interviews

‘Magical scope’

Luc Amkreutz (conservator Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) met het zwaard van Ommerschans. Foto: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Luc Amkreutz (conservator Rijksmuseum van Oudheden) met het zwaard van Ommerschans. Foto: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden

‘It has an extraordinary beauty, but also a magical depth. That has to do with its history of 3,500 years; it gives the sword a scope that puts our imagination to the test. What else is it that makes it magical? You cannot completely grasp it, but what is important is the combination of size, form and line pattern. It is a giant sword of almost 70 centimetres, ornamented with a primary logic of long, symmetrical lines. It has the quality of abstract art. Balanced. And then we haven’t even addressed its function yet; the religious meaning that this sword carried in the Bronze Age.’

 

Everything that Luc Amkreutz says conveys the idea that the sword of Ommerschans, as a treasure of Dutch and European prehistory, deserves the highest honour. Amkreutz is curator at the National Museum of Antiquities (Rijkmuseum van Oudheden, RMO) in Leiden, which succeeded in adding this sword to its collection in 2017. Ever since 1927 the museum had strived to obtain it. After the discovery at a country estate in the province of Overijssel in 1896, it had been privately owned. Negotiations with the family failed, and they took the sword with them when they moved to Germany. This year, it was auctioned at Christies. The Mondriaan Fund supported the acquisition with an Individual Acquisitions Grant.

‘Then the sword would have escaped us again!’

Amkreutz can’t bear to think what would have happened without that grant. ‘Then the sword would have escaped us again! Now it is back in the Netherlands after 90 years, which cannot be overestimated. The Netherlands often focuses on the more recent history of land reclamation and the golden age of the 17th century, but for deep history this is heritage in the proper form. There are no documents, just objects that can colour the spirit and the stories of that time. I have been able to do a lot of acquisitions as a curator, but this time I was definitely happy that there is a Mondriaan Fund in the Netherlands, which listens to reason and has expert judgment.’

Coming from a master bronze caster, through a network of prehistoric highways

The sword of Ommerschans rises in the National Museum of Antiquities, upright in a glass case, ‘like a piercing jewel,’ as Birgit Donker, director of the Mondriaan Fund, described it in an interview on Radio 1. The museum presents the new acquisition near the entry to the Dutch archaeology section, which is ordered chronologically. ‘You walk right towards it,’ Amkreutz says.
‘It is close to a smaller specimen from the same rare group of six, originating from a master bronze caster from England. The other four are located in England and France. At our museum, the sword of Jutphaas and that of Ommerschans complement each other. They confirm the suspicion that the Bronze Age was a world full of interchange: with prehistoric highways for the trade in artefacts and ceremonial weapons, razor blades and jewels. Those were probably meant for important persons such as warlords; possibly even for the gods. We place something valuable like that in a museum, but these swords were found in the ground; who knows, maybe they were supposed to restore a certain balance, make the connection between the land and the world of people and gods. They are very powerful.’

For further research into the sword and some smaller utensils that were found along with it, the National Museum of Antiquities collaborates with the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amkreutz explains. In order to take a close look at it, the sword will have to be removed from the hall between February and April of this year. It will return in all its splendour at the exhibition that is to open in April 2018, when the Museum celebrates its 200th anniversary. Amkreutz: ‘The sword of Ommerschans will emerge there as the anniversary acquisition.’