Johannes Tetar van Elven, "Plaster Model of Rembrandt on the 1848 Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam" (1851), painting in the Amsterdams Historisch Museum, reproduced by permission.
The cities of Europe modernized in the nineteenth century: they grew, gained increasing economic and administrative importance, and accommodated new public venues (theatres, educational institutions etc.) as well as modes of transport (tramlines etc.). But the changing face of cities also involved an attempt to render their past present in the streets, squares, parks and thoroughfares. New streets were given historicist names (national scenes, battles, heroes or artists); the cities’ public spaces came to be dominated by national-historicist architecture and, to an important extent, by statues commemorating the nation’s ‘Great Men’.
The older tradition of erecting statues of a religious or dynastic nature (in honour of saints or monarchs) slowly gave way to a rising trend of statues dedicated to national figures, initially from military history, later also from cultural history. Also, an older tradition of municipal, local commemoration (the oldest European examples being the statues to Joan of Arc in Orléans and Erasmus in Rotterdam) led in the nineteenth century to an increasingly national investment of these historicist markers in metropolitan space.
Nowadays, these statues are seen as markers of the periods and figures they commemorate. The SPIN website aims to present a survey of European statues foregrounding the period of their installation, the nationally-iconographic purpose which they served in the nineteenth century, and the extent to which writers, artists, scientists and scholars were favoured in that national iconography.