Huis ten Bosch: A modest Palace with a Grand Interior

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Compared to other official residences for heads of state Huis Ten Bosch is a relatively modest affair. The eighteenth century engraving above shows the main facade of the palace in much the same way as it appears today, however this is after it was considerably enlarged after designs by Daniel Marot in 1733 by the addition of two wings. The name says it all, Huis ten Bosch translates as House in the woods.This is exactly what it started out as, a small country retreat in close proximity to the centre of court in The Hague, though of course not quite as small as Hofwijck.

The Huis ten Bosch at The Hague and Its Formal Garden (View from the South)

The Huis ten Bosch at The Hague and Its Formal Garden (View from the South)

This wonderful painting by Jan van der Heyden now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art depicts the house as it appeared originally viewed from the garden side. The house was designed by Pieter Post and Jacob van Campen for Amalia van Solms, wife of Stadtholder Frederick Henry, and construction started in 1645. Post and Van Campen were also responsible for work on the Mauritshuis and Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, and Van Campen worked on Hofwijck and the church at Renswoude as well. When  Frederick Henry passed away in 1647 his widow decided to dedicate the house to his memory, and it is to this act of remembrance that we owe the creation of one of the most spectacular interiors of the Dutch Baroque, the Oranjezaal. As part of the Palatium Summer School we were very graciously invited to visit Huis ten Bosch and the Oranjezaal, which is a rare occurrence. The Palace is undergoing a transition at the moment after the abdication of Queen Beatrix in 2013. Understandably photography isn’t allowed, but the Royal Collections have teamed up with Google and created the Streetview of the interior you can see below.


The Oranjezaal is a triomf of the skills of all the artists involved in its creation. The paintings by Gerard van HonthorstJacob JordaensThomas Willeboirts BosschaertTheodoor van ThuldenCaesar van EverdingenSalomon de BrayPieter Soutman,Gonzales CoquesPieter de GrebberAdriaen Hanneman and Jan Lievens all conform to a single architectural and iconografical programme designed by Jacob van Campen, Pieter Post and Constantijn Huygens. The largest painting in the cycle is by Jacob Jordaens and it depicts the Triumph of Frederick Henry. It is no wonder that this interior would play such an important role in the dynastic aspirations of the House of Orange. This interior dominates the building to such an extent that before the extensions of the eighteenth century the house was often referred to simply as the Oranjezaal. 

The engraving below by Daniel Marot was created to commemorate a ball organised by Mary Stuart, wife of William III, for her husbands birthday in 1686. William and Mary created their very own house in the woods at Het Loo. With their accession to the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland after the Glorious Revolution in 1689 the House of Orange reached an apotheosis that could hardly have been imagined by Amalia van Solms.

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Something that is hard to convey through the images are  the subtle ways in which the artists played with the transition of mythology into reality. At some points the painted figures cast shadows on the architectural elements. These simple Trompe-l’œil tricks create a link between the physical world and the painted one, transforming the visitors of the room from a simple spectator into a participant of the triumphal procession. These details were only revealed recently after a comprehesnive conservation and restoration campaign of the interior.

This isn’t Buckingham Palace where the Royal family can simply retire to their own apartments letting the public enjoy the state rooms, this house in the woods simply isn’t large enough for such a subdivision. But although the Oranjezaal isn’t accessible to the general public it retains its position at the heart of the Dutch monarchy.

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Taking pictures was understandably strictly prohibited, therefore none of the above images are mine. Please click on the images to be redirected to the original internet source. No copyright infringement intended.