Through the eyes of a child

Kees de Kort (Nijkerk, Holland, 1934) is a Dutch painter, designer and illustrator who lives in Bergen, Holland. From 1956 to 1962 he studied at the Academy of Arts in Amersfoort, at the Art Academy Artibus in Utrecht and at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. He is most famous, nationally and internationally, for his illustrations of Bible stories.

He started to illustrate Bible stories commissioned by Schoolradio. These illustrations were intended to show what objects looked like in Biblical times.

The series ´What the Bible tells us´ originated in 1965 as an initiative of the Netherlandss Bible Society. The objective was to produce a series of Bible stories, in separate volumes, especially made for young mentally disabled people. A committee of experts, including psychiatrists, theologists, a rehabilitation centre director, professors, parsons, pastors, rabbis, schoolteachers and a lady-in-waiting, was called together for advice, and artists were invited to sent an example of what they could make. The pictures had to be so self-explanatory that the text would only be an addition. Many artists responded to the call and send an example illustration. Kees de Kort was chosen. The cooperation between the Netherlands Bible Society’s committee and Kees de Kort resulted, within a period of twenty years, in ten illustrated stories from the Old Testament and eighteen from the New Testament.

In order to deepen his knowledge Kees de Kort visited mentally disabled people and found out there are large differences in their intelligence. Most of them, though, could hardly read or not at all. They share that with young children, also an important target group. This is why he taught himself to watch through the eyes of a child. All human figures are standing on the ground line and he uses little perspective in his pictures. The composition is made up of large, colourful planes. Almost always people are in the centre and their faces clearly show their emotions. All figures are presented with dignity and friendly expression. The biblical people are very recognizable; if they reappear in various stories, they always have the same looks and the same clothes. For example, Jesus always wears the same cloak and can immediately be recognized as the central Figure, but also as a man among men.
Kees de Kort did not illustrate a children’s Bible, but a Bible for children. That means the Bible stories are succinctly displayed, without additions that can not be found in the original text. Kees de Kort’s ‘children’s Bible’ is actually more a Bible to look at than a Bible to read from. When all 28 stories were bundled in one book in 1992, it was therefore titled ‘Kijkbijbel’, Dutch for ‘visual Bible’. This show-and-tell Bible is still one of most read children´s Bibles, translated in more than 80 languages.

Kees de Kort also illustrated the Neukirchener Kinderbibel, and together with his son Michiel de Kort, the Neukirchener Erzählbibel. With his other son Hjalmar de Kort he illustrated Es begann im Paradies. Kees de Kort also made paintings for adults about the Bible books of Amos, Song of Songs and, Job and charcoal drawings about the parables of Jesus . In commission, Kees de Kort also designed leadlights and tryptichs with religious images. A secular theme in his works are pigs, which fascinate him. In 1995 he received the Spaan Award for his illustrative contributions to the ´Kijkbijbel´containing the illustrations of the series ‘What the Bible tells us’. In 2013 he received the UBS Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Bible Societies for his contribution to Bible illustration. In September 2015 he was appointed Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau.