The Portraits of Menno Simons
by Irvin B. Horst.
Translated from Dutch into English by Jo and Herman Tann
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Eighty years ago G.J. Boekenoogen
of the Netherlands, identified 63 known portraits of Menno Simons.
Two of them had been, according to him, incorrectly identified
as portraits of Menno. Later research reveals that his own no.
1 portrait, a rendition from the 16th century hanging in the
Mennonite Church in Utrecht, is not a picture of Menno either
[see Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 6 (1980) 206]. Nevertheless, Boekenoogens
list of the 60 remaining portraits still gives an almost complete
survey of all the portraits from that period till 1917--about
After 1916, artists and sponsors,
especially in the United States and Canada, were inspired anew
by Menno Simons. A total count of the portraits of Menno from
the beginning to the present would probably number 100.
1. Tom (Oliver Wendel)
Shenk. Oil painting, 1975. Commissioned by Myron S. Augsburger
for Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, VA, where the
picture is now hanging. This portrait is strongly influenced
by that of Jacobus Burghart (No.
More important than the number
is the question about the interest in the subject. Doubtless,
most of the portraits were commissioned. It is probable that
Jan Luyken was asked to make a
full-page portrait for the 1681 edition of the Opera Omnia Theologica,
containing theological works of Menno Simons. Another portrait,
the woodcut of Warren Rohrer, was
commissioned for the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Mennos
death in 1961.
it is also clear that the artists took personal interest in their projects.
Mennos facial features on the portrait
by Jan Luyken show the influence of the
work of Jan van de Velde, although the central placement of the
Bible in Luykens portrait is his own personal inspiration. Warren
Rohrer called the portrait he made a "personal statement--a
symbol of Menno Simons contribution rather than a literal photograph
or picture." 4
2. Anonymous (Reinier
Vinkeles?). Engraving circa 1800, influenced by Van Sichem.
The portraits, we can assume,
have symbolic meaning. But symbolic of what? To be able to answer
this question, we have to go back to the personal vision of the
author or to the impressions of the viewer. We can say that Luyken has pictured Menno as a powerful
preacher whose heart was influenced by the biblical message.
Jacobus Burghart, whose 1683 engraving
has been copied many times, shows Menno as a pietist. Artists
render a depiction of the spiritual climate of their time. It
is therefore no wonder that Arend Hendriks
emphasized the psychological side of Menno. In 1961 Warren Rohrer
utilized an expressionistic interpretation. This
portrait, more than any other one, is found in contemporary
important than the quantity of portraits, is the artistic quality.
It is somewhat ironic to speak about this in connection with
the portraits of a leader of persecuted disciples of Christ who
were called "Anabaptists." The portraits, however,
are from a later period when Mennos followers had already
adjusted themselves to the world. They no longer disapproved
of the prevailing culture or of wealth. Boekenoogen pointed out
that most of the portraits were created by experienced artists.
Christoffel van Sichem, who
made the oldest known portrait, about 1610, was a well-known
and capable portraitist. He was Roman Catholic, which is probably
why he made a ridiculous presentation of Menno. Jan
van de Velde, Jan Luyken and
Romeyn de Hooghe all mastered the
art of etching on a copper plate. Jacobus
Burghart is rather unknown, but his portrait is the best
from an artistic viewpoint. The decorations along the borders
make Menno appear to be a nobleman or German priest. In general,
the portraits are highly subjective interpretations of Menno.
Some are even romantic. The portrait
by Arend Hendriks is on the one hand very cleverly made,
but on the other hand may be a too-worldly interpretation. It
reveals clearly the emptiness of certain aspects of the 19th
century. It was the beginning of a new understanding of Menno.
3. Rev. G.J.W. den
Herder. Linoleum cut, circa 1934. This portrait was sold to raise
money to help the members of the Bruderhof to escape Nazi Germany
through the Netherlands to England. Based on the engraving of
On the contrary, the
1975 portrait by Tom Shenk represents a return to the old
Burghart tradition. We are still
waiting for a portrait where Menno is presented above all as
a dynamic leader of the Mennonite Brotherhood, who did not want
to be a ruler, but a servant. All of the portraits numbered 1-20
were identified by Boekenoogen, except for numbers 3 and 4. These
two, in addition to numbers 21-24, were created after Boekenoogens
article was published in 1916. The most recent interpretation
reviewed in this article is Tom Shenks 1975 oil painting.
[End of text. More photos follow]
4. Jan van de Velde.
Engraving, c. 1630. Until now known as the second oldest portrait.
5. Meinte Walta. Poster,
1961. Made for a 1961 exhibition in Witmarsum commemorating the
400th anniversary of Mennos death. Based on the engraving
of Van Sichem.
