Hague silver

Hague silver is highly attractive. Its harmonious design and restrained decoration focus attention on the glistening beauty of the material itself. It is not surprising that its distinctive style has been so widely imitated. The presence of the Dutch court attracted many foreign visitors to The Hague, bringing with them examples of non-Dutch silverware that influenced the development of the distinctive and distinguished Hague style.

Although The Hague was a relatively small town in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it had many wealthy residents. They invested in objects made of gold and silver– assets that could easily be melted down and converted to cash in case of need. Professional and social life in The Hague was class-based. Domestic silverware, often unusually heavy and frequently flaunting the family arms, was an important status symbol. Hague silversmiths’ clients ranged from provincial deputies and foreign diplomats right up to noble courtiers and even the stadtholder himself. Government bodies at local and national level ordered objects made of gold or silver to present as gifts. Guilds and churches commissioned grand silver and gold artefacts for use in religious services. Many Hague silversmiths did very well for themselves, receiving orders not just from The Hague but from other towns in the Netherlands.

At the stadtholder’s court and in circles connected with it, there was a tradition in the seventeenth century of using large ‘luiermanden’ (decorative containers for christening clothes) and dressing table sets made of precious metals. And custom required the use of vast silver table services – including capacious tureens and wine coolers as well as heavy plates and dishes – when receiving guests. Palaces in The Hague were lit by silver wall sconces, chandeliers and candelabra, a fashion that the chic Hague aristocracy where only too happy to follow.

The influence of foreign silver in The Hague should not be underestimated. Ambassadors from many different countries came to the town to represent their rulers. They furnished the reception rooms in their homes with all the magnificence customary in palaces in their places of origin. Imported novelties quickly became fashionable. Examples include the seventeenth-century French custom of using a small two-handled tureen or écuelle to drink bouillon at breakfast time and the early use of sugar casters, sauce boats and single-bottle wine coolers. In the eighteenth century, many a Hague dinner table was adorned by an epergne: a decorative centrepiece that might accommodate a tureen, candleholders, casters, oil and vinegar cruets, salts and small baskets for sweetmeats. The Dutch Republic also sent its own diplomats to foreign capitals. They often brought back table silver made there, which was then copied in The Hague.

In addition to all this, many silversmiths who had trained abroad set up businesses in The Hague. They served as a direct channel of communication for technical know-how and design ideas from renowned metalworking centres like Antwerp, Nuremberg, Augsburg and Paris. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Antwerp played a major role in this respect, whereas the decade between 1630 and 1640 saw many Germans coming to The Hague (including Hans Coenraet Breghtel and Andries Grill, who would both become leading figures locally). In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, French silver was the dominant influence on design and decoration. The most important of the Paris-trained silversmiths was Adam Loofs. He held the post of keeper of the court’s silver and produced objects for Stadtholder Willem III that stand comparison with those made by the best French and English silversmiths of the day.

The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag possesses an extensive collection of Hague gold and silver. Collecting began around 1850 and was initially motivated by the historical context, as in the case of the great ceremonial cups made for guilds and associations. Later there was an interest in domestic silverware like teapots, candleholders and cake baskets. Up to 1950, the most important acquisition was Andries Grill’s extraordinary 1642 glass holder. In the 1960s, however, the Gemeentemuseum was able to acquire two virtually complete dressing table sets dating from the mid-seventeenth century. Since then, the museum has repeatedly managed to procure impressive, unique and, above all, visually attractive examples of Hague silver. The collection has been extensively researched and in 2005 a (Dutch-language) collection catalogue was published: Jet Pijzel-Dommisse, Haags goud en zilver. Edelsmeedkunst uit de Hofstad, The Hague/Zwolle 2005.

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