The renovation of the building of the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij in Amsterdam (1919), carried out to accommodate the Amsterdam Municipal Archive, has stimulated a heated discussion between experts on western esotericism, art history, conservation and cultural heritage. The building was designed by the renowned Dutch architect K.P.C. de Bazel, who was a member of theosophical and masonic organizations. The architectural design, as well as the use of specific materials and decoration, encompasses a rich theosophical symbolism. Should this original symbolism be kept intact or be allowed to be radically altered to suit the needs of the Amsterdam Municipal Archive? The case has highlighted a problem area in current art and heritage policies, that will be addressed at the conference for the first time in an international context.
While it is widely accepted that world religions such as christianity, islam, judaism and hinduism have profoundly influenced art and architecture, it has not been acknowledged that western esoteric currents (such as freemasonry and theosophy) have influenced many celebrated artists and architects in the same way. The traditional approach to western art is based on christian iconography, which does not reflect the much wider range of cultural and religious currents that have shaped western society and art. As a result of this oversight, surviving examples of the material culture of western esoteric currents are not recognized as an integral part of our collective cultural heritage and are insufficiently documented, studied and preserved.
The conference will offer participants an introduction into the rich material culture of western esoteric currents, including 18th-20th century architecture, lodge and temple interiors, ritual and decorative objects, works of art, prints, books, archival and photographic materials.
The study of western esoteric currents and the study of freemasonry have developed into new academic disciplines with chairs at universities in Paris, Sheffield, Amsterdam and Leiden. Recent research has offered important new insights into the influence of these currents on western society, literature and art since the renaissance. These insights have stimulated the call for a change in current art and heritage policies.
Most art historians, conservation specialists and cultural policy makers are unfamiliar with western esotericism, and subsequently are unable to recognize alchemical, rosicrucian, masonic, theosophical, anthroposophical or other esoteric symbolism in a work of art or an architectural design. This can adversely effect art historical interpretations, decisions made during a restoration process, and the outcome of applications for alterations to protected buildings. The renovation of the building of the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij has illustrated the importance of interdisciplinary cooperation between experts in the field of art history, conservation and western esotericism.
The conference will bring these experts together for the first time. Scholars and PhD-students in various academic disciplines will address the relevance of esoteric symbolism to art and the problems affecting esoteric heritage, in order to create an international and interdisciplinary dialogue, facilitate solutions and stimulate research and education. This event will be an eye-opener for anyone interested in art, cultural heritage or western esotericism.
The conference will take place 20-21 October 2005, in the Auditorium of the Royal Library, Den Haag (The Netherlands).
The conference is organized by:
- the OVN, an independent Dutch Foundation for the Advancement of Academic Research into the History of Freemasonry in the Netherlands, in cooperation with:
- the Sub Dept. History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents (University of Amsterdam),
- the Chair for Cultural Heritage, Conservation and Restoration (University of Amsterdam),
- the OSK, the Dutch Postgraduate School for Art History (Onderzoeksschool Kunstgeschiedenis).
For a preliminary program and registration form please contact the OVN.
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