicts a Mennonite couple on the Dutch island of Kampen. A similar one by Lewicki depicts an Alsatian couple of ca. 1815.

In the United States since the mid-20th century Amish themes have been used. The artists Kiehl and Christian Newswanger of near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, produced a number of interesting Pennsylvania Amish portraits, in painting, etching, and drawing, which have been widely exhibited in recent years and are now in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress at Washington, DC. Benjamin Eicholtz's Mennonite woman (early 19th century) is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Mennonite artist of Goshen, Indiana, A. L. Sprunger, has made linoleum cuts of Amish figures. Oliver Wendell Schenk (1903-1996), himself a Mennonite student in Goshen, Indiana, at the time, produced in 1933 a pen and ink sketch of the noted Mennonite schoolmaster of the Skippack (Pennsylvania), Christopher Dock (d. 1771), at prayer in his schoolroom, as well as a pencil sketch of the Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Mennonite meetinghouse and graveyard. WoIdemar Neufeld (1909-2002), a former Mennonite, painted (ca. 1930) the Steinmann Mennonite meetinghouse near Baden, Ontario. Jakob Sudermann painted the Chortitza, Russia, Mennonite church 1932.

If one should include the Münsterites of 1534-1535 with the Anabaptists, then reference would have to be made to numerous works portraying episodes, personalities, or scenes from this tragic affair. One of the most notable among these is the series of 30 black and white drawings (one etching and 29 in woodcut style) by the noted modern German artist, Joseph Sattler (1867-1931), published in Berlin in 1895 under the title Die Wiedertäufer.

Max Geisberg has made a special study of the Münster Anabaptists in art in his Die münsterischen Wiedertäufer und Aldegrever ... (Strasbourg, 1907).

The Mennonite Attitude Toward Art

In Principle

The Anabaptist-Mennonites, as more closely related to the Zwinglian-Calvinist phase of the Reformation than to the Lutheran, shared with the former their objection to the use of art in religious worship or in religious activity in any form. With their emphasis upon simplicity, sincerity, and humility, art seemed to them artificial and pretentious, often dangerous and wasteful. Whether their negative attitude was based upon the second commandment, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," as asserted by Neff (ML 1, 221), is not clear. Later this was in part the case, and there is evidence that in West Prussia, as well as in Switzerland, and among the later descendants of both groups, this attitude prevailed. A striking illustration is the case of the Danzig Mennonite portrait-painter, Enoch Seemann, Sr. (b. 1661 in Elbing), who was placed under the ban in 1697 by the Danzig Flemish Mennonite elder Georg Hansen specifically on the ground of violating the second commandment by painting portraits, and was reinstated only after promising to limit himself to landscapes and decorations. (The story is told in Seemann's booklet Offenbahrung und Bestraffung des gergen Hanszens Thorheit, Stoltzenberg, 1697.) The Danzig Flemish congregation thoroughly supported their elder in this action. Even then, and for some time, at least until after 1850, Mennonites of this area were not permitted to be professional artists, only amateur practice being considered tolerable.

Possibly the rural character of these groups and their cultural isolation may account for some of their negativism toward art. In any case it has persisted through the 19th century among all Mennonite groups except those in Holland, the North German cities, and the Palatinate. It still is rigidly adhered to by the Old Order Amish of the USA and some conservative groups of Russian background in Manitoba, Mexico, and in Paraguay who forbid the hanging of any works of art in their homes, and also the taking of photographs. In the 20th century this attitude gradually disappeared in most Mennonite groups. However, in such a long prevailing negative atmosphere it is not surprising that there have been so few Mennonite artists and that those who wanted to be artists were either expelled or forced to leave.

