Piet de Jong (artist)
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Piet Christiaan Leonardus de Jong (8 August 1887–20 April 1967) was an artist who worked on the illustration and reconstruction of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean, including Mycenae, Knossos, Eutresis, Gordion, and the Athenian Agora.
Life and career
Piet Christiaan Leonardus de Jong was born in Leeds, England on 8 August 1887. His father, Jacques Leonardus de Jong, was a Dutch immigrant, and his mother, Rosa Teale de Jong, a Yorkshire native. Piet had two siblings: an older half-sister, Gwendolyn (b. 1880), and a younger brother, Arton Carl (b. 1893). For his education, Piet first attended the Leeds Boys’ Modern School. Piet later attended the Leeds Institute of Science, Art, and Literature, where he studied architecture. After completing his studies, Piet de Jong won several architectural prizes, including two from the West Yorkshire Society of Architects (prize in 1908, silver medal 1909). In 1912, Piet received the Soane Medallion. This prize included a travel award of 50 lb from the Royal Institute of British Architects. With this prize money, Piet was able to travel to Italy in 1912 to study Classical architecture. In 1913, Piet returned to London as a member of the Leeds architectural firm Schoefield and Berry. Also in 1913, Piet designed his first and only building in England: the First Church of Christ Scientist, Leeds. In 1914, World War I broke out, and in 1916 Piet joined the army as a Lance-Corporal in the Army Cyclist Corps. Although the precise details of Piet’s participation in World War I are unknown, he most likely served as part of the East Riding Yeomanry.
Piet de Jong first traveled to Greece in 1919 as part of the post-war reconstruction program for eastern Macedonia. Although the reconstruction project ultimately dissolved, at this time Piet first met the excavator of Mycenae, Alan Wace. In 1920, Piet began work as an architect and archaeological illustrator for the Mycenae excavations. Piet worked on the Mycenae excavations until 1923, during which time he produced the famous reconstruction of Mycenae Grave Circle A.
From the 1920s to the 1950s, Piet de Jong applied his skills as architect and artist to the illustration, recording, and reconstruction of some of the most famous excavations in Mediterranean archaeology. In 1921, Piet worked for the excavations at Halae, under Hetty Goldman. Also in 1921, on 14 February, Piet married his wife Effie. At the time of her marriage, Effie was living in Athens and working as an English teacher. She accompanied Piet deJong on many of his archaeological projects. Piet deJong’s work at Mycenae earned him a positive reputation. Thus in 1922, Piet deJong was hired by Sir Arthur Evans to work on the recording and reconstruction of the palace at Knossos on Crete.
In the following year (1923), Piet de Jong was the first person appointed as the “official architect” for the British School at Athens. Many of the publications of archaeological finds produced by the British School during this period include plans, plates, and drawings by Piet de Jong. From 1923-1926, Piet worked at Sparta, and in 1924 at Eutresis. During the 1920s, Piet de Jong also worked at Zygouries, excavated by Carl Blegen, and at Corinth, under both Bert Hodge Hill and Leslie Shear.
Piet returned to Crete every year from 1922-1930. During this time, Piet deJong designed and directed much of the reconstruction work at Knossos. This work included both architectural reconstruction (especially the Queen’s Megaron and Throne Room), and frescos (the dolphin fresco). In the 1930s, Piet de Jong produced drawings for the archaeological excavations at Perachora and Prosymna, and in 1932 began work as illustrator for the excavations at the Athenian Agora. Unfortunately, the events of World War II forced Piet deJong to return to Leeds from 1939 to 1947.
In 1947, deJong returned to Crete as the curator of Knossos. The Knossos excavations were now directed by Sinclair Hood, who continued to employ Piet in the recording and reconstruction of the Knossos material. In 1952, Piet relinquished his post as Knossos caretaker, but continued to produce watercolors and reconstructions both at Knossos (1957–61), and for a number of other archaeological projects. In 1957, Piet produced watercolor reconstructions of the fresco paintings from the so-called “Painted House” at Gordion. Around the same time, deJong also produced the plates for the material excavated by John Caskey at Kea. Until 1965, Piet de Jong worked again for Carl Blegen at Pylos, where Piet produced his famous reconstructions of both the Palace of Nestor and its ornate floor. Piet’s final archaeological assignment, the watercolor reproduction of several Minoan frescos, began on Crete in 1966. While still in Crete and at work on these frescos, Piet de Jong died on 20 April 1967.
Archaeological illustration and reconstruction
As an archaeological illustrator and architect, Piet de Jong was responsible for both the accurate recording and the reconstruction of a wide variety of archaeological materials including: pottery, frescos, figurines or other small objects, and architecture. Watercolors, both translucent and opaque (gouache), on paper, were de Jong’s preferred medium for the execution of archaeological illustrations. DeJong also produced many pencil and ink drawings.
Piet de Jong was a talented artist. However, he was not trained as an archaeologist. Many of his reconstructions take extreme artistic license in the interpretation of the archaeological remains. For example, Piet’s reconstruction of the “dolphin fresco” at Knossos, is formulated around a very small number of fresco fragments.
In addition, Piet de Jong did not produce a style of documentation which would be considered sufficient for modern, quantitative, standards of archaeological recording. Another group of examples is de Jong’s illustration of ceramic finds. Modern drawings of archaeological ceramics tend to include both a “section”, or profile drawing, of the vessel and an “elevation,” a depiction of its outside face. In contrast, Piet de Jong’s illustrations do not include a section and elevation, but rather tend to depict the entire outside profile of the vessel, often from a distorted perspective, in order to make as many of the object’s defining attributes visible to the viewer as possible.
Piet de Jong was also a talented caricaturist. Forty-four Piet de Jong caricatures, also in watercolor, have also been published. The majority of the subjects for these paintings were archaeologists from the excavations for which Piet worked as architect. Some of the more famous of Piet’s scholarly subjects include Sir Arthur Evans, excavator of Knossos, and Alan Wace, excavator of Mycenae. Other caricatures feature students and other so-called “helenophiles” living in Athens, associated with either the American School of Classical Studies at Athens or the British School at Athens. In his will, Piet de Jong bequeathed all of his personal caricatures and other watercolors to Minoan archaeologist Sinclair Hood. These artworks are now in the archives of the Knossos Trust, where they have resided since 1990.
1. Hood, Rachel. 1998. Faces of Archaeology in Greece. Lepoard's Head Press Ltd.
2. Papadopoulos, John K. 2007. Piet de Jong and the Art of the Athenian Agora. ASCSA.