“a second lifetime would have been necessary, but I shall not be granted this…”
Last month the eminent and incredibly productive art historian Hessel Miedema passed away.
In art historical circles he is of course closely associated with the study of Karel van Mander, the sixteenth-century painter and author. Miedema published his thesis (1973) on Van Mander’s work Grondt der Edel Vry Schilder-const and later Van Mander’s Levens van de illustere Nederlandse en Duitse schilders, translated with an extensive commentary and index in five additional volumes.  This undertaking typified Miedema’s meticulous approach. Primary sources are the root of all (art) historical research, but in order to utilize them one needs a clear handle on the text, and a realization that the text itself isn’t always clear. Miedema set a new national and international standard for the study of the art of the Golden Age adhering to the criteria of a careful understanding of historical language in its intellectual context. Here, like no other, he intertwined the visual methods of art historical research with an interdisciplinary grounding in philology.
Miedema’s bibliography is much broader despite the four decades he spent carefully poring over Van Mander’s work page by page. Before his art historical career, he published poems in Frisian, including in the journal QuatreBras, where he was editor. In 1964 he published De greate wrakseling, about a sculptor in conflict with the strict museum world. Hessel illustrated this poem himself, and it was republished in 2005. 
After his studies at the Universiteit van Amsterdam he became the director of the Museum het Princessehof in Leeuwarden where he was responsible for cataloguing, among other things, the Chinese porcelain collection.
In 1963, he returned to the Universiteit van Amsterdam where he became Assistant Professor (UD, universitair docent) and then Associate Professor (UHD, universitair hoofd docent). Hessel took part in debates about art and research during his entire professional career. The provocative title of one such work for De Gids is telling: “Kunst is shit, een schets voor een herziene geschiedenis van het kunstbegrip” (1975) (Art is shit, a sketch for a revised history of art understanding). In a series of lectures published in Kunst historisch (1989 and 1995) he took a critical stand against the entrenched positions of the art and museum worlds.  He produced these manuscripts with unbelievable speed and then debated them with colleagues and students.
This manner of working was typical also of Hessel’s teaching. His working groups were always democratic rather than autocratic. Because of their high quality, the results of these democratic collaborations were almost inevitably published in Proef, the journal of the university’s Kunsthistorisch Instituut. In 1982–83, the first year of the reorganization of the academic education, Miedema along with his colleagues developed a new didactic stimulus.
After his retirement, Hessel remained involved with art history and research. He was always available to deliver a guest lecture or consult with his colleagues at his home. Even as the university library was transitioning from paper to digital, Hessel stayed up to date and devoted himself to discovering the possibilities of digital tools and publications. He continued to write even past his 90th birthday. His final book, Theorie en Praktijk: Teksten over schilderkunst in de Gouden Eeuw van de Noordelijke Nederlanden, published by Verloren in 2017, was praised as “the first comprehensive survey of art literature written in Dutch during the long seventeenth century” and the “most ambitious book so far published on the topic.” 
We will miss the knowledge and personal involvement of this dear, unbending Frisian.
Madelon Simons, University of Amsterdam
Thijs Weststeijn, University of Utrecht
 Hessel Miedema, Theorie en Praktijk: Teksten over schilderkunst in de Gouden Eeuw van de Noordelijke Nederlanden (Hilversum: Verloren, 2017), preface, p. 6.
 Hessel Miedema, Grondt der Edel vry Schilder-const, 2 vols. (Utrecht: Haentjens Dekker & Gumbert, 1973), and The lives of the illustrious Netherlandish and German painters, from the first edition of the Schilder-boeck (1603–1604), preceded by the lineage, circumstances and place of birth, life and works of Karel van Mander, painter and poet and likewise his death and burial. Text from the first edition. (1603-06) and from the second edition of the Schilder-boeck (1616–1618) (Doornspijk: Davaco, 1994–1999).
 Hessel Miedema, “De greate wrakseling,” Quatrebras, 9, no. 2; and De greate wrakseling (Franeker: Venus Utjouwerij, 2005).
 Hessel Miedema, Kunst historisch (Maarssen/The Hague: Gary Schwartz/SDU, 1989); and Hessel Miedema, Kunst historisch, (Leiden: Primavera Pers, 1995).
 Paul Taylor, review of Theorie en praktijk: Teksten over schilderkunst in de Gouden Eeuw van de Noordelijke Nederlanden, by Hessel Miedema, History of Humanities 3.2 (2018): 428–430.