Green men in Holland - 2006/2007
Since I read about the Green Man in a Czech book by Vaclav Cílek I'm looking for it everywhere. I've found several from the neogothic era of the late 1800's and two really old ones.
I've ordered the pictures by location and time of discovery:
Prague - August 2006 - January 2007 - How it started
  • Václav Cílek
  • Krajiny vnitrní a vnejší (Inner and outer landscapes)
  • Makom, kniha míst (The book of places)
In the summer of 2006 I visited Prague and bought two books by my favorite author Václav Cílek. He has an original view on place and landscape. I often try to copy his Czech way of looking to my local spaces in The Netherlands. In one chapter he introduces the concept of the Green Man. I had never heard about this mysterious remnant of ancient cults. His descriptions immediately triggered my imagination. The only picture in the Green Man chapter is described like this:
"The green man from the Carolinum has been caught in an insistent cry. He does not have the typical leaf mask and looks more like the green sun of vegetation. The mouth is open, it tries to speak to us on an inaudible frequency. He is as much related to bats and owls as he is to us, humans. For 600 years he's been communicating something of importance and urgency."
In January 2007 I was in Prague for a few days. I had Václav Cíleks book with me, and I visited most of the Green Men he lists in his book. I try to make a - clumsy - translation of some of his remarks.
"This is my first, and most often visited icon. The green man is presented as a mighty stranger, with whom all negotiation is useless. He is raw and unhuman. He's not a friend, but neither an enemy. He doesn't care for you, as long as you don't cross his path. An apparition you might encounter in the thickest of woods. I approach him cautiously, like you would approach a large unfamiliar dog. The image could last a lifetime." (Karolinum - 1380)
"This green man is tender, not frightening. He demands respect and contains some slow movement. He doesn't shout his revelations, but whispers, like leaves in the wind. I stop by very often."

(The archway of the Týnská School - Stromestské Námestí - 13th century)

Václav Cílek mentions a green man amid the ceiling frescoes. I stayed a long time looking, but couldn't find him.

But I was told that this damaged pillar was a green man too.

(The chapel of The House At The Stone Bell - Old Town Square)

A green man on the side door of the Týn cathedral (14th century - not mentioned by Václav Cílek).

The leaves from his mouth form a crown around his head. A mysterious and slightly tragic figure, staring into unfathomable distances of time and space.

"Talking stones, one young one old. I almost think (but I'm prejudiced by all I've read) that they could symbolize the vegetation of spring an autumn, birth and death of the king. In Bohemia they're often found on buildings connected to rulers." (Powder Gate - Celetná ulice - 15th century)
Real old Green Men refuse to be photographed. They are hidden in out-of-the-way places with bad lighting and pictures turn out fuzzy or low contrast. I have the strong impression that they do this on purpose. In my search I've come to see them as real personalities. The green man motif with it's mysterious roots has an interesting way of invading your "inner landscape" and I feel enriched by my search for them.

... So, now that you've seen how real old Green Men look like - and how they feel - we are ready to look at what can be found in The Netherlands.
Rotterdam - October 2006
Somehow the icon of the Green Man became fixed in my subconscious and (although I had never seen one before) I almost jumped when I saw these decorations on a 19th century mansion at the Westersingel. Could it be? Did they live in my own neighborhood too? This started my search for my own local Green Men, and I'm still working on it.
At the end of the Nieuwe Binnenweg is a Green Man who was saved from an older building and has been recycled as part of modern apartment block. He still looks shocked by his unexpected transplant.
There are relatively many "neo" style Green Men from the 1890's. They are interesting, but often they feel less mysterious. It's as if the neo-architects just re-used the motif, without being aware of it's deeper layers, while the medieval architects perfectly knew what they were doing.
Rotterdam - April 2007
Some neo-style Green Men are quite elaborate, but most are more 2-dimensional than those at the Westersingel. (Oostzeedijk, near Oostplein) And most are just one decorative stone above a window or arch. Is it just coincidence that the most important key-stone of the arch is decorated with a Green Man?
Why make a royal Green Man angry, while making him so that he can't be taken seriously?

I like this philosophical jester more - the way he's looking down on the busy shoppers. (Noordmolenstraat, near Noordplein)

Not a Green Man, but also a spiritual symbol. Is it a cross, or a stylized star? You don't see many symbolic (and thus meaningful) decorations on modern buildings anymore. (Goudsewagenstraat)
Another philosophical Green Man atop a 1900 billboard. Somehow he reminds me more of Mozes with the 10 commandments than of a wild man of the woods. But the other one is a real forest spirit. Is he in distress? What is he trying to tell us? (Zaagmolenstraat)
Rotterdam - May 2007
Another Green Man with that insistent but silent message. Where does that icon come from? Then I could research it's original meaning. (Provenierssingel)

Maybe the best modern Green Man in Rotterdam. A silent but wise and powerful entity of the woods. A bit ominous, demanding respect. Exactly right. There are several of them along this street, I'll visit them again. (Jericholaan)

Rotterdam - June 2007
An ornamental Green Man with a classicistic touch. (Hoflaan - Kralingen)

The memorial vase for the birth of Princess Juliana from 1909 has this faun as part of it's decoration. (Vijverweg - Kralingen)

This whole area is upper class and well ornamented, but there are relatively few Green Men. But I might include this spot in my list of possible "power places" in Rotterdam (yet to be written).

