One of the dominating features of the Dutch city of Arnhem, situated along the river Rhine, is the monumental church of St Eusebius (Eusebiuskerk, fig. 1). Following a local outbreak of iconoclasm in 1578-79, it became a protestant church and is now also known as the Grote Kerk. The building was largely destroyed during World War II, but reconstructed afterwards. Tomb monuments that survived the destruction were reinstalled in the church after the war and later inventoried for the online database of the MeMO (Medieval Memoria Online) project at https://memo.sites.uu.nl/. They include many floor slabs but also the tomb and wall memorial to Charles of Egmond, Duke of Guelders (d. 1538, MeMO Id 2262 and 489).
Another surviving monument in the church is the renaissance-style memorial to Joost Sasbout (1487-1546) and his wife Catharina van der Meer (d. 1560, MeMO Id 570), situated on a wall in the north ambulatory of the choir (fig. 2). It is made of Avesnes stone, a type of freestone quarried near the French town of Avesnes-le-Sec, close to Valenciennes near the Belgian border. The use of this type of stone is significant as it would have been far easier to use Baumberg stone from Germany for a monument in the Arnhem area, especially as this type of fine-grained limestone also lends itself well for delicate carving. The use of Avesnes stone is one of the reasons to ascribe this monument to the sculptor Colijn de Nole (d. c.1555-58), who was born to a family of stonemasons in Cambrai, a city just 12 km from Avesnes-le-Sec.
Around 1530 De Nole established himself in the Dutch city of Utrecht, bringing with him his expertise in carving Avesnes stone. He used this, for example, for a monumental fireplace in the townhall in Kampen that can be securely attributed to him. The same stone was also used for the double-decker tomb to Reinoud III van Brederode (d. 1556) and Philippote van der Marck (d. 1537) in Vianen that is also attributed to him for that reason (fig. 3, see CMS Monument of the Month, June 2012, https://churchmonumentssociety.org/monument-of-the-month/the-double-tomb-monument-to-reinoud-iii-van-brederode-d-1556-and-philippote-van-der-marck-d-1537-in-vianen-netherlands).
Towards the top of the memorial to Joost Sasbout and Catharina van der Meer in Arnhem is a niche framed by a type of triumphal arch, which features three hovering cherubs with a book that is evidently the Bible. This is a reference to the lost religious scene that originally occupied the now empty central part of the monument: the Nativity. Lost are also the carved acanthus leaves on the sides that linked the upper and central registers of the monument: these were still recorded in a detailed drawing of c.1883 by Henri Leeuw Jr (fig. 4).
The central register comprises a wide shallow niche framed by sculpted motifs that are typical for the mid sixteenth century: acanthus leaves, scrollwork, fruit baskets, herms, satyrs, masks, lions’ and angels’ heads, and putti. A description in El felicísimo viaje del muy alto y muy poderoso principe Don Felipe by the Spanish humanist Calvete de Estrella (1520?-1593) confirms the former existence of a Nativity relief in this part of the monument. De Estrella accompanied Emperor Charles V and his son (the later King Philip II of Spain) on their tour of the Low Countries in 1549, which included a visit to the church in Arnhem on 15 October 1549. After the Alteration this central relief was replaced by biblical texts, such as 1 Cor 15:17: ‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.’. After all, the word was central to the Protestant faith, whereas the veneration of images and saints was considered idolatry.
The two inscriptions directly beneath the central compartment have been sculpted as if written on sheets of parchment. The text on the left is an epitaph to the husband and that on the right to his wife. In Gothic textualis they read:
Hier leyt begraven Joes Sasbout, Cantzler des Furstendoms Gelre en Graefschaps Zutphen ende starf den XIIIIen november anno XVc XLVI. (Here lies buried Joost Sasbout, chancellor of the principality of Guelders and the county of Zutphen and died on 14 November in the year 1546.)
Anno XVc LX, den VIII november starf Joncvrou Catarina van der Meer, zijn huysvrou, ende leyt begraven in den Hage in Hollant. (In the year 1560 on 8 November died lady Catharina van der Meer his wife and lies buried in The Hague in Holland.)
The inscription for Catharina must have been added to the sculpture later.
Joost Sasbout was a lawyer from Delft, who in 1543 was transferred from Holland to Guelders when that duchy fell to Charles V. As its new chancellor Sasbout was given the task of setting up the newly established court of law in Arnhem. After his death in 1546 his widow returned to Holland where she died fourteen years later. Whereas her husband was buried in a vault in the north ambulatory of the church in Arnhem, Catherine was buried – according to the inscription – in The Hague.
