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Rookmaaker, Hans

    Full Name: Rookmaaker, Hans

    Other Names:

    • H. R. Rookmaaker

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 27 February 1922

    Date Died: 13 March 1977

    Place Born: The Hague, South Holland, Netherlands

    Place Died: Ommeren, Gelderland, Netherlands

    Home Country/ies: Netherlands

    Subject Area(s): art theory, French (culture or style), nineteenth century (dates CE), painting (visual works), and Post-Impressionist


    Scholar of Gauguin and 19th-century art; early interest in art theory. Rookmaaker was the son of Henderik Roelof Rookmaaker (1887-1945) and Theodora Catharina Heitink (1890-1971). Rookmaaker grew up traveling between The Hague and Sumatra, then part of the Dutch East Indies, where his father served as Governor (Resident) until his early retirement in 1936. After he finished high school in Leiden, Rookmaaker attended the Naval College in Den Helder. The Naval College closed at the outbreak of World War II and Rookmaaker became engaged to Riki Spetter (1919-1942) in 1940. While distributing leaflets for the Underground Resistance movement, he was arrested by the Nazis in March 1941 and imprisoned in Scheveningen, near The Hague. Though released in December, he was rearrested in April 1942, spending the next three years in Nazi POW camps in Poland and Germany. During those times of hardship Rookmaaker studied the Bible thoroughly and became interested in the work of the Reformed Christian philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977). In the meantime, Rookmaaker’s fiancée, Riki, who was Jewish, died at the Auschwitz extermination camp in 1942 (a fact revealed only after Rookmaaker’s death). After the war Rookmaaker was baptized and became a member of the Reformed Church. He chose for a career in art history, with a view to exploring connections between art and his Christian convictions. Together with his recently widowed mother he moved to Amsterdam, where he enrolled at Amsterdam University to study art history. In 1949 he married Anky Huitker (1915-2003). Rookmaaker became an art critic for the daily newspaper Trouw, and after having received his B.A., he obtained an assistantship under I. Q. van Regteren Altena at his Alma Mater. He graduated in 1953 and taught the next three years at the Spinoza High School in Amsterdam. In 1957 he became an art critic for the bi-weekly Opbouw, and in addition was appointed assistant to Henri Van de Waal at Leiden University. In 1959, he obtained his doctor’s degree from Amsterdam University with a dissertation on Synthetist art theories, Synthetist Art Theories: Genesis and Nature of the Ideas on art of Gauguin and his Circle, written in English (republished in 1972 as Gauguin and 19th Century Art Theory), under the supervision of van Regteren Altena. Like his father Rookmaaker was an avid Jazz enthusiast. In 1960 he published the book Jazz, Blues, Spirituals. In 1961 he traveled to the USA and Canada on a grant from the Dutch government to study methodologies of art education at Boston University and various colleges in New York State. During this trip his contact with black music and in particular his meeting with Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972) made a deep impression on him. Rookmaaker grew increasingly conservative in his outlook on modern art. In 1962 he published Kunst en amusement (Art and Entertainment). At his 1965 appointment professor of art history at the (Christian Reformed) Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam (VU), he delivered an inaugural lecture, “De kunstenaar een profeet?” (The Artist as a Prophet?), arguing that modern art should not necessarily be regarded as prophetic. In addition to his teaching in Amsterdam he often lectured at universities and conferences in the United Kingdom and the USA on modern art, popular music and culture. This was the basis for his 1970 publication, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. In 1971, Rookmaaker and his wife founded a Christian study center, Dutch L’Abri, in Eck en Wiel, in the province of Gelderland, modeled on L’Abri in Switzerland, created by their American friends Francis and Edith Schaeffer. The family moved to nearby Ommeren in 1975. Rookmaaker suddenly died in 1977. He is buried at the church at Eck en Wiel. The following year, Art Needs No Justification appeared. His wife donated his papers to Wheaton College, Illinois, where he had lectured in the 1970s. His daughter Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker edited his complete works in 6 volumes in 2002-2003. Rookmaaker, in his Synthetist Art Theories, was one of three principal art historians to write book-length treatises in English in the 1950’s on the art period known as Symbolism, along with John Rewald and Sven O. Lövgren, each taking a radically different approach to the subject. In his book, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture Rookmaaker firmly expressed his strong disapproval of what he saw as the irrational content of certain art works by artists like Picasso, and surrealists, including Dali, which in his view did not reflect the reality of the God-given creation, but represented a world of nihilism and absurdity. His conservative stance toward modern art draws similarities with Hans Sedlmayr, particularly Sedlmayr’s book Verlust der Mitte (Loss of the Center). Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture was acclaimed in certain Reformed Christian circles, but received negative reactions from Dutch art historians who were critical of the author’s views on art, which they saw as biased. His Amsterdam students complained that his approach to art was too speculative and too involved with theology.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Synthetist Art Theories: Genesis and Nature of the Ideas on art of Gauguin and his Circle. University of Amsterdam, 1959, published, Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1959, republished under the title Gauguin and 19th Century Art Theory. Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1972; [complete works:] Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, Marleen (ed.) The Complete Works of Hans R. Rookmaaker. 6 vols. Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2002-2003; Jazz, Blues, Spirituals. Wageningen: Zomer & Keuning, 1960; Kunst en Amusement. Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1962; De kunstenaar een profeet? Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1965; Modern Art and the Death of a Culture. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1971; Art Needs No Justification. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1978; [collected essays:] The Creative Gift: Essays on Art and the Christian Life. Westchester, IL: Cornerstone Books, 1981.


    Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History: An Anthology of 20th-Century Writings on the Visual Arts. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, p. 4; Martin, Linette. Hans Rookmaaker: a Biography. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979; [on Rookmaaker’s esthetic] Begbie, Jeremy S. Voicing Creation’s Praise. Edinbugh: T & T Clark, 1991, pp. 127-141; Birtwistle, Graham. “H. R. Rookmaaker: The Shaping of his Thought” in Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, Marleen (ed.). The Complete Works of Hans R. Rookmaaker. 1. Art, Artists and Gauguin. Carlisle, UK: Piquant, 2002, pp. xv-xxxiii; Gasque, Laurel. Art and the Christian Mind: the Life and Work of H. R. Rookmaaker. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005;! [obituaries:] “Bij het heengaan van Prof Dr. Rookmaaker” VU Magazine (April 1977); Jaffé, H. L. C. Lier en Boog (January 1978): 82.

    Contributors: Monique Daniels


    Monique Daniels. "Rookmaaker, Hans." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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