The Last intact lacquer Baluster
of the Bed of State Fence gifted to
Amalia van Solms (1602-1675),
the 'Mother of the house of Orange'.
An extremely fine lacquered and unique intact Japanese export lacquer baluster made on order by the VOC for Amalia van Solms
The European cherry wood (Prunus avium), tall and thin baluster of slightly tapered cylindrical shape covered in a black lacquer ground with gold lacquer decoration, is divided into two sections of decoration by a raised circumferential ring, approximately at one third from the lower end. Further rings and geometric borders with inlays of tin are at the top and bottom end of the upper section of the baluster. The gold-lacquer decoration of trees, foliage and vines, and farmers carrying bundles of hay in landscapes inside cartouches against a nashiji-ground is magnificent and might represent the harvest season.
L. 52.8 cm
Oliver Impey and Christiaan Jörg in Japanese Export Lacquer 1580-1850, describe and illustrate some identical balusters incorporated in a French, early 19th-century secrétaire (p. 44 and ill. 34, 141, 154 a, b, c, 586 a, b.), a mid-19th-century French side cabinet (ill. 142, 155, 585), and a Broadwood & Sons piano supplied in 1829 to Lady Hertford for her Temple Newsam House, Leeds (ill. 143, 156 a, b, c). In the secrétaire and the piano, the incorporated balusters have been cut length-wise and lengthened by adding an extra segment. Only in the side cabinet, five intact balusters have been used.
Impey & Jörg assume that these balusters once were part of a lacquered balustrade belonging to Amalia van Solms (1602-1675), wife of Stadholder Frederik Hendrik (1584-1647).
In about 1638, Amalia van Solms, who was very influential in promoting oriental crafts in the Netherlands, expressed her wish to the VOC for a Japanese lacquered balustrade she intended to replace the existing gilded balustrade in her bedroom in her residence in Het Stadhouderlijk Kwartier in Het Binnenhof in The Hague. The Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC duly ordered in Japan an exorbitant black-and-gold-lacquered balustrade and presented it to Amalia van Solms in 1641. Instead of in Het Stadhouderlijk Kwartier, the balustrade was eventually installed in Amalia’s bedroom in the recently finished palace Huis ten Bosch in 1647, the year Frederik Hendrik died.
Such a balustrade was placed between the bed of state and the area before it where the royal host could receive important visitors, as was customary at European courts at the time. It is likely that Amalia had the plain wooden balusters and railing made in Holland and asked the VOC to have it lacquered in Japan. The VOC sent it to Japan, and in August 1641, it arrived back in Amsterdam and was presented to Amalia by the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC. It fitted perfectly in Amalia’s bedroom, which was furnished with liberal use of black to emphasise her mourning over her husband’s recent death. According to the description in the inventory of 1654, the balustrade, including five balusters in storage, consisted of about sixty balusters.
The balustrade was admired and described by several visitors to Huis ten Bosch. Nicolas Tessin, for instance, wrote in 1687 that it was “a very finely worked piece of Chinese (sic) woodwork”, and Thomas Bowrey in 1698 records “true Japan lacquered bed, enclosed with rails and bannisters of the same work.”
It remained in the bedroom in Huis ten Bosch until the end of the 18th-century when the French-orientated Batavian Republic overthrew the old regime. The Stadholder and his family fled to England, and in 1797 the whole interior of Huis ten Bosch was auctioned. The priceless but 'out of fashion' balustrade remained unsold, was taken apart, shipped to Paris, and since then, all traces of this extraordinary balustrade disappeared.
No illustrations of the balustrade survived, and only single balusters, some cut length-wise, reappeared incorporated in a secrétaire, a side cabinet and a piano. Most likely, the parts were spread and sold within furniture-makers and restorers circles in France, used, taken apart or even polished, and all are lost in time.
However, with great pride, we present you the last intact baluster of Amalia van Solms' famous Bed of State fence.