Composing the East: Depictions of the Yogyakarta Court in the 18th Century


The earliest depictions of the Yogyakarta court consist of drawings from the 18th century, between 1771-83, drawn by the Danish artist Johannes Rach and his assistant A. De Nelly. Although both drawings appear realistic and have been used as a reference of the history of the court, they cannot be assumed to have (tried) to document the site in a neutral manner. Rach and De Nelly worked on commission and composed elements in views or landscapes to fit into prescribed composition, where perspective, deep space and dramatic plays of light dictate results. Missing buildings and unidentified structures could therefore be explained as adaptations the artists made to adhere to a specific composition. Visual analysis of De Nelly’s and Rach’s drawings show that their work is quite consistent with the visual idiom of European drawn landscapes. In addition, missing buildings, unidentified structures as well as odd activities of courtiers can be explained as added elements. Their purpose was to arrange the composition in three equal layers (foreground, main motif, background) supported by shading, axes to guide the gazer’s view, a central axis and mirroring elements to create a balance, and use perspective and overlaps to create an illusion of a three dimensional space.

Keywords: Yogyakarta, court, architecture, 18th century

[1] De Bruyn, M., & Kist, B. (2001). Johannes Rach 1720-1783: Artist in Indonesia and Asia. National Library of Indonesia and Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

[2] Terwen-de Loos, J. (1972). Nederlandse schilders en tekenaars in de Oost, 17e-20e eeuw. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.