Jan Luyken. Etching 1681. This
portrait appears in the collected works of Menno Simons, Opera Omnia
Theologica (Amsterdam, 1681). Luyken is further known through his 104
etches in the second printing of the Martyrs Mirror (Ams6terdam,
7. Warren Rohrer. Woodcut,
1961. Commissioned by Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg,
VA. The work of Rohrer is to be found in important American museums,
including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the
Philadelphia Museum of Art. He graduated from EMC, and in 1984
was chosen as "alumnus of the year."
8. Clement Nachtegaal.
Engraving, c. 1730. Also influenced by Burghart.
Instead of the usual representation, signed with K.T., we have
here a portrait which is signed with M.D.
9. Christoffel van Sichem.
Engraving circa 1608. This is considered to be the oldest portrait
of Menno Simons, who died in 1561. Van Sichem was Roman Catholic;
some people see in the brim of the hat the ears of a donkey,
meant to ridicule Menno and his followers. This engraving appeared
separately on a small folio page and later in Het Toneel der
Hooft-Ketteren (Middleburg, 1677).
10. Jan van de Velde. Engraving before 1636. This a completely
new portrait, based on the earlier representation.
11. Jan van de Velde. Engraving.
Published by Corn. Koning in Haarlem. This is probably a new portrait,
because Menno is wearing a skull-cap that shows his ears and a little
bit of a hair lock on his forehead. His date of death is added on the
bottom right-hand side.
12. Jacobus Burghart.
Engraving, 1683. This portrait appeared two years after the etching
of Jan Luyken. It has served as
an example for several later portraits of Menno. It is noteworthy
enough to be the only portrait signed by Burghart. It was later
reproduced by the Mennonite Church in Hamburg, where the original
was probably created. Even though a similarity exists between
the portraits of Luyken and Burghart, the differences, above
all when comparing the beards, show that Burghart probably was
not familiar with the earlier portraits.
13. Anonymous. This
engraving appeared in Alte und Neue Schwarm-Geister-Bruth (Frankfurt
14. Josef Keller. Engraving,
c. 1830. This portrait shows features of Van
de Veldes work and of No. 13.
15. Jan Casper Philips.
Engraving, 1743. Based on the portrait of Jan
van de Velde.
16. L.E.F. Garreau.
Engraving, 1788. Influenced by Burghart.
17. Jacobus Buys, designer;
Reinier Vinkeles, engraver, 1792. Influenced by the portrait
by Jan Luyken.
18. Reinier Vinkeles.
Engraving, circa 1800. Also influenced by Burghart.
19. C. Hotze. Litho,
c. 1856. Influenced by Burghart.
20. Romeyn de Hooghe.
Etching, 1701. Found in the Dutch translation of the German,
Gottfried Arnolds, Historie der Kerken en Ketteren (Amsterdam,
1701). This portrait is a free imitation of the portrait by Josef Keller (No. 14).
21. Johannes Philippus
Lange. Engraving, 1837. Influenced by Burghart.
Published in A.M. Cramer, The Life and the Accomplishments of
Menno Simons (Amsterdam, 1837).
22. Alexander Harder. Oil painting, 1935. Harder, born in Russia
in 1901, was a German Mennonite. In his portrait are recurring
artistic themes of Jan Luyken (No.
6). and Jacobus Burghart (12).
The picture is hanging in the Mennonite Historical Library and
Archives, North Newton, Kansas.
23. Dirk Sluyter according
to H. Thepass. Engraving, c. 1828. This picture of the interior
of the so-called Menno Simons little church in Witmarsum,
shows a reproduction of a picture by Willem Bartel van der Kooi
that is now hanging in the new church building of the Doopsgezinde
(Mennonite) Congregation in Witmarsum. The Menno Simons little
church stood on the place where the Menno Simons monument is
now standing. According to tradition, Menno met his followers
on the farm that was located at this place,. At the bottom left
of the engraving is the exterior of the Menno Simons littler
church, and at the bottom right is a portrait of Menno. The four-line
stanza that was originally seen on a stone in the front wall
of the Menno Simons little church is now standing at the entrance
to the Menno Simons monument.
24. Arend Hendriks.
Engraving, 1948. Hendriks was commissioned to give a psychological
interpretation in which other portraits were to be worked in.
This portrait has been imitated numerous times in North America.
This article was originally
published in Doopsgezinde Bijdragen, LIII (1916) 3-106.
It was translated by Jo and Herman Tann (1996) by permission
of the author, and edited by Leonard Gross and the editor, John
E. Sharp. FOR PERMISSION TO USE PHOTOS CONTACT JOHN