Beneath the epitaphs are the sculpted figures of a newly deceased woman and a corrupting cadaver, lying side by side on a reed mattress and covered by shrouds. This combination is iconographically unusual. The closest comparison is the above-mentioned double-decker monument to Reinoud III van Brederode and Philippote van der Marck in Vianen (fig. 3), which shows the newly deceased couple in their shrouds in the upper tier, above a single sculpted cadaver or transi in the lower tier. This strengthens the attribution of both monuments to the same sculptor.
On the memorial in Arnhem the recumbent figures are flanked by a mourning putto leaning on a book. The left-hand putto is shown extinguishing an upside-down torch, symbol of life: the accompanying motto is ‘Homo bulla’ (man is but a bubble). The putto on the right holds a burning torch aloft with the motto ‘Caro fenum’ (all flesh is grass). As vanitas symbols they visualise the transitoriness of earthly life. Both are flanked in turn by niches containing pleurants (mourning figures).
Twp bearded figures beneath the two corpses support a plague with a Neo-Latin inscription in distichs (two-line stanzas) in the tradition of the classical elegy or lament for the death of a loved one. Written in Roman capitals it reads:
Siste gradum. Quod es, ipse fui; fortassis eris cras, / quod sum: cadaver putridum. / Olim Iodocus eram Sasbout; me misit in auras / Delft clara pars Bataviae. / Ter denis patriae causas decidimus annis, / pars consili haud ingloria. / Deinde et pacatis praeses ius Caesare Gelris / dixi iubente Carolo. / Quid tituli, quid opes, quid nunc prudentia prodest?/ Mors summa miscet infimis. / Sola manet virtus homini post funera; solam / dum vivis hanc ama. Vale. – Vivus sibi scripsit. Vixit annos LIX menses VIII dies X.
(Stand still. What you are, I have been myself; maybe tomorrow you will be what I am: a rotten corpse. Once I was Joost Sasbout; I have seen the light of day in Delft, famous part of Batavia. For thirty years I have taken decisions in matters of the fatherland as a glorious part of the court. Then, when Gelderland had been pacified, I have administered justice as president by command of Emperor Charles. But how do titles, treasures or wisdom help me now? Death equates high and low. Only virtue stays for man after death; only this you should nourish while you live. Goodbye. – During his life he has written this for himself. He has lived 59 years, 8 months and 10 days.)
The meaning of these verses is clear. Their emphasis on patriotism, devotion and virtue serves as a model for the living (exemplum virtutis). The last part of the inscription explicitly mentions that Sasbout had composed the Neo-Latin verses himself, thereby presenting himself as a scholar and a humanist. Humanist texts were not unusual in the Netherlands by the mid sixteenth century: we find them especially on floor slabs in the northern province of Friesland.
Evidence shows that the memorial was designed and executed as an carefully considered ensemble, but some questions remain. These are due in part to the unusual iconography of the juxtaposed transi and the newly deceased wife on their reed mat. Was this meant to look forward to the time of Catharina’s death, fourteen years after that of her husband? If so, it is surely remarkable that the designer or sculptor anticipated this difference between the spouses immediately after Sasbout’s death in 1546. Yet perhaps we should regard the iconography as more symbolic: Death (Thanatos) alongside Sleep (Hypnos), as we find in classical mythology? Perhaps the dead woman, seemingly asleep, looks forward to the resurrection on Judgement Day? Such a symbolic interpretation comes closer to De Estrella’s account in 1549: he described the cadaver as ‘la muerte’ (Death) and the dead woman as ‘la Vida, en hábito de doncella’ (Life, in the guise of a young woman).
- Fig. 1. Drawing of the St Eusebius’s Church, seen from the south-east and with a market in front, by Alexander Oltmans Jr, 1834. © Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands), document number AO-019.
- Fig. 2. The sculpted wall memorial to Joost Sasbout and Catharina van der Meer, probably by Colijn de Nole, church of St Eusebius Arnhem, 1546-49, Avesnes stone. © Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE, Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands).
- Fig. 3. Tomb monument to Reinoud III van Brederode and Philippote van der Marck, attributed to Colijn de Nole, in the Grote Kerk, Vianen, 1540-42. Photo: Trudi Brink (2010).
- Fig. 4. Drawing of c.1883 by Henri Leeuw Jr of the memorial to Joost Sasbout and Catharina van der Meer, from Franz Ewerbeck, Die Renaissance in Belgien und Holland (Leipzig, 1883-89).
- Fig. 5. The recumbent figures on their reed mattress, detail of the sculpted wall memorial to Joost Sasbout and Catharina van der Meer. Photo: Trudi Brink (2010).