Consuming luxury: Asia in Amsterdam

Japanese lacquer cabinet on a Dutch gilt stand, c1630-50, in the Long Gallery at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames

Japanese lacquer cabinet (c. 1650) on a Dutch gilt stand (c. 1675), at Ham House, Surrey, NT 1140084. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, is currently showing the major exhibition Asia in Amsterdam, about the impact of Asian luxuries on Dutch art and life in the seventeenth century. The museum is also organising a public study day on the same topic, on Saturday 16 April.

A close up of a mirror and curtains in the Queen Anne Room at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire

A state bed in the style of Daniel Marot, a japanned cabinet, marquetry table and Delft glazed earthenware vases, in the Damask Bedchamber at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I will be giving a talk at this study day about what I am tentatively calling the Sino-Dutch interior in seventeenth-century England. There was quite a lot of Dutch cultural, influence in Britain at that time, with gardening styles, Delft pots and the occasional Prince of Orange being brought across the North Sea. As Amsterdam was probably the most important European entrepot for Asian goods, the Asian and the Dutch inevitably mingled in the English interior.


Group portrait of Frederik Hendrik, Prince of Orange, his wife Amalia van Solms and three of their daughters, by Gerard van Honthorst, c. 1647, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. SK-A-874

As I am preparing my talk, I am becoming increasingly aware of the pivotal role of Amalia van Solms, the wife of Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange. Frederik Hendrik was Stadtholder or ruler of most of the provinces of the Dutch Republic between 1625 and 1647.


Late-seventeenth-century tapestries inspired by Asian lacquer, made by the Soho workshop for Belton House, Lincolnshire, in about 1691, NT 436999. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

Frederik Hendrik and Amalia projected an almost royal political and cultural aura, acquiring and decorating a number of residences. Amalia pioneered the practice of taking apart lacquer coffers and cabinets and using the panels as wall decoration, juxtaposed with liberal quantities of Asian porcelain.

This taste spread across Europe and influenced the subsequent history of chinoiserie and interior decoration in general. Without Amalia’s initial moment of creative destruction we would probably never have had Coco Chanel’s Coromandel rooms at her rue Cambon apartment.

4 Responses to “Consuming luxury: Asia in Amsterdam”

  1. Andrew Says:

    And she was the grandmother of our William III. Now I realise I know very little about his ancestry!

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed, and William’s wife and co-monarch Mary created her own lacquer rooms, both in Holland and in England, and collected porcelain, emulating and developing Amalia’s taste. And Amalia’s daughters spread the style to various German courts – a multi-generational cultural network spreading eastwards and westwards.

  3. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    I wrote a blog post called the “Golden age of Dutch art and trade – the impact of Asia” because I regularly lecture on the 17th century in the Netherlands. But objects and written records that analysed and described the impact of Asia on Dutch society were new to me.

    Your photo of the Japanese lacquer cabinet (c1650) on a Dutch gilt stand (c1675), at Ham House is wonderful because it explicitly shows how Dutch taste was influenced by, or combined with, Asian objects. Ditto the japanned cabinet, marquetry table and Delft glazed earthenware vases, in Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire. Thank you.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Helen, how interesting. Yes objects can tell fascinating stories, especially when they are still in their original settings. For my talk I am also looking at other houses with late seventeenth century interiors, like Petworth, Chatsworth, Burghley and Hampton Court.

    Also the catalogue for the Asia in Amsterdam exhibition is fantastic, a real eye opener.

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