Camera Obscura


A friend of mine came for a visit yesterday, but before meeting up with her, I took Charlie out for a walk to try to make up for the fact that I was going to be gone all day. We’d had a very light dusting of snow during the night, but nothing to make walking around treacherous. We had the added benefit of some glorious sunshine, but that’s more relevant to the photos I took later in the day.

Anyway, as Charlie and I were wandering around, I decided to finally go in search of the Camera Obscura I’d seen recently on Instagram. This house on the Kromme Nieuwegracht once belonged to photographer Frans Ferdinand van der Werf (1903-1984). He settled in Utrecht in the 1930s and became well-known for his photos that ranged from comic scenes in the city to the liberation of Utrecht by the Allies.

There is currently a free exhibition of his work at the Utrechts Archief, which is running through 21 May. I suppose I’ll have to leave Charlie behind again for that one, but I really do want to see the exhibit. Maybe I can get some fresh photography inspiration.

Time Travel: Achter de Dom

1900 postal workers achter de dom utrecht post office(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)

This photo dates back to 1900 and shows a group of postal workers on the street behind the cathedral called Achter de Dom (achter means behind and de Dom refers to the cathedral). To the right of them is the entrance to the pandhof, the enclosed garden area next to cathedral. To the left was the post office.

Achter de Dom is one of my favorite streets, because it’s filled with historic buildings and just looks so picturesque and charming. Coming to the street from the opposite direction — from the Nieuwegracht — it’s particularly stunning as you see the apse of the cathedral towering over the street. No matter the angle from which you look at it, it’s a winner.
Achter de DomI couldn’t remember the exact angle of the original photo, so when I made this version on Sunday, I didn’t get it quite right, but close enough. Not much has changed, obviously. The men in the photo would have been standing roughly where the woman in the white top on the right is.
Achter de Dom
This is the same photo, but from a wider angle, so you can see the cathedral and its buttresses around the apse on the right. The large greyish building on the center left of the photo is the former post office. It was still in use for another 24 years after the 1900 photo was taken. Then, it was replaced by the massive and stunning building at Neude. Sadly, the post office at Neude closed in 2011 and its final use remains in limbo. In fact, it was the very last post office in the Netherlands. Everything now is privatized. Strange to think that the mail service has changed more than this street in the past 115 years, though mail delivery by bike is still a thing. Of course.

Castellum Lights

A Flamingo in Utrecht
The Domplein — the square in the heart of the city where you will find the Domtoren and the cathedral — has a long history. The square was originally the site of the Castellum Trajectum, the Roman fortress established nearly 2000 years ago to protect the northern border of the Roman Empire. The sign in the picture above marks where one of the entrance gates to the fortress was to be found.

In fact, they have found the foundations for the old fortress and you can see some visual depictions of what the fortress would have looked like through various apps now available. I think you also get to learn and see a bit more on the DomUnder tour (which I haven’t had a chance to take yet).

Still, you can get a sense of the size of the fortress due to some installations you’ll see in areas around the Domplein. The size starts to sink in when you realize it encompased the whole square and then some. The markers in the ground are bronze-ish metal pieces flush to the ground, with lines drawn in depicting various Roman Empire borders. They’re easy to miss, and even easier to puzzle over if you don’t know the meaning. It took me a few years to finally figure it out.
Hadrian's Wall
However, in the evening, they at least become a bit harder to miss. As part of the Trajectum Lumen displays, they light up and emit a watery mist every 15 minutes or so. The marker on Domstraat is pretty impressive, the way it lights up along one of the buildings and has the cathedral behind it.
Roman Walls [Day 126/365]
There’s another by the Academiegebouw, which I managed to capture once, years ago.
Roman Fortress
More recently, I finally caught the one on Servetstraat, in front of the Domtoren. It’s a cosy little street with a nice mix of shops and restaurants, all in the towering shadow of the Domtoren. Standing along any of the old fortress borders, it’s impossible not to look around and think of all the history this one small section of Utrecht has seen and experienced. And now we all become a little part of that long history.
Castellum Trajectum

Time Travel: Kromme Nieuwegracht 1900 | 2013

kromme nieuwegracht HUA 1900(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)

This canal is the Kromme Nieuwegracht and as the name suggests, it’s essentially the Nieuwegracht canal after it takes a curve in front of the Paushuis (Pope’s House), which is part of the building on the left. In fact, this picture from 1900 is taken from the bridge over the canal that leads into the Paushuis.

