They represent different sections of the Indonesian archipelago: West Sumatra, Java, Seram, Papua and Mentawai. The men are anonymous ‘ethnic types’, as representatives of a generalized ethnicity and nothing more. They stand in clear contrast to the portraits one floor down, of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, one of the VOC’s founders, grand pensionary Johan de Witt and scholars Hugo de Groot and Constantijn Huygens to either side of the entrance around the corner. These men are explicitly named and refer to the historic ‘Golden’ seventeenth century, a symbol of national pride, even if now contested.
All the other portraits by Willem Retera that are carved into this facade represent groups, not individuals. Inhabitants of the colonies with no names or stories of their own, they represent ‘strange’ or ‘exotic’ population groups.12 Visitors were meant to identify with the European historic ‘heroes’, each of whom evokes a glorious past. The portraits are permanent records of colonialism’s power imbalances and stereotyping.