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Hello darkness, my old friend

Seventy works on paper from the collection of Leiden University Libraries confront you with the dark side of European art history. From Leonardo da Vinci's character studies and the prints of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, to Natasja Kensmil's charcoal portraits: they all reveal our fascination with the macabre.

The exhibition consists of seven themes and shows that certain beliefs and fears are timeless. The theme 'Death comes for everyone' is about the inevitable end of man and the prominent role this phenomenon plays in art history. So-called Dances of Death, representations of skeletal figures that take people into a dance of death, come masterfully to life in the woodcuts by Hans Holbein II (1497-1543). Characteristic of the depiction of this subject is that death makes no distinction between who it comes for: poor, rich, pious or sinner.

The end of times

Biblical images of the Last Judgment, the Apocalypse and hell appear in the theme 'The End of Times'. These works played a crucial role in spreading and strengthening the Christian faith, especially at a time when many people could not yet read. With 'Devils and Monsters', the visitor sees Satan in all kinds of guises in prints by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and David Humbert de Superville (1770-1849), among others. Animal with horns or seductive and mysterious: they are all the embodiment of evil.

Surreal and supernatural

The theme 'Nightmares and visions' features dreamlike and surreal representations of the subconscious, from a battle between a drinking jug on legs and a headless man on a barrel in the water, to terrible plagues and monstrous apparitions. The visitor discovers in 'Magical Creatures and Witchcraft' that artists were inspired by the collective fear and fascination for the supernatural. Brooms, gruesome concoctions and other mystical rituals appear in the prints of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525-1569) and Hans Baldung Grien (ca. 1484-1545), among others.

Humorous elements

Despite the dark undertones, many of the works also contain humorous elements, which makes for an interesting paradox. 'Everyday life at its strangest' gives a platform to quacks, satirical prints and – sometimes comic – legends. Finally, the works within the theme 'Allegorical madness' seem at first glance to be mainly bizarre scenes, but if you look more closely, you can learn important lessons from them. For example, a picture of sheep confessing to a wolf can be seen as an indictment of church power, and fighting money bags and chests symbolize the hypocrisy of war. In the interplay of shadow, light, humor and seriousness, the visitor experiences the nuances of human existence.

Leiden University Libraries

The exhibition is created in close collaboration with the Leiden University Libraries (UBL). The UBL manages special collections of national and international importance, including manuscripts, drawings, books, archives, photographs, prints, maps and letters from all over the world. The collections are actively supplemented and made available for education, research and the interested public.

All dates

15 Jun - 22 Sept
Kunsthal Rotterdam

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Dark art at the Kunsthal

Ominous witches, creepy monsters and hideous monstrosities: Kunsthal Rotterdam highlights the dark side of the human imagination from Saturday 15 June in the exhibition Hello darkness, my old friend. Seventy works on paper from the collection of Leiden University Libraries confront visitors with...

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Dark art at the Kunsthal

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