While you may think that the Pope’s House wouldn’t change much, it actually has changed quite a bit since it was originally built in the 1500s. The actual house was much smaller than the full property that is there today. Plus, through the years, it has had a variety of additions and rebuilds of those additions. It’s more of a complex now than just one building. As you can see, there were rows of window shutters in the old photo, but when you look at the new photo (well, taken in 2013), those are all gone.
kromme nieuwegracht paushuisAlthough the buildings on the left may have changed, the buildings on the right look remarkably similar, other than perhaps some cleaning and some new shiny gold paint on that balcony. Even the stairs down to the canal are in roughly the same spot. The biggest difference is the addition of three trees in the intervening 100+ years. Well, that and the bicycles and cars replacing the people.

Tank Man

During the summer of 2013, the Call of the Mall art event took place in the Hoog Catharijne shopping center here in Utrecht. A variety of art works in multiple mediums were placed throughout the mall. The Celestial Tea Pot, which still stands on the roof of part of the mall, was and is a popular piece, but there was one piece that really created a lot of interest, at times blocking much of the walkway in which it was placed.

Tank Man, a lifelike sculpture by Fernando Sánchez Castillo, refers to the unknown man who stood down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989 after the Chinese military had come in to shut down protests. Although a few names were bandied about at the time, it seems that there is no reliable information about the man’s identity and fate.
Tank ManAlthough we don’t know what became of the man dubbed Tank Man, we do know what happened to the statue. It was purchased by the Centraal Museum, where it now has a home. I never got to see it while it was on display in the mall, but I did finally get to see it on my most recent visit to the museum. It’s a powerful piece when you stop and think about what this man did, especially at that particularly violent and repressive moment in time.

The video footage and photos that made it out of China are hard to forget. The close-up photos like the one by photographer Jeff Widener are staggering, but it was one I saw a few days ago that really made me think more deeply about it all than I have in many years. The wider angle shows the scope of what this man was up against. To see the tiny figure of the the man standing against at least 20 tanks just on the road, not to mention the numerous other grouped tanks in the background is incredibly moving and thought-provoking. It’s hard not to put yourself in his shoes and wonder if you would have been able to take such a stand. I think being able to come face to “face” with the Tank Man via the statue is what helps to make it such a powerful piece, because you do suddenly find yourself face to face with your thoughts about what you’d be willing to stand up for and against.
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Time Travel: St. Augustine’s on the Oudegracht

Zigeunerin, Oudegracht, Utrecht, Sebastiaan Alphonse Van Besten, 1915

Zigeunerin, Oudegracht, Utrecht, Sebastiaan Alphonse Van Besten, 1915, Rijksmuseum

I originally came across this photo on Pinterest and it caught my eye for multiple reasons. Obviously, unlike many of the old photos I usually use for these Then and Now posts, this one focuses more on an individual than a building or setting. The woman, a gypsy (zigeunerin), is the main subject of the image taken by Belgian autochromist Sebastiaan Alphonse van Besten. Van Besten was a refugee here in the Netherlands during World War I and took photos in various cities throughout the country, including this fantastic photo here in Utrecht. This particularly image now hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I look forward to seeing it in person soon.

There are still gypies/travellers/roma, etc. in Utrecht and the Netherlands in general, but not quite so obvious now. However, the setting is barely changed. She stands just to the side of a set of stairs that lead down to the wharves along the Oudegracht and the St. Augustine Church in the background remains seemingly unchanged. Even the handrails of the stairs seem almost the same. Now, though, there are more parking signs and bicycles along the railing. In fact, if it weren’t for the bicycles, I could have stood in almost the exact spot to get my “now” photo.
St. Augustine'sFYI, the photo I posted for my last Wordless Wednesday was taken almost directly underneath this spot, down on the wharf level.

A Night of Lights and Music at VJ op de Dom with Kypski

DSC03396 DJ Kypski | VJ op de Dom
Last night I was awake and up late enough to finally make it to this year’s edition of VJ op de Dom, an annual mix of light art and music. Each year a variety of musicians/DJs perform, while light, art, video, and graphics are beamed onto the walls of the Domtoren. The whole square in front of the Domtoren is packed with people enjoying the music, lights, and hanging out with friends. It’s all very casual and gezellig.
DJ Kypski | VJ op de Dom
For whatever reason, I’ve missed it in the past couple of years, but I was determined to finally go this year, in part because DJ Kypski, who was performing the last set, lives in my neighborhood. Got to support your buurman! He’s a nice guy who does some fantastic work on his own and with artists like Caro Emerald and the Matangi String Quartet. In fact, his work with the Matangi String Quartet may have been great prep for last night’s show, known as Beats Barok. The artists combined Baroque music with their own modern sounds, as a nod to both the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht and the Oude Muziek Festival currently going on in town.

