The defacement of an ornament

18 April 2023

Defaced ornament from Leidsestraat 39

Defaced Madonna with Child (1535) © Gert Jan Kocken

Designs for Leidsestraat 39 by J.Cervais

Leidsestraat 39, mid 70's

The ornament as it sits in our office

Recently we accidentally stumbled on an historic, ornamental piece that caught our attention. So much so, that we had to take it 'home' and do a little investigative digging into the how and why of this particular piece of iconoclasm?

Iconoclasm (from Greek: εἰκών, eikṓn, 'figure, icon' + κλάω, kláō, 'to break'), is the social belief in the importance of the destruction of icons and other images or monuments, most frequently for religious or political reasons. []

We collected the piece from a restoration assignment at Leidsestraat 39, in the commercial heart of Amsterdam, enclosed by two canals Keizersgracht & Prinsengracht. Documents originate the building design in 1857, by the hands of Antwerp architect J. Servais. Sometime later, in October 1896, Clemens & August Brenninkmeijer — now C&A — opened their fashion shop in Coats, Suits and Fabrics at this location. After their location at the Nieuwendijk, this was the second branche of C&A ... All in all way too young to have been affected by the 'Beeldenstorm'.

The resemblance however is striking. The picture alongside, by Dutch photographer Gert Jan Kocken, shows 'Madonna with Child, Geneva; which was defaced on 9/10 August 1535.

So if not from an ideological perspective, why would anyone deface an ornament like this? The answer is showing on the other images. (long) After C&A closed shop in 1919, the buildings facade was re-clad with marble stone. To make space for this cladding, and to have room to flush with the rest of the facades surface, all protruding elements where cut from the ornaments ... including the face of the onamental piece, which is now sitting in our office.