Raden Saleh and Diponegoro
First drawing of the captured Pangeran
Diponegoro by F.V.H.A. de Steurs
There is really no need to introduce Pangeran
Diponegoro, Indonesia's Pahlawan Nasional (national hero) par
excellence and his treacherous capture by the colonial forces.
Prince Diponegoro was born during the Dutch
occupation on November 11, 1785 in Yogyakarta by the name Raden Mas Ontowiryo.
His father was Sultan Hamengkubuwono III, the ruler of the Yogyakarta Sultanate;
his mother was Raden
Ayu Mangkorowati, the daughter of Pacitan Regent and a
oldest son of Raden Ayu Mangkorowati, he was
also called Kanjeng Pangeran
Diponegoro, and he was raised by his grandmother, Ratu
Ageng yang Saleh, widow of Sultan Hamengkubuwono I.
The Bustaman Family and Diponegoro
It is not widely known that two cousins of Raden Saleh Syarif Bustaman, namely Raden Sukur (who
took on the name Raden Panji Adi Negara, born 1803) and his older brother also
Saleh (alias Arya Natadiningrat, born 1801) both sons of the celebrated Regent
of Semarang Kyai
(Suraadimanggala), also fought
Because of this, Raden Sukur's father
- the celebrated and beloved Regent of Semarang -
were arrested by the Dutch in 1825.
Both were first jailed on the vessel "Maria van Reygersbergen" and later on sent to Surabaya onboard the vessel
"Pollux" to be exiled.
After that, father and son were exiled to Ambon and Sumenep, where
(Suraadimanggala) passed away on July 20, 1827 at the age of 62.
Imagine, one of the leading members of Indonesian
society from a family who ruled large parts of Java for centuries, one of the
most respected, cultured and valued leaders of his time - sent to prison for his
and his family's belief in freedom from colonial rule for his people.
But the Dutch colonial forces could not
apprehend Raden Sukur. Even though his father and
brother were at the mercy of the colonial forces he stayed loyal and steadfast to Pangeran
Diponegoro until the very end - and was finally captured on July 26, 1829.
Our family suffered tremendously because of our
devoted support for Pangeran Diponegoro and his noble cause, and were considered
"a family fallen into disgrace" by the Dutch colonial powers.
Raden Saleh and Diponegoro
resistance against the Dutch is the established background of all past, present
Indonesian struggles for independence, nationhood and dignity.
Modern myth claims
the Indonesian nation was tempered in the fire of the Java War. It was the
spirit of Diponegoro, his genius and his sufferings, that finally redeemed the
nation from the
evils of colonialism in 1945. Diponegoros struggle and sacrifice mark the magic
least in post independent historical construction,
of the creation of the
Countless speeches, essays, articles, books, comic strips, films, like ‘1828’ by
Karya, paintings like Diponegoro Terluka (1983 unfinished) by Hendra
Gunawan and even an
opera Opera Diponegoro by Sardono W. Kusumo were created to remember the
Schools, universities, museums, streets, hotels, printing houses,
industrial products, and
an army division are named after him. All this celebrates Pangeran Diponegoro.
Since the treacherous arrest of Diponegoro by the Dutch (after all he was
conduct) was and is so momentous for Javanese/Indonesian history, it is no
Indonesian political ideology and historiography constructed Diponegoro as the
source of the
beacon that finally established dignity, progress and modernity in their
The Dutch for many decades knew about the importance of their victory over
After all the outcome was won through the utmost concentration of their military
They and their colonial endeavor stood on the brink of
collapse in 1825.
Therefore the Java War was understood by many future Dutch generations as
in itself) and Dutch security policy in the colony tried to avoid situations
that might have lead
to similar configurations like the one in Central Java in 1825.
When Raden Saleh asked the
government in 1856 for permission to travel to the major sides of the Java War,
in order to do
some drawings which he wanted to use for future paintings, the local Dutch
Central Java strongly resisted this move, and put up the argument that the
memories about the
Java War are still too fresh.
At the outbreak of the Java War in 1825 Raden Saleh was fourteen years old and
Bandung or Bogor, far away from the war theaters of Central Java. In 1829 he
for Holland and when Diponegoro was arrested in Magelang 28 March 1830, Raden
was already a student of the Dutch portrait painter Cornelis Kruseman in The
the news of the arrest of Diponegoro reached the Dutch capital it was nothing
but joy and
relief for the Dutch public. Finally, the long and bloody war in Java had come
to an end.
