Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


M. Hengelaar - HRR and the richness of reality

The Richness of Reality and Art 

Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker

Editorial The Big Picture 3, 2022

Hans Rookmaaker, my father, was born 100 years ago. To this we owe this issue of The Big Picture devoting a good number of articles to his integrated Christian approach to art history. It needs no explanation that I am very grateful for these insightful essays written by his pupils and friends. I hope they may take away some of the sad misunderstandings about my father’s work that have arisen over the last decades. These have come about not only because my father did his work in the 1950s to 1970s, a very different time and era than our present culture, but especially because these authors failed to comprehend the importance of the neo-Calvinist tradition as the foundation of my father’s ideas. What better place to have these articles published than The Big Picture, as it is dedicated to the same.

Let me give an example. My father was an art historian, not a theologian. To call him a theologian is a telling mistake. It fits in with the recent rise of the discipline of theology and the arts. Within the Christian world it is nowadays theologians who discuss art, in my father’s time it was art historians and scholars of aesthetics. For evangelical believers theologians have made art a safe area to apply oneself to, they have, as it were, sanctified it. But my father did not need such a lion tamer, as he was rooted in a tradition that saw art and all areas of life as important in themselves as good gifts of the Creator. 

Peter S. Smith, Black Tea for HRR

Hence my father took a fundamentally positive stance towards art and culture, not a hostile one which builds a wall between Christian folk and the evil world. To reduce his ideas about modern art to hostility to culture is to make him a product of pietism, which was totally alien to him. When my father was critical of modern art – modern art being a term he used only for the dominant nihilistic subculture within twentieth-century art, as Peter Smith elucidates – his criticism sprang from a critique of Western modern culture and its severe reductionism and loss of reality and humanity. His assessments were rooted in the philosophical ideas of neo-Calvinism which were introduced by Abraham Kuyper and elaborated by Herman Dooyeweerd. To my father modern art posed not a threat to pious Christian lives, but rather made clear how Enlightenment ideas had affected and impoverished modern life. And this he lamented, while also urging believers to go and see modern art and take it seriously. Artists, Christian or not, he encouraged to make contemporary art that once again would regain the richness of reality.

Much more can and should be said. I am glad I can refer you to the articles by William Edgar, Nigel Halliday, Peter S. Smith and Rodolfo Amorim (see here), each of them discussing different aspects of my father’s work. Rodolfo tells the remarkable story of how and why my father became a voice that speaks to evangelicals in Brazil.

As usual this present issue covers a variety of topics. Besides even more articles about artists and the arts, its subjects range as wide as politics and sports. May they serve as a source of inspiration and illumination.


Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker is chief editor of ArtWay ( ), a website about the visual arts and faith. She edited the Complete Works of her father, Hans Rookmaaker; has contributed to many books and has written articles about classical and popular music, liturgy, and the visual arts.