Markiezenhof: Powerhouse of a Bygone Era

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This next post in the series of buildings we explored with the Palatium Summer School truly is an oddity in the Dutch architectural heritage landscape. The Markiezenhof in Bergen op Zoom is not a castle, nor is it a country house, this is a city residence of the lords, and from 1533 onwards Marquesses of Bergen op Zoom. This city palace was the epicentre of representation and administration for one of the most powerful noble families in a country that due to its size has relatively few members of the higher nobility.

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Although the building developed over time and went through various alterations there are three main phases in its history that determine its current appearance, as well as the obligatory restoration. In 1485 Jean II de Glimes, lord of Bergen commissioned the well known Keldermans family of Mechelen to construct a new residence that would be of sufficient stature to receive important guests. The palatial residence would be finished during the lifetime of his son, Jean III de Glymes, with a notable addition being the spectacular Christoffel fireplace in the great hall which was designed by Rombout Keldermans in 1521. Jean II was an influential man, a knight of the order of the golden fleece, and emissary for the Habsburg court. His grandson and heir,  was created Marquess of Bergen op Zoom and Count of Wallheim in 1533 by Charles V, who would also come to Bergen op Zoom and be entertained in the residence in 1540.

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The Marquisate passed through several houses by marriage, many of them had more important possessions elsewhere so little attention was paid to this residence. The house and title passed into the French House La Tour d’Auvergne who were the last to actually inhabit the residence. This period marks another important phase in the architectural history of the building, albeit one that was never fully completed. The garden façade was rebuilt in the latest French fashion, I wonder how the rest of the residence would have been altered had this building campaign been completed. This odd juxtaposition of Flemish late Gothic with French baroque is rather interesting and adds to the charge of this rambling structure. It also illustrates that many residences like these were often somewhere midway in a building campaign in a continuous revolving cycle reminiscent of the painting of the Eiffel Tower.

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After this last use as a residence it went through phases as barracks, a hospital and other institutional uses. A long and thorough restoration campaign concluded in 1987 when the building was opened with multiple uses as a museums, local history centre, city archives and library. The French wing was completed in this period with a series of four period rooms that were inserted but in fact have no link with the history of the building or its owners.

Due to the multiple uses of the building there is a distinct lack of cohesion in the presentation and use of the spaces. The spaces presented to the audience as representative of a certain period and lifestyle in the building are the aforementioned period rooms, and therefore not authentic to the site at all. Surprisingly the old Long Gallery above the wonderfully detailed arcade still exists with a lot of interesting original features, however this is now an office and not open to the public. Museum interpretations will change and I’m sure the current presentation will be renewed at some point. In the meantime though there is more than enough architectural splendour on view here to make this worth a trip. This fascinating building is also the subject of a doctoral research project of one of the participants of the Summer School, I’m looking forward to find out more about its history in due course, best of luck Bart!

(To read more on the research of Bart van Eekelen in Dutch please follow this link: https://www.markiezenhof.nl/zien-en-beleven/blog-bouwgeschiedenis)

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Above: The Long Gallery above the ornate arcade, access is provided through the distinctive onion domed tower seen in the first image. The gallery isn’t open to the public as it is in use as an offce, even though it retains many interesting original features.

Below: One of the four Period Rooms installed in the French wing during the restoration campaign. Parts of this interior came from Haarlem. The neoclassical style of the late eighteenth century is an odd choice as the Markiezenhof ceased to be used for domestic purposes long before this was fashionable. The series of period rooms have since become representative of a period in restoration ethics and are worth preserving in that respect alone.

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