Het Loo: The Hunting Lodge that became a Versailles of the North


Versailles of the North is an uncomfortable slogan that has been associated with this palace at some point as it invariable leads to comparisons with the glorious edifice of Versailles. That is not to say that Het Loo isn’t glorious, it most certainly is.

William III acquired the Castle Het Loo in 1684 for the good hunting that could be had in the region and the potential to develop water features due to the neighbouring hills supplying water from an elevated position. This Castle still exists and remains in use by the Royal Family, it is located just outside the formal parterre gardens. This region has several important residences of important courtiers as well such as Middachten which we also visited as part of the Palatium Summer School. William contracted Jacob Roman to design his new hunting lodge in the reserved Dutch Classicist style. Roman designed a central square corps de logis with two pavilions connected by curved colonnades. When William and Mary became joint rulers of the British Isles as well in 1689 the palace was modified to fit their new found status. The colonnades were moved to the gardens where they terminated the visual axis and replaced by wings that connected the pavilions with the main block.

The palace is now a museum that focuses on the history of the house of Orange-Nassau as rulers and later monarchs of the Netherlands. The main attraction here however is the William & Mary period, but there are rooms devoted to each period up to Queen Juliana. The palace underwent a long, and sometimes controversial, restoration campaign up to the opening in 1984. The structure, appearance and furnishing had been radically altered over its history, a lot of this had to be reversed to present the palace we see today. The historic photograph below (click on it for the original source) demonstrates just how dramatic the changes to Het Loo were. When the emperor Napoleon appointed his brother, Louis Napoleon, to be King of the Netherlands this sparked an important campaign of remodelling and decorating the former residences of the Stadtholders as well as acquired or appropriated other ones. At Het Loo the alterations were significant, the brick building was plastered and the formal gardens were landscaped. When the Princes of Orange returned, now as Kings, they retained many of the alterations by Louis Napoleon which is one of the reasons there is such a good collection of Empire furniture in the Netherlands. Queen Wilhelmina was very fond of Het Loo and retired here after her abdication, she was the last monarch to live in the palace itself before the restoration. In 1911 Wilhelmina had an additional floor was inserted on the corps de logis which was to be removed during the restoration campaign.


The restoration campaign aimed to return the building and gardens as far as possible to the state that William and Mary would have known it, and to dedicate interiors to each ruler to allow visitors to explore the dynastic history in a series of chronological period rooms. Even though the restoration was controversial in some aspects and would be impossible according to current conservation principles it did reveal many interesting original elements of the early scheme for William and Mary.


Fortuitous for Williams ambitions, but less so for the Huguenots, was the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685. The mass exodus of talented craftsmen versed in the latest that the French court had to offer in luxury was to play an important role in the Dutch and English courts. A key figure in this group was Daniel Marot, who would continue to work for the court and its circles throughout his life, such as at Huis ten Bosch, Paleis Kneuterdijk and  Heemstede Castle . At Het Loo he was responsible for most of the interiors as well as working on the gardens.


Marot was responsible for popularizing the concept of an integrated design within interiors with all elements conforming to a single style.  In common with many other baroque designs there is a lot of use of trompe l’oeil effects with illusionistic architecture and vistas painted on the ceilings, such as the one depicted above in the Audience Chamber, and profuse use of marbling on all the panelling and grisailles as over-doors and over-mantels to suggest costlier finishes in stone.


The Queens Bedroom with the uncovered marbling on the panelling and the illusionistic ceiling by De Lairesse.


The Kings Bedroom, the majestic bed was commissioned for William III at Hampton Court Palace. When the museum opened in 1984 a borrowed state bed was on view as no beds of the period remained in the Royal Collections. This bed was acquired by Willian Randolph Hearst and then was relegated to the collections storage of the Metropolitan Museum until it was discovered and acquired for Het Loo in 1995. Even though it isn’t the original bed for the room it is also based on designs by Marot and thus works well in the overall scheme.


The Painting Gallery. Het Loo recently found funding to create replica Delftware pots, similar to the ones in this picture, to embellish the gardens as they once did.


The Kings Study, this wonderfully intimate space  was originally designed as a porcelain cabinet for Queen Mary. There are still mirrors in the ceiling that belong to this scheme, only now they reflect books in stead of porcelain.


Although the main draw to visit Het Loo might be the Baroque ensemble there are also rooms commemorating each subsequent generation of the house of Orange-Nassau. The nineteenth century rooms are of special interest due to the completeness of their collections. There are some suggestions that another former royal residence, Soestdijk Palace, might be used as an additional museum for the history of the House of Orange from the nineteenth century onwards.


Queen Mary’s Shell Grotto, a space that provided access from her apartments above to the Queens gardens as well as a cool space to repose and entertain in the summer months. The Grotto was disassembled by Louis Napoleon but the surviving elements could be used to reconstruct it.



View across the gardens, the vista is terminated at the end by the colonnade that once connected the main part of the palace with the wings before it was remodeled.

Below: A view back towards the palace with the Koningssprong fountain that jets water up to a height of thirteen meters, at the time the highest in Europe.


A view back towards the palace with the Koningssprong fountain that jets water up to a height of thirteen meters, at the time the highest in Europe.

Het Loo is a wonderful place to explore and is worth adding to an itinerary when visiting the Netherlands, I’ll be coming back again to experience the gardens once the Delftware pots have been made.


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