Middachten Castle: Restrained Exterior, Exuberant Interior

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Although the owners Heemstede and Renswoude, which were explored in the previous posts, might aspire to courtly life the owners of this castle were a firm part of it. The excursion to explore the courtly aspects of Middachten was part of the Palatium Summer School.

The earliest mention of Middachten Castle dates back to 1190 when it was recorded as belonging to a certain Jacobus de Mithdac, whilst the earliest architectural remains can be dated to the middle of the fourteenth century. The most significant period in its architectural development occurs between 1694 and 1697 when the owners commissioned Jacob Roman and Steven Vennecool to design a house that would better reflect the status of its occupants. At the time the castle was the property of Ursula Phillipotta van Raesfelt who brought the property with her as part of her dowry when she married and Godard van Reede-Ginkell. In 1692 Godard de Ginkell (as he is known in England) was elevated to the Peerage as 1st Earl of Athlone in recognition for his services as general in the army of King William III, most notably serving in Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne.

This elevated status was expertly expressed in the architecture by Jacob Roman who was an obvious choice as he was the court architect of William III best known for Het Loo Palace. At Middachten he was assisted by Steven Vennecool who was another prominent architect to work in the more restrained version of the Dutch Classicist style that became popular from the 1670’s onwards. This style followed the earlier phase that was inspired by Palladio and Scamozzi, of which Jacob van Campen was the most prominent protagonist. Where once there were pilasters and profuse use of other classical elements in the new style the overriding theme is that of order and proportion, with only an occasional ornamental flourish. At Middachten this flourish is the entrance in sandstone designed as a triumphal arch with appropriate military references surmounted at the top with the impaled coat of arms of the owners. Other than this feature at the entrance the exterior is only enlivened by the use of projecting avant-corps on all four sides. The differences in bricks of the various parts show that the original castle took up most of what is the square central block of the current house, with the avant-corps being tacked onto it and the courtyard filled in.

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The contrast between the exterior and interior could not be greater, and this is undoubtedly the desired effect. Upon entering the vestibule one is immediately enveloped in an environment of carved wood and boldly moulded plasterwork. Without question the most impressive feature of the house is the spectacular oval staircase which fills the space of what was previously a courtyard. The vigorous and deeply undercut stucco cupola is a tour de force. The double staircase leads to a cross between a gallery and a corridor with four arched openings, or balconies, towards the stairwell. The woodcarving on the staircase is a match for the stucco in splendour, if not in its boldness.

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On the central axis of the house, nicely framed by the double staircase, is the entrance to the largest reception room of Middachten, the Grote Zaal.  The collection on view is one that has been accumulated over time, the castle has never been sold in its long history. Through marriage in the eighteenth century it passed into the Bentinck family. The current custodian, though not occupier as they live in one of the buildings on the forecourt, is Graf Franz Zu Ortenburg. His mother, Isabelle Countess of Aldenburg Bentinck, brought the castle into this family that originates from Bavaria but that are now fully involved in managing this estate and opening the house for visitors and events. This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful castles one can visit in the Netherlands, an experience worth the journey.

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Above: the largest reception room in the house is the ‘Grote Zaal’ which lies on the central axis which is framed by the staircase and this axis is continued into the gardens on the other side of the moat.

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Above: This small cabinet has a wonderful corner fireplace designed as a place to exhibit a collection of porcelain. This style of fireplace with mirror and brackets reflecting the costly porcelain was popularized by Daniel Marot, although he is not thought to have been involved personally at Middachten.

Below: Middachten as seen from across the large moat, it is surrounded by splendid gardens and the chimney stacks provide accommodation for Storks. One can clearly see the different colours of brick, the ones with the warmer tone at the centre were part of the older castle.

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Photography is not permitted in the house therefore the interior images aren’t mine, please click on the images to be redirected to the original source.