Kate had a preview of “Gloss, glory and misery – life in The Hague during the Dutch Golden Age”; an exhibition opening Sunday at the Haags Historisch Museum, Korte Vijverberg 7 in The Hague.
This exhibition opens 28th of April to visitors, with free entrance to the museum. For the fairly fluent in Dutch: lots of activities on offer!

As the curators mentioned during my preview of “Gloss, glory and misery”: people think of Amsterdam whenever the Dutch Golden Age crops up? Other cities played major roles as well, including The Hague. After all: this ‘richest village in Europe’ was the Dutch Republic’s power-center!

Then as now, The Hague was full of ambassadors, envoys, expats, tourists. Take the quote ‘richest village of Europe’. It was penned by an English visitor to 17th century The Hague.

But what was life really like in this international village during the Dutch Golden Age? Based on diaries, letters, accounts, court cases and other sources, this exhibition offers a glimpse. It gives visitors an impression of glitter, gold, richness – and abject misery.

On entering, visitors spot the portraits of Stadholder and power-broker Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange and his ambitious young wife Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. These aristocrats belonged to the wealthy elite and made The Hague a national and international political center.

A model of one of their many palaces is displayed nearby. It no longer exists, but the present Dutch King and Queen live in Huis ten Bosch. After her husband’s death, Amalia commissioned paintings glorifying her husband’s military career which still decorate this palace, just outside The Hague.

The aristocarts, the court, the expats created a market for luxury goods. They not only had houses built or commissioned paintings. They demanded the best; from food to fashion.

Not that life at the power center was easy. Nearby, other paintings illustrate that Dutch politics could be rather tricky. I could not help wonder, who on earth would want paintings showing the brothers Johan and Cornelis de Witt being torn to pieces in gory detail, decorate a wall of their patrician The Hague des-res?

As for Amsterdam burghers being ambitious? Look at the portrait of a former The Hague mayor. Of lowly descent, he made some money and went into the jewelry business. The Hague’s elite became his clients, he married wisely, landed a plum job!

The ‘village’ also attracted scientists, including Baruch Spinoza and Christiaan Huygens. Rembrandt preferred Amsterdam? Other Dutch Golden Age painters, including Jan van Goyen, had their studios in The Hague.

But the exhibition is not just about gold, glitter, glory. Visitors learn how The Hague citizens cooperated in early fire-brigades, or organized funerals. Such “coöperaties” were not open to all, though! Just as “hofjes” like the Hofje van Wouw, had strict rules and did not accept all old, poor, sick, homeless. Life was often brutal, with many people including children dying young.

And what about migrants like Jews, or people from Africa or Asia? A previous exhibition told the story of two African boys, slaves who lived at a later Stadholder-court. Paintings and records show, there were Africans and Asians living in The Hague during the Dutch Golden Age as well. The curators mentioned, research into these The Hague citizens continuous.

“Gloss, Glory and Misery” offers a unique glimpse and proofs that the Republic’s Golden Age was not a golden one for many. This exhibition, with texts in English and Dutch, runs from 28th of April till 27th of October 2019. For all information, visit the museum’s English website: haagshistorischmuseum.nl

Image courtesy Haags Historisch Museum: van den Kerckhoven-family with coloured servant in the background and dead children as angels, J. Mijtens, 1652