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P.J.H. Cuypers

16-05-1827 - 03-03-1921

Petrus (Pierre) J.H. Cuypers (1827-1921) is one of the most celebrated Dutch architects of the nineteenth century. He is the architect of Centraal Station and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and was also responsible for extensively renovating castle De Haar in Haarzuilens. His oeuvre is one of the most prolific and comprehensive of the nineteenth century in the Netherlands.

In 1850, after completing his training at the Academie van Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, Cuypers establishes a practice as an independent architect in Roermond, where he was born and raised. During the years 1850-1865, Cuypers builds a large number of churches throughout the Netherlands, inspired by the neo-Gothic style, a position that is reinforced when he opens a workshop for ‘ecclesiastical arts’ in Roermond in 1852.

Sculptures and furniture comprise the workshop’s chief output; objects are inevitably executed in the new neo-Gothic style, mainly for Catholic churches in the southern part of the country. The ecclesiastic architecture of Cuyper’s first period reveal influences from early, principally thirteenth century, French gothic architecture and the gothic style of the Rhineland. Cuypers is also a passionate restorer who does not shy away from correcting and idealising historical structures. During the first decade of his career, he conducts a series of consecutive restoration projects including the Munster in Roermond, the abbey in Rolduc and the Sint-Servaas church in Maastricht.

Even during his lifetime, the work of P.J.H. Cuypers receives very different responses, ranging from passionate support to vehement criticism. The Amsterdam man of letters Joseph Alberdingk Thijm, a contemporary and fervent proponent of the Catholic faith, is an avid supporter of the neo-Gothic style, and writes articles painting an idealised portrait of the architect. At the same time, publicity skirmishes about ‘Catholic’ neo-Gothic designs begin to erupt, leaving Cuypers and Thijm with lifelong enemies. Cuypers’ work and his contribution to architecture remain sharply divided even after his death.

Nineteenth-century architecture and restoration continue to be underrated until the 1970s and 1980s when they begin to enjoy a resurgence of interest. Suddenly, Cuypers’ career is deemed a revolutionary development in architectural thinking. Despite his predilection for historic styles, critics applaud Cuypers’ reinstatement of medieval construction techniques, claiming that their rediscovery held the seeds of innovation that would reach fruition in the work of Berlage. But in spite of this theoretical re-evaluation, numerous buildings by Cuypers continued to be demolished until the 1990s, including the interior of the Sint-Servaas church between 1981 and 1992 and several churches in Amsterdam in the 1970s.

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