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Rookmaaker, H. R. (Hendrik Roelof) (1922-1977) | Archival Collections at Wheaton College

Name: Rookmaaker, H. R. (Hendrik Roelof) (1922-1977)


Historical Note:

Henderik “Hans” Roelof Rookmaaker, art historian, professor, author and lecturer, was born February 27th, 1922, in The Hague, Netherlands, third child of Theodora Catherine and Henderik. Hans, son of the Dutch resident (governor), spent his early years living in the Netherlands and Sumatra (Indonesia).

Quite happily spoiled by his mother, he was inquisitive and stubborn; lifelong characteristics. While in Sumatra, for fun, the Rookmaaker children joined their father on dangerous hunting excursions, shooting deer, boars, snakes and tigers. Henderik also captured Komodo dragons, sending them to zoos in London, Berlin and Amsterdam.

In 1933, Henderik retired, and the family returned to the Netherlands, settling in Den Haag. While Hans prepared for High School, political stirrings from Germany reached the Netherlands. A party dedicated to race purification was forming: the Nazis. Few noticed or cared as German nationalism loudly increased and civil liberties quietly decreased.

As the Dutch Nazi Party organized, teenaged Hans pursued other inclinations, developing an abiding passion for jazz, spending his pocket money on albums and phonograph needles, playing the music until the records – and his friends – wore out. Favorites included Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday. At school, Reformed in doctrine, Rookmaaker detected a marked difference in the Christian students who exhibited genuine faith as opposed to those who blandly professed. “I’d like to be like them,” he told his sisters.

After high school he proceeded to Den Helder Marine Officer’s School, training for leadership. On May 10th, 1940, the Third Reich, its dark ambitions at last erupting, invaded the Netherlands, cutting short his education. On May 14th, German bombers blitzed Rotterdam, reducing homes, churches and shops to piles of rubble.

The Occupation tightened; to counter its hold, Hans associated himself with the Underground Press, courageously accepting their request to distribute anti-Nazi leaflets. He was arrested after his first night. In jail, the only book allowed was the Bible. Already intrigued about Christianity, he read carefully for three months; so began his gradual conversion.

Henderik, consulting his political connections, managed his son’s release. But he would not long remain free. In 1943 thousands of Dutch reservists, including Hans, were “officially” enlisted for service at a collecting center where they were herded into trains and transported to concentration camps, a horrifically successful Nazi ploy. Isolated in Stanislau POW camp, his faith received further nourishment when Captain J.P.A. Mekkes, a fellow inmate, recommended A New Critique of Theoretical Thought by Herman Dooyeweerd. Studying intensely, Hans discovered in Dooyeweerd a perceptive, challenging mind.

In 1945, the Russians liberated the camp, and he was free to return home. Secure in Christ, he determined to pursue art history from a Reformed perspective, examining precisely how an artist’s personal beliefs illuminated the creative vision. Consequently he moved to Amsterdam and studied art history, integrating philosophy with Christian doctrine.

A few years later, Hans married an old friend, Anna Marie “Anky” Huiter. Supporting his family as he researched his doctoral thesis, he wrote art criticism for Trouw, the Dutch national paper, and taught history at Leiden High School (1952-58).

He received his degree in 1959, publishing his thesis as Synthetist Art Theories: Genesis and Nature of the Ideas on Art of Gauguin and His Circle. From 1958-65 he was Assistant Professor of History of Art at the University of Leiden. In 1965, he accepted the Art History chair at Vrje (Free) University, a position he occupied until his untimely death in 1977.

In 1948, Hans encountered another significant influence, Francis Schaeffer, an American Presbyterian pastor ministering to postwar Europeans in Switzerland. Jazz fans, they easily bonded. Hans, sympathetic to Schaeffer’s mission, became a member of L’Abri (“the shelter”), eventually hosting gatherings in his home. “Spiritually and intellectually they were in essential agreement,” observes biographer Laurel Gasque, “yet there was a space…in their relationship that allowed for differences and breathed vitality for hundreds, and probably thousands, of young people seeking renewed direction for their lives.”

Professor Hans Rookmaaker authored many books pertaining to art theory, art history and music. Lecturing throughout the 1960s and ‘70s on college campuses, universities and conferences in the U.S. and U.K., he endeared himself to a generation of questioning students. “We loved him,” recalls actor Nigel Goodwin, founder and international director of the Genesis Arts Trust. Touring widely, Hans met influential artists, including gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, whose music was performed at his funeral.

In his groundbreaking work, Modern Art and the Death of A Culture (1970), he offers pointed perspectives on the countercultural turmoil of the 1960s as reflected in its art. He examines histories, themes and reactions in classic and contemporary creative endeavor; and urgently calls Christian artists to bold commitment in executing their unique roles as prophets and messengers. “Far from retreating into a kind of Christian subculture,” he writes in The Creative Gift (1981), “leaving the world to its evil, Christians not only can, but must take part in the world’s activity.”

His platform style was engaging, robust, often stinging. “All truth is relative,” he would announce, shocking his listeners, calmly adding, “to Jesus Christ.” He was impatient with naïve questions or lazy, unfocused thinking. Church audiences who blithely dismissed modern art received a not-so-gentle chide: “How can you say that modern art is ugly when you worship the Lord in a building painted like this?”

In talks and writing, Hans Rookmaaker sought to address the disastrous severance of truth and beauty from divine revelation. He argued that there is no true beauty divorced from truth, love and freedom, either in art or life. “We are Christians whether we sleep, eat or work hard,” he writes in Art Needs No Justification (1978), “whatever we do, we do it as God’s children.”

Note Author: Wheaton College Archives & Special Collection staff






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