I suspect that these Green Men date from the Art Deco period (1920), but I'm not very sure. But they are the most modern and abstract green men I know. (Pax Hotel - Schiekade)
Utrecht - December 2006
This wooden Green Man is part of a decoration of - what is today - a furniture shop, but in earlier times (1900) it must have been a poulterer or wild game shop. Notice the two primitive Clive-Barkerish creatures on the left and right. This really is a wild spirit of the woods. (Zadelstraat?)

These must be the most beautiful Green Men in the Netherlands. When I found them on a medieval gate next to the Utrecht cathedral I thought I had finally found the real thing. But further research showed that this particular gate has been built in 1894 in the neo-gothic style by the architect Jos Cuypers. (Domplein)
It seems that Dutch architects tried to find an "authentic" local style, they didn't like the classisistic foreign styles anymore - and so turned to gothic themes. There they must have stumbled on the green man motif. Interestingly - neo gothic buildings were almost exclusively built by Catholic architects. So here again is an interesting connection between the Church and the Green Man theme.
The Hague - October 2006
And while I'm looking at older buildings I've found these devil heads and monstrous dogs at the train station in The Hague (Hollands Spoor). Now I'm wondering ... what is the motivation for such an ornament? It's not very pretty, it's not very confidence inspiring, so why do it anyway? There must be some (ancient?) tradition behind this. It makes me wonder about the staying power of ancient practices - and I have more fun walking through the city looking for surprises.
A somewhat shy and badly executed Green Man, more like a martial figure with a huge moustache. I think the sculptor was copying from a drawing that he didn't decipher correctly. There must be some "Book of staple decorations for modern architects" dating from the 1900's. I wish I could find it. (Bezuidenhoutseweg)
This grumpy but warm hearted "Green Cat" lives on a short pillar of a decorative fence. On another side of the pillar it has it's own enchanted wood. I like it very much, and I visit it regularly. (Korte Vijverberg, architect Ed Cuijpers)
The Hague - December 2006
This quartet of Green Men from around 1900 is on the Denneweg in The Hague. They're above a bookshop - office supply shop. This is the very common neo-renaissance style. Are they wolfemen too?
The Hague - January 2007
The Herengracht in The Hague is a street that was built up around 1900. There are a lot of Green Men around, just as on many neo-classical / neo-gothic / neo-renaissance buildings of that period. I still don't know where the architects got their templates from.

Some buildings are full of
strange creatures, including
many comical green men.

Other buildings along the street (from 1890) have only a few ornaments. But they are very special - are the two face above scared? Of what? Or are they trying to scare you?

Here Green Men are competing with neon-signs, wiring and modern building materials. No wonder some of them look silently irritated.

Het Plein in The Hague is bordered by governement buildings. The former Department of Justice (1880) has too many Green Men to catalogue completely. They're simply everywhere you look.
The Hague - March 2007
A couple of frightening creatures looking down at you and a face so bushy it's almost invisible. (Zeestraat)
The Hague - July 2007
A less typical Green Man, with fruit and flowers. He rises from sea waves and is supported by dolphins. (Noordeinde - 1888)

I've walked here many times, but somehow always overlooked these sculptures, and then - unexpectedly - they reveal themselves. Where was I looking all the time?

Just like in Utrecht this old wild-game or venison shop is decorated with two Green Creatures. They are accompanied by bigger sculptures of a young hunter and a stag head. The relationship between the Green Man and the Wild Woods (and the hunt?) is still alive in the 19th century. (Noordeinde - 1900)
Two artfully sculpted Green Men high on a building. A third one hides in the leaves. (Paleisstraat 6)

They're so high up that I had to use maximum zoom and still have bad picture quality.