It is worthy of note that no real art developed among Mennonites except in those groups where there was a close connection with the national culture and in urban areas such as Holland and North Germany. The art of illumination of manuscripts, which was handed down in the Pennsylvania German communities and among the Mennonites of Prussia and Russia, found a few Mennonite practitioners (e.g., the teacher Christopher Dock of Skippack (d. 1771), preacher John Gross of Deep Run (1814-1903)) but this is a very minor art form. In any case, the Mennonites are known to have practiced only the graphic arts; in the plastic arts they are markedly absent except for some silversmiths in Holland, occasional pottery (e.g., the modern Makkum pottery in Holland), and folk art in such forms as samplers and bed quilts, and some wood carving. In North America, as the Mennonites as a whole began to move out of their cultural isolation and out of a purely rural environment, particularly through the influence of the public elementary and high schools as well as the leadership of their church colleges, a positive attitude toward art gradually replaced the former negative one (but not in the more conservative groups). Departments of art were established in the church colleges, and Mennonites became art teachers and artists in their own right, such as J. P. Klassen of Bluffton College and A. L. Sprunger of Goshen College and Goshen High School. The Mennonite Publishing House at Scottdale began to employ its own Mennonite artists for the art work in its publications, as did also the Mennonite Press at North Newton, Kansas.

There are those, however, who doubt whether much great art can be produced in a group which has a strict standard of Christian morals and a strong sense of separation from the "world," and a relative isolation from the main stream of the national culture, since this might interfere with the freedom required for creative art. There are also those who hold on the other side that the autonomy of art is a danger to a truly profound religious experience and that one or the other must be sacrificed.

The Dutch Mennonites are a noteworthy exception to the general Mennonite pattern in their attitude toward art. First among the Waterlander Mennonites toward the end of the 16th century and then during the 17th century among most of the other groups except the most conservative, all opposition to art faded away and was replaced by a genuine appreciation for and love of art in various forms. This is evidenced not only by the commissions given for portraits, and by the appearance of many Mennonite artists, including both painters and etchers of the first rank, but also by the collections of paintings and other art objects in the homes of the wealthier Mennonites who were frequently friends and even patrons of artists. There have been several outstanding Dutch Mennonite art critics and historians, among them the noted Carel van Mander (1548-1606), whose Schilderboek was the first Dutch history of art.

Something of the love of art among the Dutch Mennonites is also evidenced by the fact that some congregations have valuable and very fine communion cups. Generally they were, like the tankards (jugs) and bread-plates, mostly of pewter, although the congregation of Zwolle had silver cups already in the year 1661, the congregation of Koog-Zaandijk also such from the 17th century, Leiden from 1701, Stavoren from 1745, Rotterdam from 1774, Kampen, Giethoorn, and Joure from the same time. Those of Kampen, Joure, and Rotterdam are of a high artistic value.

Art in Mennonite Homes, especially in Holland; Mennonite Art Collectors

During the so-called Frisian and Flemish quarrels the former accused the latter of giving too much attention and money to the adornment of their houses, and in the year 1659 a meeting of Groninger Old Flemish leaders at Loppersum forbade the use of stained glass windows in the houses and the making of portraits (Blaupot t. C., Friesland, 307-8: see also Nonconformity) and even S. F. Rues, who visited the Dutch Mennonites in 1742, stated the fact (Rues, Tegenwoordige Staet, Amsterdam, 1745, 27) that the so-called Danzig Old Flemish Mennonites excommunicated members who hung oil paintings and other decorations on the walls of their homes, and specially "when they got to the foolishness of having themselves pictured." But the fact that Carel van Mander could be a member even of the very austere Old Flemish congregation of Haarlem and also be a painter, proves indisputably that Mennonites as such were no opponents of art, generally speaking. We find pictures and other kinds of art in Mennonite homes, particularly of those Mennonites in Amsterdam and other cities of the Netherlands who had grown wealthy during the early 16th century. The picture which H. Sorgh made in 1663 of the Bierens home shows pictures on the wall. Surely we must consider this Bierens interior at Amsterdam as an example of Mennonite life at this time. Later on, and especially in the 18th century, Delft pottery and the valuable chinaware, both cups and large plates, decorated the walls of many Mennonite homes. And this was not only the fact in the more luxurious residences of the province of Holland, but also in the country, as is clear from a report by the Reformed pastor Elgersma (of the year 1685) that the Mennonite preacher Foecke Floris caused the people to take away from their walls, cups, plates, pictures, etc. (Hylkema, Reformateurs II, Haarlem, 1902, 6.)

