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The most impressive argument against war

The most impressive argument against war

When art meets science

Who: Piet Leroy, paediatrician at MUMC

Statues: The Grieving Parents, Käthe Kollwitz

Target group: students of Medicine

They are two separate statues. The father on the one side: arms crossed, staring into the distance. The mother on the other side: on her knees, gazing downwards. The Grieving Parents by German artist Käthe Kollwitz is situated in a cemetery in the West of Belgium, where 50 thousand German soldiers who were killed in the First World War lie.

Paediatrician Piet Leroy first heard about the statues from his Greek teacher at secondary school. “He also taught us about recent history and philosophy. He referred to this piece of art as being the most impressive argument against war.” Leroy was also touched by the statue. “The father’s ash-grey expression, having no notion what to do with his grief, the crying mother. It makes a great impact. Kollwitz made the statue after her own son Peter was killed in Belgium in 1914, at the age of 18. He had volunteered with the German army.”

Leroy became interested in the artist’s life and also discovered her drawings. “Simple pencil drawings, but brilliant. Her husband was a GP with a social conscience in a poor part of Germany. It was the end of the nineteenth century, the time of Marxism. She sketched the strikes, the hunger, and the poverty. But also very intimate mother-child moments and happy children.”

Leroy thinks that anyone who is a father or a mother or who works a lot with children immediately recognises the expressions of the children and babies drawn. “Sometimes it is just a nose, eyes and lips, but they still express deep human emotions.” Leroy even used the drawings and the Grieving Parents to accompany his talk on his PhD research. “It was about comfort, pain and fear in children who are in hospital. These works of art symbolise that.”

Leroy believes that especially students from Maastricht should get to know Kollwitz’s work. “In the first place because it is very beautiful art. It also tells about European history.  Maastricht is the centre of Europe, but we have forgotten a lot of things about our own history. Poverty and hunger, we cannot imagine that anymore today. Yet it is only 150 years ago, not long ago at all.”

In this column lecturers recommend art that throws a different light on their field than textbooks do

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