The 's-Hertogenbosch Choir Screen, by Coenraed van Norenberch, 1600 - 1613
During the 13th and 17th centuries choir screens (or rood lofts) became common features in Netherlandish churches. It fulfilled several practical liturgical functions but its main purpose was to separate the public areas of the church from the choir, which was reserved for the clergy. An image of the crucified Christ (known as a rood) was usually hung or placed centrally above it. Of those that survive none has a more remarkable history than the choir screen from the cathedral of St John, 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.
The building was originally a church, built in the Gothic style between 1220 and 1525. In 1561 it became the seat of a bishop and therefore a cathedral. In 1566–7 the choir screen was vandalised by Protestant reformers during a period when religious unrest swept the Netherlands and many figurative sculptures were destroyed. The screen was further damaged in 1584 by the collapse of a vault after a fire.
By 1609 ‘s-Hertogenbosch was part of the Roman Catholic Spanish Netherlands, and in September 1610 a design for a new choir screen was selected, intended to express the commitment of the city to Roman Catholicism and its Spanish rulers. Coenraed van Norenberch was commissioned to build the new screen, which was completed in 1613.
During the 1850s the cathedral underwent a programme of restoration and in 1866 the cathedral authorities decided to remove the choir screen. They thought not only that it obstructed the congregation’s view of the high altar but also that its style did not fit with the original Gothic architectural style of the cathedral. The choir screen was sold to a dealer, Murray Marks, who subsequently sold it to the V&A.
The V&A would like to thank the Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels, and The British Museum, London, for permission to use images. The V&A would also like to thank Kitty Jacobs and Elin Simonsson for additional research.
The following books about the choir screen are available in the National Art Library at the V&A:
- Avery, Charles, The Rood-Loft from Hertogenbosch, London, 1969
- Westermann, Mariet, 'A monument for Roma Belgica - Functions of the oxaal at 's-Hertogenbosch' in Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboak, 45, 1994, pages 382-446
Visit the official website of the Cathedral of St John, 's-Hertogenbosch at: www.sint-jan.nl