Though we cannot determine accurately how many art collectors there have been among the Dutch Mennonites, we know that there were some even in the 17th century. From 1625 on Jan Theunisz in Amsterdam was the owner of a kind of restaurant, where the men of the world (among whom were many Mennonites!) used to meet and to view his great collection of art objects and curiosities. The Mennonite Hendrik van Uylenburgh was an art dealer and collector about the same time. Jan Pietersz Bruyningh, who was painted with his wife by Rembrandt in 1636, had a small collection of oil-paintings by Lastman, Flinck, de Coninck, and two or three pictures by Rembrandt. There is reason to suppose that there were at this time many Mennonite art collectors. Of Mennonite art collectors of the 18th century we should mention among many others, Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (1702-1778) at Haarlem, who gathered a large collection of valuable books, oil-paintings, drawings, coins and medals, etc. In Rotterdam the brothers Pieter and Jan Bisschop, of whom the first mentioned died in 1758 and the latter in 1771, had a fine collection of precious pictures, drawings of old Dutch and foreign masters, antique vases, splendid miniatures, enamels, gold and silver objects, Japan porcelain of the finest quality, lacquered ware from China, rare shells and other curiosities, which were all packed carefully in large cases. Strangers who visited Rotterdam sought the opportunity of looking at the Kunstcabinet van de oude heer Bisschop. In 1778 the stadtholder of the Netherlands, William of Orange, and his spouse, admired the Bisschop collection. Mennonite collectors and collections of the 19th century and today need not be further mentioned.

According to Kühler (II, 1, p. 59), Hendrik van Uylenburgh (1584-1660), the leader of a famous school of art and a well-known art dealer, was a Mennonite, a cousin of Rembrandt's first wife Saskia and a close friend of his. His brother Rombout later lived in Danzig and painted the Mennonite preacher Jan Gerrits of Emden. His son Gerrit was also an art dealer, though not with the best reputation. -- Nanne van der Zijpp

The Particular Mennonite Contribution to Art

The relationship between Anabaptism-Mennonitism and the Dutch painting of the 16th and 17th centuries (in the broad sense, drawing and etching) will be considered from three aspects: (a) whether there is any fundamental mutual influence or conditioning between Mennonitism in Holland and painting; (b) whether there is in the case of Dutch painters who were Mennonites evidence that their faith found expression in their work; (c) in which of the Dutch painters does one find Mennonites or Mennonite characteristics portrayed.

Does there exist any fundamental influence and limitation between Mennonitism and Dutch painting? One thinks first and usually of Calvinism when one speaks of Dutch Protestantism, but this exclusiveness is by no means correct. The Reformation had numerous adherents in the Netherlands for 40 years before Calvinism from the south in 1566 won its dominant position. This pre-Calvinist period was to a large extent influenced by Anabaptism; indeed the Reformation and Anabaptism were for a time nearly identical in die Netherlands. (J. G. de Hoop-Scheffer, Geschiedenis der Kerkhervorming in Nederland, 1873, 3.) But the point pertinent to our discussion is this: All that Protestantism has contributed to the cultural life of the Netherlands especially with respect to art can be traced in principle and in its essence to this Anabaptistically determined Reformation. In this realm Calvinism could contribute nothing new; it merely took over. Also in the ensuing period it was true that Calvinism was the sole authoritative represen tative of Protestantism, however domineering it may have acted and however domineering it may indeed have been upon the state. Even in the later periods an independent Mennonite share in the cultural fruits of Dutch Protestantism can be assumed -- at any rate so great a scholar as Johan Huizinga does so (Die höllandische Kultur des 17. Jahrhunderts, Jena, 1933). 

It is therefore proper, whenever the Protestant element in Dutch painting in its Golden Age is to be considered, to see in it an important aspect of Mennonitism. To be sure, we must guard our selves against the idea that Dutch painting is as such Protestant, especially in contrast to a Catholic art of Flanders, which remained under the dominion of Spain. In the first place there are areas where such a contrast does not exist and many connections can be traced, even between Rubens and Rembrandt. In the second place, the contrast is based not only on creed, but also on political and social conditions, the contrast between the bourgeois North and the courtly South. In the third place, we find already in the old Dutch "old Flemish" art of the 15th century, and still more in the Flemish art of the peasant Breughel, tendencies (such as the preference for genre painting, still life and landscape) which became important in later Dutch painting. Finally, many of the motifs of Dutch painting (the peasant pictures of Adriaan van Ostade, the genre pictures of Jan Steen, etc.) hardly fit into any category of Protestantism, especially the Dutch type of Protestantism. 

Isaac Blesses Jacob by Govert Flinck.
Source: Wikipedia Commons

We cannot avoid first of all viewing the effect of Protestantism on Dutch painting as a negative force, limiting and impoverishing it, for Protestant ism is responsible first of all for what is lacking in Dutch painting as the nature and motif of its creation. Dutch Protestantism was always extremely hostile to furnishing churches with paintings, and that is as true of Calvinism as of Mennonitism. Thus the church drops out of the picture as an art center. Certain types of painting found in the Middle Ages and in the Catholic countries, such as the crucifixion (with exceptions like Rembrandt), the Virgin, and the saints, no longer are wanted. But there is also a lack of allegorical and mytho logical subjects from antiquity, such as is found in abundance in Italian and Flemish art, chiefly be cause Protestantism, Calvinistic as well as Mennonite, looked upon the depiction of these acts with suspicion. It is certainly an effect of Protestantism that causes the first great Dutch art historian, Carel van Mander, himself a Mennonite, to lament, "It is our present want and misfortune [about 1600], that so few figurative subjects can be painted in our Netherlands, whereby an opportunity would be given to our young people and to painters to achieve distinction in the presentation of allegory or in the treatment of the nude. For what there is to paint is mostly pictures according to nature" (i.e., por traits).

On the other hand, though it must be granted that, as Carel van Mander laments, the Protestant influence led to an impoverishment in comparison with the earlier and contemporary work of other countries, nevertheless closer consideration shows that it also had a positive and fruitful effect. With its attitude toward ecclesiastical art, indeed to art in general, Protestantism preserved Dutch painting from becoming a mere appendage to Italian and Flemish art. It made Dutch art independent; renunciation became a gift. It is therefore largely due to Protestantism that portraiture became a fine art among the Dutch, that in Rembrandt it was developed to the point where the man and the man alone stands before his God, strives with God, is reflected in God. But Protestantism, and especially Dutch Protestantism, is a religion of domesticity; even the churches of that time look more like residences than churches. Dutch landscape painting likewise betrays Protestant influence. Its realism presents a sharp contrast to the symbolism of the Middle Ages and the theatrical lightness of contemporary Italian as well as some of the Flemish landscape painting; for the Protestant the world as such is the scene of a reality that is to be taken seriously, with real tasks and duties! When Dutch landscape painting becomes unreal, it becomes dreamy and romantic as with Ruisdael; here too Protestant individualism must not be overlooked!

In short, an examination of Dutch painting reveals many a feature that bears a Protestant stamp. And within the framework of the Mennonite share in the character of Dutch Protestantism, the question concerning a significant influence of Mennonitism upon Dutch art must, upon this evidence, be answered in the affirmative. But is there evidence in the cases of all the many Dutch Mennonite artists, especially of the 17th century, that their confession has found expression in their creations? The answer is only in part affirmative. These Mennonite painters do not fall out of the general framework of Dutch art. Perhaps a direct influence of their religious attitude may be seen most easily in the Biblical subjects painted by David Joris, Lambert Jacobsz, Govert Flinck, and Rembrandt. The work of Jan Luiken is in sharp dependence upon his religious inclinations -- cf. his illustrations for the Martyrs mirror of Tielemann van Braght (Dutch edition of 1685 and German edition of 1780). There is a conspicuous absence of genre painting among all these Mennonite painters. Would it be correct to attribute this lack to their Mennonitism, which was characterized by soundness and good manners? At any rate, it seems that the influence of their faith must be sought in their manner of life rather than in their manner of painting. Houbraken, who usually dwells with pleasure and in detail on the scandals in the lives of the Dutch painters, frequently stresses in the case of the Mennonites their morality, good manners, and piety, as in the case of David Joris, van Mierevelt, Flinck, van der Heyden, and Luiken. With a few exceptions, however, such as van Mander and Jacobsz, the artists were not active in religious matters. -- Dirk Kossen

Mennonite Artists


The only artist among the early Anabaptists was David Joris (1501-56), an early Dutch convert baptized and ordained by Obbe Philips in 1535 or 1536 who soon turned radical mystic, left the brotherhood, also was bitterly opposed by Menno Simons, and lived under a pseudonym in Basel as a wealthy merchant the last 12 years of his life. He was a capable glass painter and a sketcher of Biblical scenes; one of his sketches is in the Vienna Albertina Museum. Some of his preliminary drawings for the glass paintings are preserved in England. Other Anabaptist glass-painters (glas-schrijver, glasgraveur) are mentioned among the Dutch martyrs, such as Jan Woutersz van Cuyck who is called schildersartist en glasgraveur, and a certain Rommeken.


A considerable number of the best Dutch artists have been Mennonites, particularly in the golden age of Dutch art, the 17th century, a few of them Mennonite preachers. It has sometimes been asserted that the greatest of all Dutch painters, Rembrandt van Rijn (1607-1669), was a Mennonite. Kühler calls him a Mennonite (Geschiedenis II, 1, p. 58), as does Hendrik van Loon in his biography of Rembrandt. However, the best and most recent scholarship hesitates to claim this with finality, holding as to actual church membership only that "it is probable that Rembrandt at the end of the 1650's either belonged to or stood close to a freer circle of Waterlander Mennonites which stood under Collegiant domination" (H. M. Rotermund, Rembrandt und die religiösen Laienbewegungen in den Niederlanden im 17. Jahrhundert, 1952). In any case Rembrandt's religion was in its deepest essence Mennonite, formed by Mennonite influences, and his essential spirit and expression were Mennonite in character. This is asserted not only by Rotermund, but also by other scholars, most recently by L. Venturi in Painting and painters (N.Y., 1948), and Jacob Rosenberg in Rembrandt (Cambridge, 1948). The great Rembrandt scholar, F. Schmidt-Degener, says that Rembrandt was "the obvious product of Mennonite environment."

"Sir Isaac Newton" by Enoch Seemann, 1725

The first Dutch Mennonite painter, coming before the 17th century, was Carel van Mander (1548-1606), of the stricter Old Flemish group. Among the leading Dutch painters of the golden age were Michiel J. van Mierevelt (1567-1641; Lambert Jacobsz (ca. 1598-1636); Jacob Adriaensz Backer (1608-1651); Rembrandt's close friend and pupil Govert Flinck (1614-1660); Salomon van Ruysdael (1605-1670), and his famous nephew Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682); Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678); Abraham van den Tempel (1622-1672), the son of Lambert Jacobsz; and Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712). There was also the noted copperplate-engraver Jan Luiken (1649-1712) who was a Mennonite for only a few years, 1673-1675. Dutch Mennonite artists of later times include: Anton Mauve (1838-1888), Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831-1915), and Sientje Mesdag van Houten (1834-1909). Except for Carel van a Mander and Lambert Jacobsz, the Dutch Mennonite artists were not prominent in church life.