Good news indeed for the Dutch state household, good news for thousands of
had sons in the Netherlands-Indies Army, good news for Dutch administrators who
start to implement new strategies of colonial exploitation. A new era was about
Java was on the brink of economic transformation: within 10 years it should
become the most
valuable colony on earth. But it was good news neither for the Javanese and
certainly not for
young Javanese in far away Holland.
When General Hendrik Merkus de Kock, who arranged the arrest of Diponegoro,
to Holland in late 1830 he was received as a national hero. In order to
celebrate himself de
Kock commissioned the well known portrait painter Cornelis Kruseman - the
Raden Saleh - to paint his portrait.
And while he was sitting in Kruseman’s
the young Javanese apprentice, he might have been reminded about his days in the
he might have recalled one or the other anecdotes about his dealings with the
Dutch enemy: Pangeran Diponegoro.
It is even possible that Saleh was employed to
minor works on the portrait, like filling in the background. De Kock not only
his own portrait, but also a historical tableau of the submission of Diponegoro
- the highlight
of his military career - by Nicolaas Pieneman which we will discuss later.
Raden Saleh never met Diponegoro in person,
Raden Saleh’s journey to Holland was arranged by the Dutch to prevent a
young and educated member of the Semarang Bupati family
from returning to
Raden Saleh had to
travel all the way to Holland to meet at least the spiritual essence of Diponegoro, the
embodiment of the potential that made Diponegoro (according to Javanese beliefs) a
charismatic leader. Raden Saleh met Kyai Naga Siloeman, the kris, the
dagger of Pangeran
Kyai Naga Siloeman
taken from Diponegoro by the Dutch when they arrested him in Magelang. In
fact all Javanese had to hand over their daggers to the Dutch military, only to receive
them back after the arrest of their leader. But one kris was kept by the
Dutch as booty:
Before it was sent to Holland it was shown to Sentot, a former officer and close
companion of Diponegoro who had changed sides and betrayed Pangeran Diponegoro
and his followers.
Sentot confirmed, in a signed and sealed
note, the identity of the kris, which was then send on to the King of Holland. King
Willem I. was apparently not very impressed by the pusaka of all Javanese
Besides that he had more urgent matter to attend to: the Beligians had revolted against their
incorporation into the Dutch state. He ordered that the dagger should be placed in his
Koninklijk Kabinet van Zeldzaamheden, his curiosity cabinet.
The director of
R.P. van de Kasteele, who could not read Sentot’s note in Javanese script and needed some text
for his catalogue. He asked the only educated Javanese who was avaialble, Raden Saleh, to put
up a short report.
This was delivered on 17 January 1831: ‘Kyai means
master. Everything which belongs to the ruler is named like that. Nogo is
a mythical snake
which is believed to wear a crown. Siloeman, is a name that is connected
with the belief in supra
natural powers, like being able to make yourself invisible. The name of the kris Kyai
Nogo Siloeman carries the meaning Magician King of the Snakes, in as far
that such a grandiose
name can be translated at all.’
feelings of a young Javanese far away from his homeland, a little bit homesick and a bit
sentimental with the Kyai Nogo Siloeman in his hands. This was the spiritual core of
the great Diponegoro. Imagine the shivers running up and down his spine.
Could he handle the
magical powers of Kyai Nogo Siloeman? And there stood Mr. Kasteele, director of the
Koninklijk Kabinet van Zeldzaamheden waiting for a report. What a curious situation. What a
complicated mixture of cultural codes.
Kyai Nogo Siloeman, the most famous of all famous Javanese kris, can
not be traced in a
Dutch museum anymore and has disappeared. Did the kris fly back to Java -
no problem for a
magically potent kris - or did Raden Saleh find a way to pinjam (borrow)
This is the stuff
of beautiful cloak and kris stories.
apparently stayed in the mind of Raden Saleh. When a couple of
years later, Saleh had moved to Paris, a French newspaper reported about the miserable
treatment of Diponegoro by the Dutch. This article caused some commotions in The
Hague, in fact a formal protest to the French government was launched.
The Dutch wanted
very much to find out who had written the outrageous article. Peter Carey is convinced that
Raden Saleh must have been the source behind this report. It seems that he was engaged in a
kind of intellectual guerilla warfare.
The Capture of
Ten years later the
death of Diponegoro was recorded briefly in the Javasche Courant on 3 February 1855
when the paper related that Pangeran Diponegoro had died on 8 January in Macassar. At this
time Raden Saleh had already back in Java for three years. It seems that through this note
he decided to paint his tribute to the late Javanese hero, The Capture of
He asked the Government for permission to travel to the princely states in Central
Java in order to prepare sketches of key battle scenes from the Java War. The Government
declined, since local administrators believed that it was not yet the time for the natives to
remember the bitter battles of that distant war.
The lack of
cooperation of the government did not prevent Raden Saleh from pursuing his plan. In 1856 he did a first sketch
(above) and in 1857 finished an oil painting which he called in a letter to his
German friend Duke Ernst II of Sachsen, Coburg and Gotha as ‘Ein historisches Tableau, die
Gefangennahme des javanischen Häuptlings Diepo Negoro’ (a historic tableau of the arrest of the
Javanese leader Diepo Negoro).
Raden Saleh had
visited Magelang in 1852 and 1853 and had a clear idea about the location: the Dutch
residence and the surrounding landscape. The Regent of Magelang at this time, Raden Adipati
Hario Danoe Ningrat, was a distant cousin of Prince Raden Saleh.
From an artistic point of view the
challenge was profound. Never before had he worked on a composition with such a large
group of people. Approximately 40 persons had to find their places across the canvas which
would have been a challenge for any artist. Raden Saleh had mastered the task quite remarkably,
and the resulting painting looks well composed and balanced and has to be regarded as one of
his master pieces.
certainly knew Pieneman’s version of the same historical moment and he might have known
the painter as well. Nicolaas Pieneman (1809-1860), like his father Jan Willem Pieneman23,
was one of the favorite portrait painters of the House of Orange and belonged to the
most celebrated Dutch history painters of his time. Paintings like William of
Orange wounded by
or Admiral de
Ruyter’s heroic death were quite famous in the first half of the
His De onderwerping van Diepo Negoro aan luitenant-generaal
De Kock, 28 maart
oil on canvas, 77 x 100 cm, which is kept at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
stands in the tradition of heroic representations of Dutch history.
In a posture well
known from similar paintings De Kock points Diponegoro to the waiting coach, which will
take him to Semarang and into exil. Diponegoro is pointed out of his own country in the same
way as Sultan Baharuddin of Palembang was pointed out of his country by the same de Kock
nine years before.
Diponegoro look submissive, his retainers and followers as well. Everyone pictured seems to
understand that de Kock’s stern action is for the best of the Javanese, and that poor General
de Kock had no choice but to send Pangeran Diponegoro away, just like a loving father has
to send a misguided son away in order to teach him a valuable lesson.
After all de Kock was not
a monstrous colonizer, but the grand master of the humanistic Freemasons in the
Indies. All participants seem relaxed (even the crying ones), there is no resistance, no
commotion and high above the pageant flies merrily the Dutch tricolors.
had never been to Java and the Javanese on his painting look more like people from the
Middle East, than people from Indonesia. He composed his painting after a sketch by F.V.H.A.
Ritter de Steurs, aide-de-champ and son-in-law of General de Kock. Pieneman’s painting
is a tribute to the glory of the Dutch. The pain of the Javanese is nowhere to be seen.
Prince Raden Saleh had
certainly seen Pieneman’s painting, and must have had some sort of representation of
it with him in Batavia. Perhaps Raden Saleh did a copy himself in Holland.
When he made the first sketch
(shown above) of his planned painting in 1856 it was still very close to Pieneman’s
composition, although the relationship between de Kock and Diponegoro is already ambiguous.
De Kock looks rather lost and Diponegoro as well. The drawing which is with the Atlas
van Stolk in Rotterdam shows two horsemen on the left who are prominent in Pieneman’s
painting as well. Saleh’s treatment of the Dutch soldiers also reminds us of Pieneman’s version.
