Brass of the Month

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Page last updated 05 January 2016

January 2016 -  Gijsbert Willemszoen, 1511, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands


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This month’s brass relates to Gijsbert Willemszoen de Raet who died in 1511. ( Amsterdam Rijksmuseum HKC1)

    In Vol X Part VI (published 1970) of the MBS Transactions on pp. 445-446 is an account of the brass by Messrs Belonje & Greenhill. It was originally in the Jeruzalemkapel in Gouda, Zuid Holland, in the street immediately east of the impressive Sint Janskerk. On the page facing p. 445 is an illustration of the brass, at Fig. 1. It comprises a central plate with an inverted triangle superimposed on a trilobe with an angel as a central figure grasping two shields representing Gijsbert’s life as a priest at Sint Janskerk and his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The central plate has a border inscription based on a Vulgate version of the text of Job  XVII vv. 12-13 . There are also the four evangelical symbols within quadrilobes, which would have occupied the corners of the Tournai marble slab. The detail of the Latin text on the brass and slab, as well as the heraldry is set out by the authors.  What follows below is a more detailed account of the commemorated, the place of burial, and an updated whereabouts of the slab.

    Gijsbert founded the Jeruzalemkapel , which was constructed between 1497 and 1504, when it was consecrated, to mark his safe return from his pilgrimage which took place between 1478-1487. He was a wealthy man with known assets in Gouda and the surrounding district. Whilst a burial site was reserved for him in Sint Janskerk, where he was a priest of St Andrew’s altar, he chose burial in the Jeruzalemkapel and was laid to rest there following his death on 27th May 1511. After his death the chapel was transferred to the Collatiebroeders with whom Gijsbert had an agreement dating from 1497 to say weekly prayers for his departed soul.

    The brass is now in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam having been there since its foundation in the late 19th C. How it ended up there is unclear. Its provenance is unknown although the unusual combination of inverted triangle and trilobe on a central plate, rather than a quadrilobe, does feature on one of a recognised series of brasses in St Elisabethkirche in Marburg - Hessen in Germany.

    A composite and excellent replica of the brass with its central plate and evangelical symbols, together with the surviving part of the slab with its marginal inscription is to be found in Sint Janskerk on the south wall of the south aisle towards its western end.

    What remains of the slab (about three- quarters of it) was until recently located on the floor of the hallway of the adjacent Gouda Museum, and is referred to as being in that location in another article by Greenhill in Transactions Vol IX on p.455. This slab has now been reinstated in its original location –see below.

    The design of the Jeruzalemkapel includes a principal chapel in the form of a regular dodecagon (12-sides of equal length and angles) and is based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It was the subject of a Gothic Revival restoration in 1860, but  recently, has been the subject of an extensive reconstruction and restoration project from 2004-2007, which featured in an exhibition on site. This detailed the associated excavations within the adjoining building which now occupies the site of the original rectangular side chapel. This building which fronted Jeruzalemstraat, was reconstructed as a schoolmaster’s house in 1780. I was able to obtain permission to access these buildings which are not open to the general public, and also see the exhibition material which was stored there at the time of my visit in 2012.

   The schoolmaster’s house is now converted to offices. The surviving part of the slab with the indents of the central plate and the upper two evangelical symbols has been moved from the Museum and is now set in the floor of one of the offices in its original location, reunited with Gijsbert’s grave which was discovered during the excavation.  There is a glass plate with under-floor illumination where the missing part of the slab was, enabling a view into the grave.

    A pit dug alongside the grave with skeletal remains within it was also found during the excavation. It appears to the archaeologists who worked on the project that around 1780 - about the time of construction of the schoolmaster’s house – some of Gijsbert’s skeleton was exhumed and placed in this pit.  

    Sint Janskerk is very impressive; a Gothic church 123 metres long and which contains the finest collection of medieval stained glass windows in the Netherlands. These date from 1555-71 and are on the UNESCO list of Dutch monuments. There are numerous black marble floor slabs, some with achievements of arms in low relief, others with merchants’ marks etc.


I wish to record my thanks to the Verger of Sint Janskerk, Maurits Tompot and his colleagues for the permission granted for various rubbings in St Jan and their help during my stay as well as arranging access to the Jeruzalemkapel and the adjoining buildings.

© Article & Photos   Kevin Herring