The kite seems to be a fleeting thing: a fun toy for the young, but swiftly forgotten after childhood. How can we thus explain the enduring fascination of the Dutch with kite-flying? The Netherlands is a country of kite enthusiasts. A history of the representation of the kite in Dutch culture reveals that it crops up in numerous famous novels, poems and songs, paintings and prints, on utensils and in interior decor. Kits that fail to take off, kites that soar into the sky, fighter kites, toy kites, useful kits, symbolic kites and tear-jerker kites – there are kites everywhere. The Netherlands grew up with the kite, and it has frequently functioned as a symbol for new ideas and desires. The motto seems to be ‘Say it with kites’ – but what, exactly, is being said?
The kite appears to have functioned a ‘mental image’; a form that allowed the Dutch to conceptualise ideas over time. Very early on, for example, the kite was used to conceptualise the complex idea of the Republic as a new form of state: one that was admirable when it soared ambitiously, but also fragile. After all, the ‘edifice’ of the newly-founded Dutch Republic was built on makeshift foundations. The kite remained a political symbol for centuries, as well as an image of technological progress, loss of innocence, crushed ambitions and high flights. Following the kite provides a bird’s eye view of four hundred years of Dutch history.
Gert-Jan Johannes and Inger Leemans, De vliegerende Hollander. Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse vliegerverbeelding, vanaf 1600 (Prometheus 2020).
Gert-Jan Johannes and Inger Leemans, ‘The Kite of State. The Political Iconography of Kiting in the Dutch Republic 1600-1800, Early Modern Low Countries’ 1:2 (2017) 201–230.
Interview about De vliegerende Hollander [The flying Dutchman] on Nieuwsweekend (NPO Radio 1)