Porträt einer alten Frau by Balthasar Denner
Source: Wikipedia Commons


In Germany the two Hamburg painters, Jakob called Balthasar Denner (1685-1749) and Dominicus van der Smissen (1704-1760), contributed a great deal to art; paintings by the former are found in all of the more important European art galleries. Enoch Seemann, Jr. (b. 1694 in Elbing, d. 1744 in London), a talented painter and engraver, was a member of the Danzig Mennonite Church. In the 19th century Berend Goos (1815-1885) won recognition for his paintings of animals and landscapes. The same is true of the sculptor Emil Heinrich Wurtz, who immigrated to America and lost his life in his prime in the wreck of the S.S. Burgoyne on 4 July 1898 at the age of 42 (Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender 1905, 45 ff.). There are also the Krefeld painters, Moritz von Beckerath (1836-96), painter of historical scenes, and Willy von Beckerath (b. 1868 ), painter and art dealer, and the Danzigers Heinrich Zimmermann (1804-1845), Richard Loewens (1856-1885), and Hans Mekelburger (1884-1915) who fell on the field of battle in Poland in 1915 at the age of 30 at the beginning of a promising career; the Königsbergers Johann Wientz (years 1781-1849) and Franz Theodor Zimmermann (1807-1877?). South German Mennonites have produced one good artist, Daniel Wohlgemuth (1875-1967) of the Weierhof (Palatinate) community living in 1950 at Gundersheim near Worms. Of lesser rank is Fritz Mosimann of Mulhouse, Alsace (since 1914 French territory), member of the Pfastatt congregation, who painted local Alsatian landscapes and scenes. The outstanding modern artist of the West Prussian Mennonites, however, was Marie Birckholtz-Bestvater (b. 1888 at Preussisch-Konigsdorf, near Danzig, West Prussia) studied in Berlin and Munich 1908-1913, and lived in the Danzig-Zoppot area, where she had her studio until 1945. After living in Berlin 1945-1947, she immigrated to Buenos Aires in 1947, where she was employed in the ceramics firm "Tadeco." Mrs. Birckholtz's mediums were oil and watercolor, her themes landscapes (earlier largely West Prussian) and figure sketches. She had numerous one-woman shows. Most of her works were destroyed or lost in West Prussia during the war, a few taken along to Argentina. Mention should also be made of Wolf von Beckerath (1896-1944) of Krefeld, and the sculptor Heinrich Mekelburger.


Johannes Heinrich Janzen (1868-1917), teacher and preacher of Gnadenfeld in the Molotschna, South Russia, was the first able artist among the Russian Mennonites. Although he had no formal training, his drawings and oil paintings were of good quality. His favorite theme was the Molotschna landscape. Six of his oil paintings have been brought to America, the best being: "Peace on the Molotschna" (A Russian Mennonite farmstead) and "The Thunderstorm," both in the possession of the family of his late brother, Elder Jacob H. Janzen (1878-1950) of Waterloo, Ontario. One of Janzen's finest products was Das Märchen vom Weihnachtsmann, his own version of the Christmas story, richly illustrated in colors with his own drawings. He also did the illustrations for his brother Jacob H. Janzen's (Zenian), Denn meine Augen haben Deinen Heiland gesehen (Hamburg, v.d. Höhe, ca. 1924).

Hans Janzen (1893-1967), son of the above Johannes Heinrich, was the outstanding Mennonite artist in Russia. His favorite theme was also the Molotschna landscape, although he painted portraits as well. He was educated in Moscow, and then taught mathematics, physics, and art at the Mennonite Zentralschule at Orloff in the Molotschna colony. He remained in the Soviet Union, reportedly dying in the Caucasus Region on September 24 or 25, 1967. Twelve of his paintings were brought to America. Hans Janzen copied in black and white his father's illustrations for a mimeographed edition of Das Märchen vom Weihnachtsmann, which was published by his uncle, Elder Jacob H. Janzen, in Canada.

Perhaps a still finer artist of Russian Mennonite background is Woldemar Neufeld, stepson of Elder Jacob Janzen (Waterloo), b. 1909 at Waldheim, Molotschna, who was a student of Hans Janzen in the Orloff school and came to Canada in 1924. He is therefore properly considered an American artist. After study at Waterloo College, Neufeld attended the Cleveland School of Art (1935-39) and then set up the Neufeld Studios in New York City and New Preston, Connecticut (1949). He held one-man shows in Cleveland, Chicago, New York, Toronto, and elsewhere. He specialized in color prints and in watercolor, and painted numerous Waterloo County landscapes. The Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the Cleveland Museum of Public Art, and many private collectors own his color prints. (See American artist, XVI, Jan. 1952, "Presenting Woldemar Neufeld," 48 ff.

