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Exhibit shows engraver's work well beyond Martyrs Mirror

September 11th, 2017

by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The name Jan Luyken, for whom Bethel College’s Fine Arts Center was renamed in 2014, might ring a bell with some Mennonites, at least those familiar with the Martyrs Mirror.

Luyken was a 17th-century Dutch engraver and illustrator. His copper etchings – 104 of them – can be found in the 1685 edition of Thieleman J. van Braght’s volume detailing the lives and violent deaths of Anabaptists who died for their faith in the movement’s early years.

Though himself a convert to Anabaptism, Luyken was not known in his time and among his peers for the Martyrs Mirror – and that’s the subject of the current exhibit in Bethel’s Regier Art Gallery, “Beyond the Martyrs’ Mirror: The Prints of Jan Luyken.”

Rachel Epp Buller, associate professor of visual art and design, and senior Bible and religion major Allie Shoup curated the exhibit, which opened Oct. 30.

The two will present a program as part of the Worship and the Arts Symposium on campus Nov. 21, 4 p.m., in the gallery inside the Luyken Fine Arts Center, with a reception to follow.

When the Fine Arts Center received its new name last fall, thanks to the gift of an anonymous donor, Professor of History Mark Jantzen and Co-Director of Libraries John Thiesen, who is also archivist for the Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA) at Bethel, only half-jokingly suggested to Epp Buller that she mount an exhibit of work by Luyken in the Regier Gallery.

“I thought, ‘Yeah, right,’” she recalls. “I don’t have the budget to get Luyken’s work on loan. Then John said: ‘We have a bunch of it in the MLA.’”

Luyken (also spelled Luiken) was born in Amsterdam into a middle-class family. He apprenticed in the workshop of a local painter, Martin Saeghmolen, and then learned etching and engraving from printmaker Coenraet Decker.

In 1672, Luyken married Maria den Oudens, joining the Anabaptist movement at his wife’s instigation. However, he was a lukewarm adherent until he began having visions and experienced a powerful religious conversion in 1673. Luyken remained committed to the Anabaptist church and to piety for the rest of his life (he died in 1712).

Although he is known in today’s Anabaptist communities for his iconic etchings in the Martyrs Mirror, Luyken produced more than 3,000 other works that included paintings (of which only a few survive), drawings, prints and poems.

He published 12 books focused on piety and Scripture, for which he both created prints and wrote poetry. He also produced illustrations for nearly 500 books by other authors, in disciplines as varied as biology, chemistry, geography, shipbuilding, early Christian history and Dutch history, among others.

The books and prints on display in this exhibition offer a closer look into the breadth of Luyken’s work. All 26 books in the MLA’s collection are on display, along with framed prints (which are most likely pages taken from other books) from the collection and enlarged versions of other, unframed, prints.

Many of Luyken’s prints fall into the category of emblem literature, Epp Buller points out in the exhibit.

“Throughout 16th- and 17th-century Europe, but particularly in the Low Countries, artists and writers favored the use of emblems, which combined images and verses for didactic ends. Emblems generally included a title or motto, an illustration and an explanation in prose or poetic form.”

The idea to have a Luyken exhibit in conjunction with the biennial Worship and the Arts Symposium also germinated last year.

The theme of the 2015 symposium is “Worship and Community” – and Luyken was “clearly someone who was invested in his own community, as seen by the diverse work he produced for historians, scientists, poets and many other colleagues of his day,” Epp Buller says.

That plus the renaming of the Fine Arts Center and the discovery of Bethel’s own collection of Luyken works brought the idea for an exhibit into focus.

It also meant a lot more work than having an outside artist (the case for the 2011 and 2013 symposia). So Epp Buller was happy to have Shoup come on board as an assistant.

“This exhibit took a lot more time because of having to select the images and write the discursive text, then print it – not just printing labels and helping with an exhibit installation,” Epp Buller said.

According to Shoup, Epp Buller did “98 percent of the [text] writing. Not only did Luyken write in Dutch – it was Old Dutch.” Fortunately, Epp Buller’s facility with German helped with that.

Epp Buller is quick to credit Shoup’s work in making the enlargements, which meant taking photographs of the chosen images, manipulating them in PhotoShop in order to get an image both as large and as clean as possible, and then printing them for display.

They also got important help from David Kreider, exhibit technician at Kauffman Museum, especially in making Plexiglas book mounts.

“Beyond the Martyrs’ Mirror: The Prints of Jan Luyken” will be open in the Regier Gallery through the end of the semester (Dec. 18).

Gallery hours are Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sundays 2-4 p.m. There will be special extended hours during the Worship and the Arts Symposium, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. Sat., Nov. 21. The gallery will be closed Nov. 25-29 for the Thanksgiving break. Admission is free.

Upcoming exhibits this school year are: Stan Reimer, “50 Years of Photography,” Jan. 28-Feb. 19, 2016; Charles Baughman, “Organic Abstraction,” Feb. 26-March 18; the Annual Student Exhibit, April 1-22; and the Annual Senior Exhibit, April 29-May 20.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2015-16 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States, and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2015-16. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.