Someone married to a half-breed from what once were ‘our’ Dutch East Indies, but what is now Indonesia, cannot understand why blondes do indeed excite so many men – in real life as well as in poetry.

Amor, himself often clad in gold leaf, did cause the white hair of Dante’s lyrically beloved ‘shine like gold’. When trying to save her from imminent danger the bard, in his fantasy, grabbed those blonde curls. To cover up his true love Beatrice, his verse make use of a donna-schermo, a woman with whom he disguises her. Could the hair of that true love have been black, did Dante give the woman in his poem for that reason the lure of a sham tinsel blonde?

For centuries already painters mimic gold. Until the fifteenth century this problem was solved by complete gilding of a wooden panel with gold leaf, prior to the actual painting of the image. In later centuries, the artist brought on local yellow gold, then painted his images on the canvas around it.

By that time, luxuriant gold-leafed frames had become very fashionable. Were buyers out to impress clients and friends with the wealth of both the gold in the image and on the frame? Probably so. Churches trumped each other by acquiring the most valuable altarpieces, all tarted up with lots of gold leaf.

In their Golden Age Calvinist Dutch diplomats gave British counterparts as a gift a basket of solid gold filled with shares from the newly invented stock exchange. You can leave trashy behaviour to a Dutch businessman. In those Renaissance days descriptions of paintings from private inventories which came on the market often did not even mention the picture in the frame, nor its painter. However, they indicated whether that frame was ‘made of gold’. So it seems that an element of enforced Mediaeval anonymity was still in place.

‘Western’ gold has always been of the tinsel kind, even when it is real gold. The Dutch, in perhaps unconscious irony, speak of klatergoud, gold which makes the tinkling sound of little pieces of copper against each other. Yet, such fake allows luster to the wealthy and the powerful

Almost voluptuously does Fanny Assingham destroy The Golden Bowl in Henry James’ novel with that title, however not before she has noted that its gilded crystal glass had already cracked.

Golden glitter, the semblance of that metal, obsesses Westerners, appearances of himself and of his possessions are worth a lot to him. He lays the gold out, she shows it off. Pale skin, looking so good when adorned with silver, is so often ruined while rigged with gold jewellery which so much better becomes the mat yellow complexion of an Oriental woman.

The Japanese writer Tanizaki rejected our bright light and an architecture based on principles of sunlight piercing though. The Easterner, by contrast, builds for chiaroscuro. Amazed he asks himself, ‘how gold in such a dark place still manages to attract so much light’. In such semi-dark spaces even mediocre art looks nice.

On entering the renovated Hall of Mirrors at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw the new, bright golden pillars force my eyes closed. Downcast the eye – impossible because of the new, vulgar screaming red carpet. Strangely enough, the others do not seem to be bothered. Japanese beauty lies not in the individual thing itself, but in shades that one thing produces in or onto another thing. In the West, in olden days, candlelight and if necessary gaslight might still come to the rescue of gold. Now, in this brightly lit room, gold turns into deadly kitsch.

Decades ago, for the first time in my life, I saw gold in the hands of Erika, a friend who was a restorer of fame – thin sheets held together in a little, yet very heavy book.

In the chiaroscuro of her studio she restored a beautiful frame that made the beauty of the painting contained in it shine even more. On her breath golden butterflies winged off from the little book onto the woodwork. A living haiku.


Recently her pale skin turned a dull yellow, like the skin of half-breeds from our East Indies. After a few months her swelling bones almost burst through that skin. Before this happened, she ended her life.

Sierksma 2003


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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