The final version
of his Capture of Diponegoro, oil on canvas, 112 x 178 cm, Museum Istana Jakarta,
shows a different composition and emotional quality all together. An angry Diponegoro is the
acting figure in the center of the painting. He struggles to keep his feelings - in true Javanese
fashion - under control. His look is provocative and challenging, while the Dutch officers are
frozen in static gazes that do not meet anybodies eyes.
version Pangeran Diponegoro is placed a step lower than de Kock. Saleh brings the Javanese onto the
same level. In relationship to de Kock, Diponegoro stands on the right side, the Dutch
Commander-in-Chief on the left, which, within the Javanese system of spacial order is understood
as the female side. That again relegates the Dutch officer to second in importance.
In Prince Raden Saleh’s
version Diponegoro is not pointed out of his country but is invited by a somewhat helpless
de Kock to enter a waiting coach.
Most interesting is the fact that the heads of the major
Dutch officers are slightly out of proportion, a little bit to big. This ‘error’ is not found in the
earlier drawing, nor are the heads of the Javanese on the painting out of proportion.
because the ‘error’ is not an error but a message which it makes the Dutch out to be to
monsters. The painting has two levels, two meanings: an upfront meaning for the Dutch viewer and a
second clandestine meaning for a Javanese public.
For them de Kock is a female raksasa,
a monster with a monstrous head. The Dutch public could not see this level and for them the
Javanese artist reveals his incompetence. Even the usually well-informed Dutch historian H.
J. de Graaf was not able to understand the hidden meaning.
He wrote: ‘I cannot say
that I find it very beautiful. The heads are a little to big and the arrest of
prince did not
happen on the gallery as shown on the painting but in the interior of the house.’
difference between Pieneman’s and Saleh’s approach is the different angle the two painters chose
to look at the drama. While Pieneman constructs his painting from the southwest,
Raden Saleh chose the southeast as his point of departure. The Dutchman Pieneman introduces a rather
sharp wind from the west (common in Holland) that gives the Dutch flag a very dynamic
In Prince Raden Saleh’s work the atmosphere is absolutely quiet. The universe holds its
breath, no leaf and certainly no flag is moving. Raden Saleh has ‘forgotten’ the Dutch tricolor
named his painting De onderwerping van Diepo Negoro, (subjugation of Diponegoro),
Saleh prefered to call his version Die Gefangennahme Diepo Negoros, (Arrest of
Diponegoro). Raden Saleh’s Diponegoro is not a subjugated warrior, he is a cheated person, a
victim to Dutch treacherous action. Raden Saleh’s painting The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro
caricature, a bitter comment on Dutch colonial rule.
To Clark’s statement ‘look you
did this to us, but we are still us’, we could add, ‘you are stupid enough not to understand
the true meaning of my message’. Painting the
statement was one thing, but to present it to the eyes of the public quite another. There was
no possibility in Batavia to show paintings to the public. No art museum, no gallery, no art
But we know that Raden Saleh’s periodically opened his studio to the public to put a
number of paintings on display. I mentioned already that he had built himself a big house
in neo-gothic style in Cikini. It is documented that such an exhibition was organized in
The correspondent of the Dutch art journal Kunstkronijk wrote in an article about the
arts in the colony. ‘Kassian, kassian! … art is a commodity which is not
to be found on the
market here’. Then he goes on to mention the sole exception: Raden Saleh.
correspondent gives us a description of the public display of two oil paintings
A Flood in Java
View of Megamendung - organized by Saleh in his house. Hundreds of people visited the
event and for days every talk in town started with ‘have you been at the exposition yet?’ The painting A Flood in Java was meant for King Willem III and Raden Saleh wanted it to
present it to the public in the colony before it left for Holland.
We do not know if his
Diponegoro painting, which was sent to the King as well, was exhibited in
the same manner. Anyway
it was a highly symbolic gesture that the painting went to the top representative of
the colonial system, King Willem III.
Willam III was regarded a liberal by many of his
subjects and Raden Saleh wanted him to read the paintings message. ‘Look you did this to us, but
we are still us’.