My pictures might not be the best, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I figured it would be too crowded for the tripod, so I made do. Bobbing DJs and moving lights in a dark setting were a bit of a challenge, but some of the blurry bits still look kind of cool. This is a cool shot of the Domtoren announcing Kypski and here’s a photo from Kypski with the view from the stage, looking out on the crowd. For some proper photos, check out annafotographie. It was a fun night; I’m glad I finally made it!
DJ Kypski | VJ op de Dom DJ Kypski | VJ op de Dom
DJ Kypski | VJ op de Dom
DJ Kypski | VJ op de Dom
DJ Kypski | VJ op de Dom
DJ Kypski | VJ op de Dom
DJ Kypski | VJ op de Dom
Full photo set on Flickr.

The Legacy of Kameren Maria van Pallaes

Kameren Maria van Pallaes
At the corner of Lange Nieuwstraat and Agnietenstraat two rows of terraced houses join together. Although both are similarly constructed of brick, there are small differences to be seen, as there were just over 50 years between the construction of the two. The first, built in 1597 on Lange Nieuwstraat, were the Beyerskameren, which I wrote about earlier this week. The second set, built in 1651 on Agnietenstraat, are known as the Kameren van Maria van Pallaes.

The rows of houses are similar in more than just style. The Pallaes kameren were also built specifically to provide housing for the poor. Consisting of 12 homes, they were originally designed to be a home for a couple, two men, or two women.

The land on which the Pallaes kameren were built was originally part of the Agnietenklooster (Agnes Convent), which gives its name to the street. Parcels of land were set aside by the convent for the construction of buildings that would serve a charitable purpose.

Maria van Pallaes (1587–1664) was the wealthy widow of Hendrick van Schroyesteijn. Although the couple had six children, by 1650, only one daughter remained and she had joined a convent and was thus unable to inherit. Left with no relatives who could legally inherit her fortune, van Pallaes wasn’t willing to have the fortune simply turned over to the municipality upon her death. Wanting to do more with the money, she set to work to improve the lives of the poor, including the building of the row of houses on Agnietenstraat. She also set up the Maria van Pallaes Foundation, which continued to build additional homes in other areas for the poor. As well as the homes, there were donations of food, money, and fuel to the residents.

Hendrick Bloemaert Uitdeling aan de armen door Maria van Pallaes 1657
This painting by Hendrik Bloemaert — an important member of the Utrecht Caravaggisti — depicts Maria van Pallaes flanked by her children in front of the Agnietenstraat homes, distributing food to the poor. Painted in 1567 — in large part a memorial to the children who has passed as — it originally hung in the refectory at the end of the row of houses. It now finds its home in the the Centraal Museum. Interestingly, the Centraal Museum is located just a short distance down the same street in what used to be the Agnes Convent.
Kameren Maria van Pallaes
The 12 homes share a front and back wall that runs the length of the row. Interior walls divide the row into the 12 homes, measuring approximately 4.5 × 7 meters each. Each home has a door and window in both front and back. There is also a dormer window for the upstairs loft/attic space.

The interior designs vary slightly, with some of the homes featuring a spiral staircase that leads up to the attic area. The division of rooms varies somewhat. Shutters can be found on all of the front windows and there is a window above each door, providing additional light. On the lintel above every front door is the construction date of 1651, as well as the family coat of arms of Maria van Pallaes and her husband.
Kameren Maria van Pallaes
At the end of the row of houses is a larger building that looks onto the Nieuwegracht. The refectiekamer (refectory) most likely started off as a dining room for the residents. There was a basement-level kitchen, with the dining space on the ground floor. The building itself is roughly square shaped, with a triangle section added on for the entrance on the Nieuwegracht.
Kameren Maria van PallaesThe entrance remains similar to its original design, although rather than one set of central steps leading up to the door, there was originally a set on each side that met at a landing in front of the door. The decoration around the door has remained the same, however. Flanking the door on each side is a window covered by wrought iron. On the windowsills behind the ironwork are small sculptures.

