Capture of Prince Diponegoro

Prince Diponegoro

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 concubine.

As the 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.


(Gambar pertama Pangeran Diponegoro yang dibuat oleh FVHA de Steurs)


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 named Raden Saleh (alias Arya Natadiningrat, born 1801) both sons of the celebrated Regent of Semarang Kyai Adipati Suryamangalla (Suraadimanggala), also fought alongside Prince Diponegoro.

Because of this, Raden Sukur's father - the celebrated and beloved Regent of Semarang - and his brother Raden Saleh 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 Kyai Adipati Suryamangalla (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.

Prince Raden Saleh und Prince Diponegoro

Pangeran Diponegoros resistance against the Dutch is the established background of all past, present and maybe future Indonesian struggles for independence, nationhood and dignity.

Modern myth claims that the Indonesian nation was tempered in the fire of the Java War. It was the remembered 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 moment, at least in post independent historical construction, of the creation of the Indonesian self.

Modern myth claims that the Indonesian nation was tempered in the fire of the Java War. It was the remembered 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 moment, at least in post independent historical construction, of the creation of the Indonesian self.

Countless speeches, essays, articles, books, comic strips, films, like ‘1828’ by Teguh 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 national hero.

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 promised safe conduct) was and is so momentous for Javanese/Indonesian history, it is no wonder that Indonesian political ideology and historiography constructed Diponegoro as the source of the beacon that finally established dignity, progress and modernity in their country.

The Dutch for many decades knew about the importance of their victory over Diponegoro. After all the outcome was won through the utmost concentration of their military and economic resources. They and their colonial endeavour stood on the brink of collapse in 1825.

Therefore the Java War was understood by many future Dutch generations as Grauen an sich  (horror 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 administrators of 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 lived in Bandung or Bogor, far away from the war theaters of Central Java. In 1829 he left Batavia for Holland and when Diponegoro was arrested in Magelang 28 March 1830, Raden Saleh was already a student of the Dutch portrait painter Cornelis Kruseman in The Hague. When 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 families who had sons in the Netherlands-Indies Army, good news for Dutch administrators who could now start to implement new strategies of colonial exploitation. A new era was about to begin.

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 a young Javanese in far away Holland.

When General Hendrik Merkus de Kock, who arranged the arrest of Diponegoro, returned 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 teacher of Raden Saleh - to paint his portrait.

And while he was sitting in Kruseman’s studio, watching the young Javanese apprentice, he might have been reminded about his days in the Indies and he might have recalled one or the other anecdotes about his dealings with the most famous Dutch enemy: Pangeran Diponegoro.

It is even possible that Saleh was employed to do some minor works on the portrait, like filling in the background. De Kock not only commissioned 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, but Raden Saleh’s journey to Holland was arranged by the Dutch to prevent a young and educated member of the Semarang Bupati family Bustaman from returning to Central Java.

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 Diponegoro.

Kyai Naga Siloeman had been 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: Diponegoro’s.

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 pusakas. 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 the Kabinet, 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.’

Imagine the 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.

Incidentally, 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) it?

This is the stuff of beautiful cloak and kris stories.

Pangeran Diponegoro apparently stayed on the mind of Prince Raden Saleh. When a couple of years later Raden  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 Prince Raden Saleh must have been the source behind this report. It seems that he was engaged in a kind of intellectual guerrilla warfare.

The Capture of Pangeran Diponegoro

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 Pangeran Diponegoro.

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.

Raden Saleh 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 Pieneman, 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 Jaureguy or Admiral de Ruyter’s heroic death were quite famous in the first half of the 19th century.

His ‘De onderwerping van Diepo Negoro aan luitenant-generaal De Kock, 28 maart 1830’, 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 exile. 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.

Pieneman made 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.

Nicolaas Pieneman 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 anybodys eyes.

In Pieneman’s 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.

This is 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 the prince did not happen on the gallery as shown on the painting but in the interior of the house.’

The major 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 appearance.

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 all together.

While Pieneman named his painting De onderwerping van Diepo Negoro, (subjugation of Diponegoro), Prince Raden 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 is a 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 dealer.

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 1862.

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.

The unknown correspondent gives us a description of the public display of two oil paintings – A Flood in Java and 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 Invalidenhuis Bronbeek (gallery of 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, to Jakarta.

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 Raden Saleh’s painting.

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:

‘Raden Saleh, 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 whether 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 Londo (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 hero. Can you imagine what would have happened if one of his contemporaries or the colonial powers had caught on to the actual meaning of the painting?

Raden Saleh actually put his reputation and his life on the line for the future and freedom of his beloved home country under foreign rule, in the same proud tradition as other Bustaman family members had done before before him: his uncle Kyai Adipati Suryamangalla (Suraadimanggala) and his cousins Raden Sukur and Raden Saleh.

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.

This interpretation 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.

By accepting this interpretation of Raden Saleh’s Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro, we have to reinterpret Prince 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.