John P. Klassen (b. 1888), born in Kronsgarten, Chortitza, received professional art training at the Universities of Berlin and Munich, and taught art in the Chortitza Zentralschule in Russia before coming to the United States in 1924. He became professor of art at Bluffton College in 1924, his own specialty being small sculpture, including bas-relief and plaques. Among his works are a bust of Menno Simons and one of N. C. Hirschy (d. 1916), first president of Bluffton College.

J. Sudermann, born ca. 1900 in the Chortitza settlement, educated in Russia and Germany, was an outstanding artist, poet, and teacher among the Mennonites of the Ukraine, last heard of in a concentration camp in Siberia. His favorite themes in oil and watercolor were the landscapes and buildings in the Chortitza area, among them the Chortitza Mennonite Church painted in 1932. A number of his works were brought by relatives to Canada 1947 ff. Johann Funk, formerly a teacher in Arkadak, Barstow, since 1930 in Paraguay, deserves passing mention.

Alexander Harder, a son of preacher Bernhard Harder, and brother of novelist Hans Harder, born and reared in the Alexandertal settlement near Samara on the Volga River, Russia, but living in Germany after 1924, at Hanau near Frankfurt, painted many Russian scenes and landscapes. He is known also for his oil painting of Menno Simons, done for the 1936 Mennonite World Conference.

United States and Canada

The chief North American Mennonite artists of native stock are Arthur L. Sprunger (b. 1897) of Goshen, Indiana, of Swiss background, and Oliver Wendell Schenk (1903-1996) of an old Virginia-Ohio Mennonite family. Of immigrant Russian Mennonite stock are Hans Bartsch (b. 1884) born at Tashkent, Turkestan, immigrated to Newton, Kansas, 1893-4, now resident in New York City; J. P. Klassen (b. 1888) born in Kronsgarten, Chortitza, Russia, immigrated to Bluffton, Ohio, 1924 and since then resident there; Woldemar Neufeld (b. 1909) born at Waldheim, Molotschna, immigrated to Waterloo, Ontario, in 1924, later resident in New Preston, Conn.; and D. G. Rempel, born in Russia, immigrated to Bluffton, Ohio, in 1922, student of J. P. Klassen at Bluffton, then in Akron, Ohio, as a designer and manufacturer of toys, known for his fine small sculpture "The Fallen Horseman," now in the Bluffton College Library, relating an incident in the Ukraine in 1919. Elder Johannes Janzen, formerly a teacher in the Turkestan (Russian) Mennonite settlement, resident in the Stoltz Plateau colony in Santa Catharina, Brazil, from 1930 until recently, now located in the new settlement at Witmarsum in Paraná, painted numerous scenes in the Krauel Colony (Santa Catharina) in oil. -- Harold S. Bender


Boekenoogen, G. J. "De Portretten van Menno Simons." Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1916): 33-106. With images.

Cate, Steven Blaupot ten. Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Friesland. Leeuwarden: W. Eekhoff, 1839: 307-308.

Christlicher Gemeinde-Kalender (1905): 45 ff.

Geisberg, Max. Die münsterischen Wiedertäufer und Aldegrever: eine ikonographische und numismatische Studie. Studien zur deutschen Kunstgeschichte, Heft 76. Baden-Baden: V. Koerner, 1977.

Gomersall, R. "A Father and Son Paint" (on the Newswangers and their Amish etchings). American-German Review 17 (1950): 10-13.

GRANDMA (The Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry) Database, 4.19 ed. Fresno, CA: California Mennonite Historical Society, 2021: #476829 Johann J. "Hans" Janzen.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 221; v. II, 241-243.

Houbraken, Arnold. De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen, 3 vols. Amsterdam, 1718 and 1719.

Huizinga, Johan. Holländische kultur des siebzehnten jahrhunderts : ihre sozialen grundlagen und nationale. Jena : E. Diederichs, 1933.

Hylkema, C. B. Reformateurs: Beschiedkundige studiën over de godsdienstige bewegingen uit de nadagen onzer Gouden Eeuw, 2 vols. in 1. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink en Zoon, 1900: v.II, 6

Klassen, J. P. "Mennonite Ideals in Art." Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Conference on Mennonite Cultural Problems. North Newton, 1945: 135-145.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland II. 1600-1735 Eerste Helft. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon n.v., 1940: 58-59.