Of course the King
did not understand. For some years he kept it in his palace in The Hague. Later it was
expedited to the trofeengalerij van het Koninklijk Koloniaal Militair
trophies of the Royal Colonial Military Veterans Home Bronbeek). In 1978
the Oranje Nassau Foundation returned the painting, as a present to the Indonesian people,
Today this icon of national Indonesian art history is part of the collection of the
Museum Istana and as such unfortunately now is even more removed from the public eye than it was
formerly in Holland.
Not only Willem
III, but Indonesian nationalists as well did not understand the symbolic meaning of
In a very influential statement Prof. Harsja Bachtiar, an American trained
Indonesian historian, who belonged to the first generation of intellectuals in independent
Indonesia, disqualified the painting as ‘un-nationalistic’.
He wrote: Diponegoro's death
‘inspired Saleh, who had seen many paintings of historical scenes when he was in Europe,
to paint what he called 'a historisches Tableau (historical painting), die Gefangennahmen des Javanischen
Häuptling Diepo Negoro' (the Arrest of the Javanese leader Diepo Negoro), painted, characteristically, for the King of the Netherlands, a very
un-nationalistic gesture, but very much in accord with the relationship of a grateful artist
and his aristocratic patron, the relationship of a courtier and his King’.
Some Western art
historians accepted Bachtiar’s analysis. Comparing Prince Raden Saleh's painting with an
unfinished work of Hendra Gunawan, Pangeran Diponegoro Terluka, Astri Wright claims:
despite revisionist claims in the 1980s to his earlier 'nationalist spirit',
painted his work showing
the final outcome of the Java War in a way which could be seen as a warning to
potential rebels. I do not know if the historical record shows weather Raden Saleh's painting
was commissioned by the Dutch or not, but it could very well have been.’
Well, it was not...
In a different way
and in a different medium Heri Dono’s two works for a recent Raden Saleh Re-visited
exhibition in Semarang, repeat this argumant. Dono titles one painting
Raden Saleh jadi
(Raden Saleh becomes Dutch), the other Raden Saleh dalam mulut Belanda
(Raden Saleh in the
mouth of the Dutch).
Prince Raden Saleh was
always regarded by the Indonesians as a national cultural model. Maybe even a national
After all he proved through his art that a Javanese could equal the Dutch in one of their
culturally core techniques: painting. He brought himself up to the same level and was able to
look straight into the eyes of the colonial power. But he was never regarded as a nationalist.
seems to have changed only lately. Jim Supangkat opened up the discourse a couple
of years ago by writing as follows: ‘Until now there
has been no acceptable proof which shows that Raden Saleh had taken a stance in the
confrontation between Diponegoro and the colonial administration. However it is absurd to
question whether he was a patriot or a traitor.’
And Alwi Shahab
added in a long newspaper essay (Republika, 22nd December 2002) about Saleh’s
painting Arrest of Diponegoro: ‘Itu merupakan
sebuah karya lukis yang revolusioner dan antipenjajahan’ (It is a revolutionary and
anti colonial painting).
A prerequisite for
a historical painting during the 19th Century was the existence of a nation, since the
nation - not a client - was the address for the topic. Or to put it the other way around: by
creating images of national historical events, you created a virtual nation as well. In a way the
Dutch created the idea of Netherlands India through paintings like Pieneman’s
Subjugation of Diponegoro.
And Raden Saleh created a nation in waiting by painting the
Arrest of Diponegoro the way he did. The introduction of the topic
historical painting meant the
introduction of the idea of nationhood.
If we can accept
interpretation of Raden Saleh’s
Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro,
we have to reinterpret Raden Saleh’s role in Indonesian history
as well. He has to be placed
right at the beginning of a long line of Indonesian modernizers
and proto-nationalist figures.
That his message was little understood by his fellow Javanese has
something to do with
timing: he stepped too early onto the stage of Javanese social
and cultural modernization. But
nevertheless he broke the ground. He proved that Javanese could
excel in European cultural
techniques as well. The painting was among the first to introduce
the topic history and
historical painting to Southeast Asian art. It is the first
representation, interpretation, and
comment on the contemporary.
For the first time a local artist left anonymity to proclaim that
it is his job to comment the world. For the first time in
Southeast Asian history the artist as a
topos established himself in the middle of society and took
self-assured his seat in the front
row, next to the political elites.
This was an immense modern act. It was the prerequisite for
the beginning of a new era, a prerequisite for modernity.