However, it is the plaque above the door that is most striking. It commemorates Maria van Pallaes’ building of the homes out of her love for God. The classically inspired plaque is flanked by Ionic columns and cornucopia, perhaps to signify bounty for those less fortunate and to hope for continued fortunes. Above is a shield with draped garlands within a classical curved pediment.
Kameren Maria van Pallaes

Thanks to the Maria van Pallaes Foundation, the homes continued to house the poor even after her death. However, the refectory did not remain part of the homes for long. By 1677, the refectory was changed into a residence.

Fortunately, the homes remained under the ownership of the Foundation until 1910, when mismanagement eventually saw the buildings turned over to the municipality. For more than 200 years, they provided a home for the city’s poor and elderly. Sadly, they began to fall into disrepair and by 1962, they were declared uninhabitable. However, restorations were carried out and by 1979, the leasehold was transferred to the Utrecht Monuments Fund, which continues today. The homes are once again filled with life and now make up a lovely neighborhood.
Kameren Maria van Pallaes
Utrecht: The Houses within the Canals
Het Utrechts Monumenten Fonds

Mussels and Time Travel

lucasbolwerk1992(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)

This isn’t quite the usual Time Travel post that I usually do. Despite appearances, this photo of Lucasbolwerk (left) and surrounding streets only dates back to 1992. Overall, the street and buildings haven’t changed that much in the past 20 years; it’s the sidewalk bits that have migrated a bit and that tree on the front left isn’t there now.

To be honest though, the street didn’t look much different 100 years before that, either.
lucasbolwerk1890(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)

That was then, this is now (well, the photos are from 2011 anyway):
Mosselfestival Site

Today, it’s still an active street, although there is very little auto traffic, since it’s now a dead-end street and there are only a few parking spaces. There’s plenty of bicycle traffic, though, and this is the street where the weekly Friday skate night begins in the summer. It is also the location of the annual Mosselfestival.

In fact, the Utrechts Mosselfestival takes place this Sunday, 25 August, from 14-22:00. There will be delicious mussels, of course, and most likely some oysters, as well. Plus, local brewery De Leckere will be on hand, along with some local wine merchants. The event is hosted by Horeca Lucas Bolwerk, which is made up of Café de Potdeksel, Café de Stad, Tilt, and Zocher. They’ll all be open, as well, so feel free to stop by and enjoy their offerings and terraces. In fact, bring the whole family; there’s even a bouncy castle (springkussen) for the kids. Most importantly, try the mussels. They’re cooked in a traditional Zeeland manner and are heel lekker!

Public Art and the Peace of Utrecht

The Agreement
Continuing the theme of giant public works of art, which I started with my post about the giant teapot, I figured I should finally post about The Agreement. This 200-square-meter tableau hangs on the facade of the Stadhuis, the site where the Treaty of Utrecht was signed in 1713. It commemorates the event that brought an end to the War of Spanish Succession 300 years ago.

As part of the city-wide celebration taking place this year, this photographic mural was commissioned from an English photographer, Red Saunders. The final image is a combination of a series of photographs that have been morphed into one. Many of the people in the picture are volunteers. There was a request late last year for people who were interested in taking part. I briefly considered volunteering, but my lack of photogenic qualities deterred me.

The Agreement

The negotiations for the treaty (actually a series of treaties) took 18 months and involved multiple countries and various groups, including diplomats, negotiators, aristocrats, Calvinist bureaucrats, militaries, and civil servants. Not surprisingly, all of these various retinues were an economic boon for Utrecht, from bakers to prostitutes.

All of these groups and more are depicted in The Agreement, as well as a few visual nods to the Dutch Golden Age of art, trade, and commerce. There are ships, still life groupings, saints, and doves of peace to be found throughout the image.

The Agreement

The Agreement is a great blend of history and humor. As well as the bawdy figures on the left, there is a curious masked figure on the bottom right. It seems that he’s a depiction of the inevitable spies who were involved in the drawn-out peace process. For a more extensive explanation of the various groupings and symbols, there’s a tagged description written by the photographer, which can be found here (in English). The following are a few photos that show a bit more detail.

The Agreement

The Agreement

The Agreement

Finally, I recommend watching this relatively short video about the making of the picture. I had seen some of the video before the picture was revealed, and I found it fascinating to see how all the separate groupings were able to come together into one striking image.

The Agreement will hang on the Stadhuis through 21 September 2013.