Mander, Carel van. Het schilderboek: het leven van de doorluchtige Nederlandse en Hoogduitse schilders. Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 1995.

Mennonite life containing the following articles: S. Smeding. "The Portraits of Menno Simons." (July 1948): 16-19; K. Kauenhoven. "Mennonite Artists -- Danzig and Koenigsberg." (July 1949): 17-23; C. Krahn, "Rembrandt. the Bible, and the Mennonites." (1952): 3-6; H. M. Rotermund. "Rembrandt and the Mennonites." (1952): 7-10; A. Sudermann. "Traum und Wirklichkeit" (on J. Sudermann)." (1953): 17-23.

Mitteilungen des Sippenverbandes der Danziger Menn.-Familien Epp-Kauenhoven-Zimmerman, containing the following articles by Kurt Kauenhoven: "Wie trugen sich unsere mennonitische Vorfahren." VI, 1940: 62-4 and 94-5; "Die gottesdienstlichen Gebräuche unserer mennonitischen Vorfahren (Aus den Bildern von Bernard Picart);" "Die Abendmahlsfeier." VI: 98-101; "Die Taufe." VI: 129-32; "Die erste gedruckte Erwähnung der Danziger Kauenhoven 1697." VI: 111-16, referring to Enoch Seemann, Sr., with bibliographical references.

"Presenting Woldemar Neufeld." American Artist 16 (January 1952): 48 ff.

Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt: Life & Work. [London]: Phaidon Publishers, 1964.

Rotermund, H. -M. Rembrandt und die religiösen Laienbewegungen in den Niederlanden seiner Zeit. Bussum: Nederlands kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 1953.

Rues, Simeon Friderich. Tegenwoordige staet der Doopsgezinden of Mennoniten, in de Vereenigde Nederlanden: waeragter komt een berigt van de Rynsburgers of Collegianten. T' Amsterdam: By F. Houttuyn, 1745: 27.

Scheffer, Jacob Gijsbert de Hoop. Geschiedenis der kerkhervorming in Nederland van haar ontstaan tot 1531. Amsterdam: G.L. Funke, 1873: 3.

Schmidt Degener, F. "Menniste Portretten." Onze Kunst I (1914): 1 ff.

Smeding, S. "The Portraits of Menno Simons." Mennonite Life (July 1948): 16-19.

Venturi, Lionello. Painting and painters; how to look at a picture, from Giotto to Chagall. New York, C. Scribner’s sons, [1945]

Two American Mennonite periodicals have given attention to reproducing the work of Mennonite artists, Die Mennonitische Warte (Steinbach, Man., 1935-38) and Mennonite life (North Newton, Kans., 1946 The former published a few watercolors and pen-and-ink sketches by the Russian-American artists J. P. Klassen (Bluffton), John Funk (Saskatoon), and Arnold Dyck (Steinbach-Winnipeg). Dyck, who studied art in Munich, though more active as a writer than an artist, has illustrated some of his own writings with human-interest figure sketches. Mennonite life has covered a broad scope in its reproductions. Articles or reproductions have dealt with the following: A. L. Sprunger, J. P. Klassen, Aurèle Robert, J. Sudermann, Alexander Harder, E. Seemann, H. Zimmermann, F. T. Zimmermann, J. Wientz, Rembrandt, A. Hendriks and the earlier Menno Simons portraits, D. Chodowiecky, D. Wohlgemuth, Heinrich Mekelburger, M. Birckholtz-Bestvater.

Author(s) Nanne van der Zijpp
Dirk Kossen
Harold S. Bender
Date Published 1955

Cite This Article

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Zijpp, Nanne van der, Dirk Kossen and Harold S. Bender. "Art (1955)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1955. Web. 24 Sep 2023.

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Zijpp, Nanne van der, Dirk Kossen and Harold S. Bender. (1955). Art (1955). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 165-172. All rights reserved.

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