Why Was Barnett Newman’s Painting Cathedra Attacked in 1997?

Barnett Newman’s painting Cathedra, created in 1971, was attacked in December 1997 by a deranged Dutchman named Hans van Meegeren. The painting, which was part of an exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, was slashed three times, causing considerable damage. The question of why the painting was attacked has been debated ever since. Here, we will explore some of the potential reasons behind the attack.

The Attacker’s Mental State

The Attacker's Mental State

Hans van Meegeren had a history of mental illness, which may have played a role in the attack. He had previously been declared mentally unfit to stand trial for fraud and was known for his erratic and unpredictable behavior. At the time of the attack, he was under the care of a psychiatrist and had been diagnosed with a severe mental disorder. It is possible that his mental state caused him to lash out in a violent way.

The Artist’s Controversial Work

The Artist's Controversial Work

Barnett Newman was a controversial artist and his work often attracted criticism. His painting Cathedra, in particular, had been the subject of much debate. It was seen by some as a symbol of repression and the authority of the Catholic Church. It is possible that van Meegeren attacked the painting out of a sense of anger or frustration at the perceived message of the work.

The Attacker’s Claim

The Attacker's Claim

Van Meegeren claimed that he had attacked the painting as an act of protest against the commercialization of art. He argued that the painting was being exploited for its monetary value and that it should not be seen as a commodity. While this may have been his motivation for the attack, there is little evidence to support this claim.

The Attacker’s Political Views

The Attacker's Political Views

Van Meegeren was known to have extreme right-wing views and was a vocal opponent of the European Union. It is possible that he attacked the painting as a way of expressing his political beliefs. He may have viewed the painting as a symbol of the oppressive power of the EU and felt compelled to take action against it.



The reason why Barnett Newman’s painting Cathedra was attacked in 1997 remains unclear. It is possible that the attacker, Hans van Meegeren, was motivated by his mental illness, his political views, or his belief that the painting was being exploited for its monetary value. However, without further evidence, the true motivation behind the attack is likely to remain a mystery.