I was very much surprised to see this Green Man, because he looks so similar to this one, that I found in Rotterdam. I'm a bit awed by that inquiring expression. (Paleisstraat)
Groningen - October 2006
I saw this Green Man just a week after my first discoveries in Rotterdam. Then it was still a pleasant shock to discover a Green Man in the Netherlands. Now I've learnt that they're almost everywhere around us, and that it takes just a few careful looks to find them. (Oosterweg?)
A bad tempered young faun, although he still has both his horns and the jackdaws seem to like him. (Hereweg?)
Delft - January 2007
A jolly faun from the 1900's. (Buitenwatersloot - Spoorsingel)

The "Gemeenlandshuis van Delfland" was built in the 16th century in the Brabant Gothic style, and it's facade is full of strange figures and beasts, but I didn't find a Green Man there. Not even with the binoculars I had brought for the purpose. (Oude Delft 167)

There might be a Green Man inside the Old Church, but neither my camera nor my binoculars were powerful enough to resolve that ancient ragged head that supports the wooden beam.
But I discovered another interesting figure - David Jorisz (1500-1550) was seen as a prophet by many of his followers and his "Twonderboeck" (The book of wonders), a dark work full of symbolism and mystical revelation. It's short compact sentences leave a lot of room for the imagination of the reader. Possession of this book was punisheable by death in the 1600's but still it was widely read. I will have to do some research on that ...

There are quite a few grotesque faces there, but as usual there is no Green Man on the renaissance Town Hall that was (re-) built in 1620. But this is more than compensated by the many creatures, including two Green Men and one Green Cat on the building opposite it. That building dates from 1889, and the figures are surprisingly modern looking.
I suspect that this is one of the oldest Green Men in the Netherlands. It's under the arch of the main entrance of the New Church in Delft. It looks old and maybe damaged. When members of the Dutch Royal family are buried the pass under it's mysterious gaze.
Amsterdam - April 2007
The Old Church in Amsterdam dates from 1250 and extended and rebuilt many times. Many of the decorations were removed or damaged by the Protestants during the reformation in 1566. Next to the side entrance is this gothic looking face -it is a plausible Green Man. And I don't know what to make of the dog with skull ...
In the same neighborhood is this well known portal with skeleton - the Olofskapel (St. Olaf's chapel) from the 17th century. And I cannot resist photographing astronomic / alchemistic symbols - even if they're modern.
Breda - June 2007
A quick tourist visit to Breda yielded a nice harvest of Green Men and other Fortean items.

Walking from the station to the city park you pass this neo-renaissance ornament. It's not a real G.M. but it's clearly inspired by the motif.

Then we explored the "Great Church" or "Our Lady's Church" that was founded before 1400. (Grote Kerk, O.L.V. Kerk)

Many of the grave monuments from approximately 1600 have ornaments that approach the Green Man motif. But none of those is the real thing.

The "Prince Chapel" dates from 1533. It has wonderful grotesque paintings on the ceiling. And amid all the action there is this wonderful Green Man / God Pan figure.
The early renaissance stained glass windows contain a few Green Man motifs. Unfortunately they don't have the "leaves from the mouth" detail, but they have the wildness and inscrutability of the classic theme.
On the ceiling are a few great Sun and Moon frescoes.
In one of the side chapels is this wonderful mysterious artwork. I'm not sure what "OVO NULLUM PULCHRIUS" means (nothing is more beautiful than an egg?). But it makes this corner of the church a real place of power.
In one of the busiest shopping streets of Breda is this little chapel. It was founded in 1436. (St. Joostkapel).

We sat there for a while and lit candles. Several people came and went, lit candles, some people prayed. Families with little children came, and the children got money for candles. A very spiritual place.

I sat there and thought about the history of the Rosary and realized that I still don't know the "Ave Maria" prayer by heart. I'll have to work on it ...
Gouda - July 2007
The first green man I found in Gouda lives in the wiccan / gothic shop De Wakende Draak (the waking dragon). The artwork is called "Face of the forest" and can be bought for 39,95 euro. It looks like a very nice shop, but each time I visit Gouda - on Sunday - it's closed.
A long time ago I saw a Dutch website that mentioned Green Men on the portal of the St. Jan church in Gouda. It motivated me to visit this city.

The church dates from the 13th century. This part of the church was built in 1413. In 1438 and 1552 the church fell victim to big city fires, and was restored several times.

One of the four is a modern reconstruction and I don't know how old the Green Men are. Notice the flowers below, they are rather unusual.

As far as I know the Church is closed on Sunday. But at 17:00 there is a service of the Dutch Reformed church, and you can take a quick peek inside. I had barely time to take a few pictures of the interior and discover this skull. But the church is worth a more thorough visit.
Couldn't resist photograhing this nice baroque-ish sun emblem. It's part of a typical Renaissance shield.
The portal of the Gouda Town Hall dates from the Renaissance (it says: 1603) and it is full of wonderful decorations.
I know these are not typical Green Men, but look at that wonderful beatific expression - I don't know if the Renaissance sculptor realized that he had made a set of powerful nature entities.
They may not have the typical "look", but they certainly have the right "feel".
To be continued. I'm still looking.
Dutch Green Man Links:

General links: Pan and the Green Man, Groene Man, Groene Man,

Friesland: Bolsward, Harlingen, Kimswert (scroll down on these pages)

If you know of more Green Man and you don't have a website of your own - just send me an e-mail.
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© Petr Kazil

July 2007