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Room: The Masonic Lobby

Grote Kerk Breda

Newspaper (front), Norá Békés, rotatiedruk DKZET B.V., 41,5 x 29 cm, 2023
Newspaper (back), Norá Békés, rotatiedruk DKZET B.V., 41,5 x 29 cm, 2023

When the traveling exhibition An Alphabet of Cases visited Breda's Grote Kerk, it prompted the initiator of the palace to investigate whether there were nine objects within that ‘gesammtkunstwerk’ that could serve as examples of sign, symbol, ornament, construction, poetry, play, order, craft or practice. After all, a medieval house of worship like the Grote Kerk Breda is also a spatial visual story, in which all aspects of typographic masonry can be found. Nóra Békés illustrated these objects and designed the newspaper in which they come together.

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I Sign

Many different signs can be discovered in the Grote Kerk Breda, perhaps more than you think. First of all, of course, letters, for example on the many tombstones. On some of the pillars you can see stelae: they were used as clues by the masons during construction. Yet other signs include medieval musical notes on the wall on the north side. You also see so-called consecration crosses: a cross-shaped sign on walls or pillars. Such a cross shows where the church was consecrated by the bishop.

Consecration crosses

II Symbol

The cross of the Christian faith, the eagle as a symbol for John, the angel for Matthew, the lion for Mark and the ox for Luke in the corners of the stones covering the ancient tombs: in the Great Church Breda you will find many symbols. If you look up in the Niervaert Chapel, you see a curved ceiling in the shape of a cross with five flower-shaped rosettes: they symbolize the five wounds of Christ. The scissors are also a symbol, from the old textile makers and the cloth guild.

Scissors as symbol of the Cloth Guild

III Ornament

Floor patterns, ceiling decorations, organ ornaments and decorative carvings: ornament can be found in many places in the Grote Kerk Breda. Perhaps the most beautiful decoration are the lavish ornaments on the ceiling of the Men's Choir from 1533. The design is by Tommaso Vincidor da Bologna, the architect of the Renaissance palace of Hendrik III of Nassau. This vault painting was described by its first restorer as "a play of lines of unparalleled beauty.

Ornaments on the ceiling of the Men's Choir

IV Construction

The floor plan of the Grote Kerk Breda is a great example of how different parts come together in a construction. In the shape of the church you can discover the famous Golden Ratio: a concept that occurs everywhere in nature and art and has to do with proportions. The layout of the church is also related to stories from Christianity. The main altar, the most sacred place, is in the east. There the sun rises, referring to the resurrection of Jesus. Opposite, in the west, the sun sets. This is the side of the earth and this is where the church tower stands. The north is the side of death, and so that is where the first graveyards are located.

The floor plan of the Grote Kerk Breda

V Poetics

In the Grote Kerk Breda, you can see many examples of the palette available to the designer. Think of the different construction and decoration techniques, ways of woodworking or material choices that all give effect to a message in a different way. Consider the tomb of Engelbrecht II from 1538. Engelbrecht and his wife Cimburga of Baden are executed in the stone type of alabaster. The artist took advantage of the light translucency of this veined white marble to make the couple look natural.

The tomb of Engelbrecht II

VI Play

The elements associated with play, such as order, tension, movement, solemnity, amazement and fun can also be seen in the rituals that have taken place and are taking place in Grote Kerk Breda. Baptism, for example, is an important rite of passage within Christianity. A baptismal font is used for storing baptismal water and pouring over the baptized. The font (from the Latin fons = spring) in the Grote Kerk Breda is decorated with figures. For example, the dolphins are an attribute of Venus, who rises from the foam of the sea, thus also symbolizing new life.

The baptismal font

VII Order

The craftsmen who shaped the Grote Kerk Breda did so within the standards and rules of their time and society. Over time, the church changed in style from Romanesque through Gothic to Renaissance. Designs were also used as instruments to reinforce the ruling order. For example, the church was extended by the Nassau's time and again for their funerary monuments, including that of Engelbrecht I. This monument contains 32 coats of arms of leading noble families in Europe. These are crowned with pointed arches and Gothic ornamental turrets to illustrate the origins of the Nassau's. That the decorations on the coats of arms are historically inaccurate is a good example of how the design was intended to confirm the status of the Nassau's.

Funerary monuments, including that of Engelbrecht I

VIII Craft

The masons, blacksmiths, painters, woodworkers, sculptors, glassmakers and rope makers who worked on the Grote Kerk Breda were, of course, true craftsmen who wanted to outdo their predecessors.
Like the carver and talented designer Cornelis Floris, born in Antwerp in 1514. In the Grote Kerk Breda, no less than four carved grave slabs and two tombstones are by his hand. After an inspiring stay in Rome, he published books with innovative "Renaissance" designs for carvers. These were full of examples for garlands, masks and vases to complete tomb plaques and funerary monuments. With his enthusiasm, he contributed greatly to the spread of a new language of form: the Floris style.

Tomb plaque in 'Floris style'

IX Practice

In the Grote Kerk Breda, let us also look at the commissioning process. First of all, the Nassau's played an important role in the creation of this structure. In addition, the Breda Nassau's were also important as patrons. Not only as financiers but also because they themselves commissioned artists and designers. For example, Engelbrecht II of Nassau bequeathed a particularly beautifully illustrated prayer book by a 15th-century Flemish master. He specialized in book decoration with gold leaf and eventually became one of the greatest innovators in miniature art.

Illustrated prayer book