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  • Alyssa Rosvita

Raden Saleh's Retelling of The Truth: The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro


The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro by Raden Saleh c. 1857


A pioneer of modern art in Indonesia, Raden Saleh Sjarif Boestaman is rightly considered one of the country's most prominent artists. He studied in Europe, where he learned to become the first notable Indonesian artist to paint with a Western-style discipline. Raden Saleh has countless legendary paintings, but his most historic is undoubtedly “The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro."


Background

Pangeran Diponegoro was a Javanese royal and a prominent leader in the Java War. Raden Saleh's painting depicts his arrest by Lieutenant General Hendrik Merkus de Kock on March 28, 1830. "The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro" was completed in 1857 as a response to "The Submission of Prince Dipo Negoro to General De Kock," which was painted between 1830 and 1835.


Lieutenant de Kock commissioned the Dutch artist Nicolaas Pieneman to depict the scene, resulting in the Submission. His Dutch colonial perspective of the events portrayed Pangeran Diponegoro as submissive and defenseless. Art historians suggest that the death of Prince Diponegoro in 1855 may have inspired Raden Saleh to reframe the arrest to be seen from the point of view of the Javanese.


Comparisons

The Submission of Prince Dipo Negoro to General De Kock by Nicolaas Pieneman (top),

The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro by Raden Saleh (bottom)


Over the years, art historians have made numerous analyses of both the paintings done by Pieneman and Raden Saleh. John Clark mentioned in his book that The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro is considered an example of one of the earliest examples of conveying nationalism through art, stating that the painting declared the strong spirits of Indonesians, despite all the tragedies caused by Dutch colonialism. Werner Krauss further expands on Raden Saleh’s positioning of De Kock, where he is seen on the left side of Pangeran Diponegoro, which symbolizes the general as being less powerful in comparison to Pieneman’s depiction, where De Kock can be seen positioned at the top of the stairs, above Pangeran Diponegoro. Raden Saleh’s painting also characterized the Dutch soldiers as having overly large heads, which, to a Javanese viewer, can be interpreted as arrogance. All of these small details might seem unfamiliar in the eyes of the Dutch, but to the Javanese is an obvious comment on the Dutch’s colonial ruling.


There are many distinctions that can be noticed between the two paintings, whether or not this was done on purpose. Nicolaas Pieneman, the artist who painted the Submission, has never visited the Dutch East Indies, and it is unclear where he obtained his references for the painting. There have been several criticisms of his work and its lack of accuracy, the most obvious of which is that the Javanese warriors' features seem more Arab than pribumi Javanese. The Dutch flag that can be seen in Pieneman's rendition has been excluded by Raden Saleh, who painted only the two mountains that can be seen in the distance that are a part of Magelang's skyline as the background of the Arrest—another notable difference.


In addition, coming from a culture where saving face is highly important, this painting has become a way for Raden Saleh to help preserve Pangeran Diponegoro’s courage and bravery as Indonesia’s hero. It also serves as a way to correct the representation of the Javanese. This motive continues by illustrating De Kock’s gaze into the distance, afraid to maintain eye contact with Pangeran Diponegoro. When combined with De Kock's more polite gesture leading Pangeran Diponegoro to his capture, this reduced De Kock's character to that of a greeter, inferior to the great hero, especially in comparison to how his hand gesture is in the Submission, seemingly ordering Pangeran Diponegoro's exile.


Then again, Raden Saleh’s painting depends greatly on the viewer. To the eye of the Javanese, this painting represents his effort in trying to defend their honor, with gestures and social context that could only be understood by the Javanese. On the other hand, in the eyes of the Dutch, Raden Saleh’s rendition of De Kock signifies the highest royal merit of the Dutch, represented by the Dutch Maltese cross on his chest. The message behind Raden Saleh's painting is deeply emotional to Javanese or even all Indonesian viewers, especially due to its symbolism and cultural nuances. Of course, it is difficult to presume to know how others would evaluate the two paintings in comparison to one another, particularly if they are unfamiliar with the cultural contexts and the historical event being portrayed.


What can we learn?

To us, this painting was greatly needed to properly represent the people of Java. The truth needed to be retold to let everyone know the toughness of the Indonesian spirit, despite all that has happened. It was highly impactful for someone of high stature and importance such as Raden Saleh to speak for Indonesians.


This painting is one of the most spoken-about treasures of Indonesia, with the sheer amount of symbolisms, motives and controversies surrounding it. But, it is a beautiful painting nonetheless, that has perfectly captured the definite truth. The truth of an event lived by Indonesians and finally painted and immortalized by one of their own.

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