Friday, May 4, 2018

The Norwich Rembrandt connection

In the 1500s and 1600s the Dutch fleeing economic hardship and religious persecution set up many Reformed churches across Europe and elsewhere. In 1565, Dutch Strangers established a church in Norwich where sermons were preached in Dutch. In about 1603, the Leiden graduate Johannes Elison was appointed the minister of the church. In 1634 he and his wife, Maria Bockenolle, travelled to Amsterdam to have their portraits painted by an up-and-coming artist named Rembrandt van Rijn! These now hang in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Elison died in 1639, having preached, corresponded and run the church's affairs in Dutch for over 30 years. There is a monument to him in Blackfriars' Hall, Norwich, where the Dutch worshipped. It is inscribed with verses in Dutch, English and Latin. The Norwich poet, Jan Cruso, wrote an elegy to Elison, published in 1642, in Dutch alexandrines in which he laments the passing of his friend, the worthy and great Elison (den.weerden...en...grooten Elison). The church held its last service in 1919.

Further reading:
Christopher Joby, 'The Dutch Language in Britain (1550-1702)'. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
William Woods, 'Annual Dutch Church Service, Norwich,' Dutch Crossing, (1981) 14, pp. 75-76.

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