An ode to Pierre Cuypers

Who was Pierre Cuypers?

The name Pierre Cuypers doesn't usually ring a bell with most people. But this man almost single-handedly changed the horizon of a lot of villages and cities during the 19th century. His structures are spread around the Netherlands but his most well-known constructions are located in Amsterdam: The Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam Central Station. His son and grandson, Joseph Cuypers and Pierre Cuypers Jr. succeeded him.


Name: Petrus Josephus Hubertus Cuypers
Place of birth: Roermond
Date of birth: 16th of may 1827
Date of death: 3rd of march 1921

Pierre Cuypers' carreer

Pierre Cuypers comes from an artistic family. After his study in Roermond he takes to the prestigious Artacademy in Antwerp. His father, church painter by profession is his big example. His examination assignment, the design of a neogothic church, is no coincidence. After his education, which he completes with an Prix d'Excellence, he opens up a workshop for church art and furniture. In this workshop, nowadays The Cuypershuis is located, a museum about architecture and the life of Pierre Cuypers.

Precursor of neogothic architecture in the Netherlands

Nowadays, the gothic church is the most common church for the Catholic church. For years gothic decorations had been used, but the churches itself weren't gothic. With Pierre Cuypers, that changed. He was the first Dutch architect that studies the constructional characteristics of gothic architecture and put them in practice. Because Pierre Cuypers understood all technical aspects of gothic architecture and was able to built gothic churches, he was able to deliver a all-in church, from construction to decoration and furniture.
It was an article by Dutch journalist Joseph Alberdingk Thijm in the 50's of the 19th century that made Pierre Cuypers a populair church architect, not just in the southern part of the Netherlands, but in the northern provinces as well. The first church he applied gothic architecture on a large scale was the Grote Sint Petrus church in Sittard in 1861. This wasn't his first church. By 1861 he allready built 23 churches. In the carreer that followed he started construction or constructed at least one or two churches per year.

Cuypers and the Basilica

Being one of the greatest church architects of his time, it wasn't a surprise that Willem Hellemons asked him to build a new parish church in Oudenbosch. It may have surprised Pierre Cuypers that it wouldn't be a neogothic church but instead an neoclassicistic church, a scaled copy of St. Peters Basilica in Rome.

Cuypers did try to change Willem Hellemons' mind by drawing several neogothical designs but Hellemons was clear. He wanted a scaled St. Peter. It needed to be a neoclassicistic masterpiece.

While preparations were set in motion for the construction of a new church, Cuypers travels to Rome. You can't just rebuild a church from scratch, he took his time to study the Basilica and draw it to scale. After returning to the Netherlands the construction starts quickly, it needs to start quickly because building would take from 1865 to 1880 for the churches nave to be complete. From that point architect G.J. van Swaay takes over to build the churches front, also a scaled copy but a copy of St. John Lateran, also from Rome.

Some of Cuypers' greatest works

Bovendonk Seminar, Hoeven

Constructed from 1895 - 1907

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Constructed from 1877 - 1885

Amsterdam Central Station

Constructed from 1869 - 1889

de Haar castle, Haarzuilens

Constructed from 1892 - 1912

Pierre Cuypers' legacy

Pierre Cuypers changed the Netherlands for good. All of his work, ranging from national monuments to churches, is a gift from him to the Netherlands. If you're curious about all of his work, you can visit his Wikipedia-page. His son and grandson continued his work and became great architects themselves and built churches, schools, town halls and the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. You could say the family Cuypers truely helped build the Netherlands as we know it today.

Are you interested in a tour through the Basilica?

We organise guided tours, private tours and audiotours

Vliegensvlug door Halderberge

Ervaar het beste van beide werelden door een bezoek aan de prachtige Basiliek te combineren met een fascinerend tripje naar het vliegend museum. Geniet van een heerlijke lunch om je dag compleet te maken.