Paleis Het Loo, the Rococo palace that hides a new 'underground' museum

The new secret of the old palace is underground.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
27 May 2023 Saturday 22:58
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Paleis Het Loo, the Rococo palace that hides a new 'underground' museum

The new secret of the old palace is underground. It is an open secret and an open secret. Yes, it's bright, immaculate and totally unexpected. Yes, it is a capital and majestic surprise. Actually, the Paleis Het Loo in Apeldoorn, in the heart of the Netherlands, summer residence of the Orange-Nassau dynasty, the permanent one is in The Hague, for more than three centuries, lacked nothing.

It is a dream palace, expanded as the royal family gained power and territories. It boasts some gardens drawn to the line and some fountains that were the envy of Napoleon's brother, Louis, because they did not stink like those of the Palace of Versailles, and a greenhouse with more than 200 kinds of citrus fruits and all the flowers that can be imagine in a country where that is almost impossible with so much variety that there is. What more could you ask for?

In the eighties, the old palace, by then owned by the State, was restored with cement containing asbestos, fireproof but harmful to health. Five years ago it was decided to remove it with a very delicate operation that would last for years. And in parallel the project arose.

Under the gravel of the immense backyard of the Paleis, a square space of 4,000 m2, a paradise of marble and fine wood was to be built with a large, radically minimalist foyer and parallel spaces to exhibit contemporary art, the dream of any designer (in this case the Dutch studio KAAN Architecten) and an adventure for engineers in this country where there is water everywhere and the land is usually below sea level.

The palace below the palace leaves you speechless, it is resoundingly beautiful, warmly cold, where veined stone reigns, illuminated by the play of light and clouds that filter in through the wide skylights and through which you can see the sky and a piece of the tympanum of the palace originates with a sculpture of Diana, goddess of the hunt. Hunting is the origin of all this history.

“In 1672, William of Orange, married to the English princess Mary Stuart, was the governor of most of the territories of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces (under Spanish rule). He was an avid hunter and found some perfect land for his hobby and to build a summer palace where, also, because it was low land, several streams converged, ideal for creating sumptuous fountains and gardens with perfect symmetry”, explains Pien Harms, co- director of the museum together with Michel van Maarseven.

The history of Het Loo (which means open place in the forest) begins at the end of the 17th century. The first stone was laid in 1685, two years later the first phase of the palace was completed and four years later it happened that the powerful couple, who were only governors in Holland, became kings of England, Scotland and, after the decisive battle of the Boyne a year later, also from Ireland. The orange color of the dynasty still rules on the country's flag.

This accumulation of power meant a second and rapid expansion of the palace of Apeldoorn that today covers, from time to time, room to room, the history of a family that also ended up being a monarchy in the Netherlands. From the relative simplicity of a summer residence, it went to the sumptuousness of the 18th century, to the reforms to the French taste of the beginning of the 19th century (plastering all the facades and hiding the original red bricks).

Then came its gradual recovery and restoration, to modern touches at the beginning of the 20th century by the hand of Queen Guillermina (1880-1962), who was the mother of Juliana (1909-2004), mother of Beatriz (1938). ), who is the mother of the current monarch Guillermo-Alejandro (1967).

Hanna Klarenbeek, the head of the painting collection from a collection of more than 160,000 objects, tours the palace's 36 visitable rooms, a considerable number, which have been restored with the precision provided by paintings, drawings, engravings and historical documents from all times.

The most modern rooms, those that were designed in the first decades of the last century, are intact with their record player and Bakelite telephones. From start to finish, extraordinary upholstery, lamps, moldings, Delft porcelain and floral arrangements that arrive every few days from the palace's own greenhouses and orchards.

The carpet where visitors walk imitates carefully preserved wooden planks. Klarenbeek is especially proud of the Gallery: “Here there are 42 paintings, they are all placed to the millimeter to the point that for a moment I feared they would not fit”, she confesses with a smile as she explains details of canvases by Veronese, Titian, Van Dyck.

“Luckily, Guillermo III left an inventory with all his works, which allowed us to check the works that were still preserved and trace the ones we no longer had. Some of them we have been recovering over time ”, he details.

One of these pieces, of great heritage and artistic value, is a painting by Gerard van Honthorst (1592-1656) entitled Double Portrait of Amalia van Solms and Charlotte de la Trémoïlle, from 1633. It belonged to the palace because William III inherited it and It was in the family until the end of the 18th century. More than a century later, held by private collections, it appeared in the Tefaf edition of 2015 and was purchased by the Paleis.

Time and meticulous work have made every detail of the Paleis Het Loo admirable. But no less so is the engineering work to create the new underground space, which required not only digging ten meters of the entire courtyard, but also creating the structure and foundations on land that was immediately flooded with water and required sophisticated systems in which a team of divers participated

The result is an immersion into the future that at the end of the great central atrium connects with the old palace where three copper-red brick columns greet and where another dimension begins, an extraordinary place that is now in its fifth century.