Living history

HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Palace of Huis ten Bosch, 2010. © RVD, foto: Vincent Mentzel © RVD, photo: Vincent Mentzel

HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Palace of Huis ten Bosch, 2010. © RVD, photo: Vincent Mentzel

Earlier this week HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands made the announcement that on 30 April 2013 she will abdicate in favour of her son, the Prince of Orange. By then she will have been on the throne for 33 years, and at 75 she will have been the oldest reigning Dutch monarch.

As constitutional monarch Queen Beatrix represents an element of continuity, an embodiment of ‘living history’. Various members of the House of Orange have had a connection with the Dutch nation from its foundation in the 1570s and 1580s, first as stadtholders and later as monarchs. Now Queen Beatrix’s reign, too, will become ‘history’.

HM Queen Beatrix signing legislation at her desk at the Palace of Huis ten Bosch, 2011. © Rijksoverheid

HM Queen Beatrix signing legislation at her desk at the Palace of Huis ten Bosch, 2011. © Rijksoverheid

The recent portraits shown here hint at that continuity in various, almost old-masterly ways. The photograph at the top was taken in the Witte Eetzaal (White Dining Room) of the Palace of Huis ten Bosch in The Hague. This room is in one of the wings added to the building by Daniel Marot for Prince William IV of Orange between 1734 and 1737. The image of the Queen at her desk shows her under a portrait of the Dutch pater patriae, Prince William I of Orange.

15 Responses to “Living history”

  1. Susan Walter Says:

    And I’ll bet the semiotics is almost entirely conscious too.

  2. Andrew Says:

    There seems to be a recent tradition of Dutch monarchs abdicating at a good time for their heir to take over: Juliana in 1980, and Wilhelmina in 1948.

    Wilhelmina became queen in 1890 aged just ten, so Willem-Alexander will be the first King of the Netherlands for over 120 years. And what a tradition of continuity to emulate!

  3. klover Says:

    This decision and her portrait appear to me as extremely graceful.

  4. Shin Says:

    She will surely be missed. It’s nice to see a post about her here.

  5. mary Says:

    I met Queen Beatrix while she was on her honeymoon in Mexico. Even then she was so authentic and charming to a very young and timid teenager.

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Susan, indeed, probably, although because of the Queen’s constitutional role the actual meaning of those semiotics has to remain relatively implicit 🙂

    Andrew, yes as you say a tradition of abdication as a form of retirement, presumably in response to lengthening life-spans.

    Klover, yes indeed.

    Shin, yes royalty from a ‘heritage’ perspective 🙂

    Mary, how interesting. Some images of her return from honeymoon (in 1966) can be seen here: – with wonderfully ‘period’ clipped delivery of the commentator. This also includes scenes from the birthday celebrations of her mother, Queen Juliana, at the Palace of Soestdijk.

  7. Andrew Says:

    It is an interesting to contrast with the monarchs of (for example) Japan, the UK, or Thailand, who seem to want to (or feel obliged to) carry on to the end. Perhaps this says something about the Dutch?

    I assume that is a trompe l’oeil grisaille above the fireplace in the first photo, not high-relief plasterwork? Either way, it is great.

    And can we work out the date of the map in the last photo? Perhaps the yellow Balkans denotes the Ottomans? Some time from 1480 to 1680? Hard to see what is happening between France and the Holy Roman Empire, or indeed whether there is an independent Dutch state.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes I think that in Holland the monarchy is considered more of an exalted profession rather than a sacred calling. Interestingly, too, Dutch monarchs are ‘inaugurated’ rather than crowned, as the latter was considered too ‘Popish’ for the Protestant Dutch. And of course the monarchy ‘only’ dates from 1815 – prior to that the Princes of Orange ruled as stadtholders, i.e. elected rulers of the Dutch Republic. Even Prince William III of Orange, who became King William III of England and William II of Scotland, and who vied with Louis XIV in his baroque gardens at Het Loo and Hampton Court, was never an absolute monarch.

    It is indeed interesting to compare those different monarchies, and to realise how each reflects the different historical, political and social contexts of those countries.

    Yes I was peering at that map too, but like you I am not quite sure of the date. Presumably it does include one of the incarnations of the Dutch state, and if so it is interesting – since we are speaking of semiotics – that it shows Holland in a European context.

  9. Andrew Says:

    I doubt it is after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The yellow Ottoman boundary looks around 1520, with the whitish area to the left being Hungary. Perhaps it is around the establishment of the Dutch Republic in 1581?

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Andrew, your grasp of European history is clearly better than mine 🙂

    Yes it would make sense if the map showed Europe in the late 16th century, as the portrait of Prince William I hanging nearby would be more or less contemporary, and in combination they could then evoke the connections between the House of Orange and the birth of the Dutch nation.

    And if the bust on the cabinet is also of William I, and is by the Queen (she is an amateur sculptor) then that would constitute another little web of connotations between past with present, history and culture, public and personal.

    And the Queen is said to be signing legislation in this photograph, yet another almost symbolic element referring to her constitutional role. This apparently businesslike image is actually extremely allegorical 🙂

  11. Andrew Says:

    A very different feel to her office for the speech announcing the forthcoming abdication. Same desk, same wall coverings, same painting, same lamp (but illuminated), but no map or sculpture, and just flowers on the desk.

    No doubt they have very good media consultants to get the implicit messaging right! (One of the episodes of Yes Prime Minister includes discussion of the background for a party political broadcast – modern and bright colours, to distract attention when there is nothing to say, or sombre desk and dark wood panelling, to reassure when there is!)

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Interesting observation! Yes presumably those objects were removed because they would distract from the core message of that broadcast. And as you suggest the flowers were probably added as a subliminal cheerful/reassuring note.

    As for your earlier query about the overmantel, I think that is a grisaille painting rather than a relief, in the style of, or by, Jacob de Wit (1695-1754). These deccorative overdoor or overmantel paintings of putti, sometimes called ‘witjes’ after the painter, were very popular in Holland in the eighteenth century and achieved a high degree of subtlety in their shading and three-dimensionality.

  13. Andrew Says:

    Ah – Wikimedia Commons has some archived images of the “eetzaal” (Dutch is a wonderfully direct language!) at Huis ten Bosch. For example:


    Jacob de Wit is credited with another grisaille in the eetzaal, of Venus and Adonis:

    And also some of its Chinese rooms:


  14. Andrew Says:

    (Sorry, didn’t mean to imply that de Wit decorated the Chinese rooms; but the wallpapers are interesting.)

  15. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much Andrew. Yes ‘eetzaal’ meaning ‘eatroom’ – a certain directness seems to be built into the Dutch language 🙂 Cf. ‘slaapkamer’ – ‘sleeproom’ rather than bedroom.

    Thanks too for those other links. The orientalist rooms at Huis ten Bosch are indeed fascinating. Their decoration dates to the late 18th century. One of them has textile appliqués of birds, imported from Japan but combined and mounted on silk panels in Holland (but this decorative scheme was historically called ‘Chinese’, confusingly). Another room has an important Chinese panoramic landscape wallpaper. I was very interested to see the third scheme, which looks like some kind of European oriental-style wallpaper or silk hanging – I must investigate that further.

    There seems to have been an interesting difference of emphasis between England and Holland in the way orientalist decoration was used, in that in the former it featured in relatively private rooms, whereas in the latter it could be found in public reception rooms, as at Huis ten Bosch.

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