On Sunday February 28 there was a reception in the Morgan Library & Museum in New York to celebrate the exposition “Demons and Devotion: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves”. Several presentations provided a background to the historical book and presented the city of Nijmegen.
Thomas de Graaf, Mayor of Nijmegen, attended and he was joined by a large cast of actors who portrayed characters from the book's era. As the Roger Wieck, curator of The Morgan Library said: "The museum has never seen a more well-dressed crowd!"
Thomas de Graaf: "Nijmegen is the oldest city in the Netherlands"
After we wrote about the exhibition earlier, several of our readers stated on our Facebook page that Dordrecht and Maastricht are older than Nijmegen. We asked Mr. de Graaf about the claim that Nijmegen is the oldest city of the Netherlands.
Mr. de Graaf clearly enjoyed the subject and was quite clear: "Well, certainly not Dordrecht. They didn't get city rights until the Middle Ages. Maastricht may have a somewhat better claim, but in fact the city archeologist of Maastricht has proclaimed that indeed Nijmegen is older". An import piece of evidence is the godenpijler, a monument to Roman Emperor Tiberius which was found in Nijmegen. It dated to 8 BCE or 5 CE, and points out the importance of Nijmegen at that time.
"People from Maastricht will challenge us and ask whether Nijmegen been inhabited continuously since then. However, we have archeological proof that indeed it has been, such as cemeteries and other archeological finds."
Actors from Nijmegen
A group of 30 actors from the Netherlands was in the museum to illustrate the costumes people wore at that time. Mr. Pool, one of the actors who helped check in guests, explained that the group of actors has been performing around in Zutphen, Nijmegen and other cities in the Netherlands. In 2005 Nijmegen celebrated its 2000 years of existence.
Mr. Brown and Mr. van der Haargh are court announcers, who were enjoying their work and being in New York. "We arrived yesterday". Mr. van der Haargh explained his shoes -- they are made from leather and have sheep wool to soften them. "The more pointy your shoe's nose, the higher your status". The outside of the shoe is made of linen.
Mrs. Van Thiel, who was portraying Catherine of Cleves, was excited to be in New York City. "Tomorrow we'll do a photo shoot on Times Square, 5th Avenue etc. I've been in the costume for 10 hours already today but Tuesday we'll have some time off; I hope to be able to see Ellis Island".
Mr. de Graaf spoke about the history of the city, and its relevance today. "Founded by Romans in the year 5, the Emperor gave us city charter less than 100 years later". "Nijmegen is not only the oldest city in the Netherlands, but also the youngest and most vibrant. The Rolling Stones and Coldplay, when they come to the Netherlands they choose Nijmegen."
The U.S. 82nd Airborn Division and paratroopers liberated Nijmegen in World War II in what Mr. de Graaf called "one of the most heroic operations of the war". He also mentioned the connection with Albany, NY, which helped Nijmegen during and after the war.
Ruud Priem, Curator of Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, explained why the book of Cleves is so popular. The three main reasons are the elaborate stories in the book, the attention to detail of every day level scenes ("baby Jezus with a wooden walker") and the book's inventiveness -- it's very creative and has lovely minute details. Mr. Priem explained that the exhibition shows nearly a hundred of the 150 pages of the book; after the show the pages will be rebound.
Roger Wieck, Curator of The Morgan Library & Museum, was very excited about the exhibition. "Our collection is the finest in the country, and this is one of the collection's finest works."
The exhibition will be on display for several more weeks.
Demons and Devotion: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Morgan Library & Museum, New York, NY
January 22 through May 2, 2010