a swifter shock of beauty... louis couperus and the art of sculpture

a swifter shock of beauty... louis couperus and the art of sculpture

20 May - 14 October 2018
The summer exhibition in the Louis Couperus Museum is focussed on the author and his interest in the art of sculpture. The title is borrowed from his book Reis-impressions (1894), an account of what Couperus saw during his first visit to Italy. 

Modern sculpture

The front room of the museum is devoted to modern images of Couperus and his wife and to sculptures after themes or characters from his books, which can be found all over The Hague. We just mention the bust of the writer himself in Surinamestraat, opposite the museum, or the statue at Lange Voorhout. Of course there is the well known sculpture of Eline Vere at Groot Hertoginnelaan, by Theo van der Nahmer. But who knows the statue of Psyche, by the same sculptor, in Voorburg? And not even the Dutch will be aware of the fact that a head of Couperus adorns the garden of the Dutch Institute in Rome (since 1974).

Statues from classical antiquity

In the back and garden rooms of the museum a number of (copies of) classical sculptures, that feature in Couperus' historical and mythological novels, are on show. Essence of this part of the exhibition is the changing attitude towards these works of art, in the course of the nineteenth century. From the fifteenth century onwards, the statues of ancient Greece were revered because of their classical beauty. Under the influence of Romanticism, however, they were more and more regarded from a psychological point of view. This trend started in literature with a novel called The Marble Faun, by the American author Nathaniel Hawthorne (1860), which features a character named Donatello, who looks just like the copy of Praxiteles' famous statue of a faun in the Capitoline Museum. The famous English novelist Ouida wrote Ariadne (1877), a story about a girl who looks like a statue of that name in the Villa Borghese Museum.

three different kinds of love

Couperus was a child of his age. He had read all the books mentioned.  He even collected copies of classical statues, albeit on a miniature scale. In his newspaper columns he analyzed certain statues from a psychological point of view. Central here is the theme of love, or rather passion, in a happy, heathen kind of way. In images of Afrodite he was looking for 'the ultimate goddess of love'. The well known Eros of Thespiae, a copy of which was always on Couperus' desk, looks 'melancholy' in his view - he wonders why? Homosexual love is the theme of Couperus' stories about the emperor Hadrian, and his adored Antinous. In Couperus' 'mythologial novels' - he maintained he had invented the genre - such as Dionyzos (1904) or Herakles (1913), he literally describes existing statues and approaches them as if they were people of flesh and blood. The exhibition shows all this and much else.


Couperus was of the firm opinion that ‘the ancients’ had a healthier, much happier attitude towards life than the early Christians did. He was sure that the latter had unnecessarily destroyed much of the innocent, pagan world of Greece and Rome. This conviction corresponds miraculously well with that of a recent publication by Catherine Nixey, The Darkening Age. The Christian Destruction of the Classical World(2017). This book draws a parallel between the massacres of early Christianity and those of the terrorist group Isis in our days. Couperus’ view is suddenly very up to date.

The exhibition was made possible by financial contributions from a sponsor who wishes to remain anonymous.



Corrado Ruffino, Louis Couperus, Via Omero, Rome (1974)

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