The painted wall hangings in Oud-Amelisweerd

Quick changes in taste within the interior.

Country home Oud-Amelisweerd in Bunnik, completed in 1770, was commissioned by Baron Gerard Godard Taets van Amerongen (1729-1804). Various residents, including King Louis Napoleon (1778-1846), have since left their mark on the building; a history that is reflected in the rich and remarkable interior of Oud-Amelisweerd.

No less than four rooms with painted wall hangings on canvas have been preserved in the home: three on the ground floor and one on the first floor. The materials and production methods of these wall hangings, as well as the changes that the canvases underwent as time went by, are currently extensively researched in the project From Isolation to Coherence.

In the front room (voorkamer) in the south-west corner of the first floor the painted wall hanging has been altered and repainted several times. Presently, it is painted entirely in white. Various stages of paint removal and color windows show different finishings dating to earlier periods. Most of these are monochrome (grey or green), but the second finishing forms an exception: it consists of elegant and artful tromp-l’oeil paintings of molded frames against a grey background. These continued across all wall surfaces and as such were meant to create the illusion of a stone architecture

On the ground floor level, the Old-Hollandic Room contains painted wall hangings depicting landscapes, which date to the period of the building’s construction. In a lush, tree-filled landscape with a little river, figures are seen resting, playing, swimming, making music and floating down the river in boats. In grisaille overdoor paintings putti represent the theme Liberty. The same painter has also produced the grisaille overdoors in the adjacent room, the Pheasants Room, where the putti represent the themes Peace and Prosperity. These monochromatic allegories form a contrast with the lively colored indigenous and exotic birds, flowers and plants found in the painted wall hangings.

The most important room of the house, the Chinese Salon, is situated next to the Phaesants Room. It features a spectacular panoramic wall hanging with scenes of a Chinese hunt and dragon boats festival, which in all likelihood was put in by Paulus Wilhelmus Bosch van Drakenstein (1771-1834), who lived in the country home from 1811 until his death. A remarkable discovery was made when, in connection to a recent restoration, the Chinese wall hanging was taken down. Behind it, a painted wall hanging on canvas with large tromp-l’oeil frames against an even green background appeared.

But even more was revealed. When the wall hanging was examined in raking light, this showed that underneath the green paint surface yet another painted composition could be found. With the help of x-ray photography, infrared reflectography and paint cross sections, this elaborate scene could to a large degree be visualized. It consists of medallions decorated with garlands placed at the center of painted trompe-l’oeil architectonic frames.

In addition to this discovery the material-technical research led to one more remarkable find. The architectonic frames of the first decorative paintings had, at some point, been significantly revised. This means that the canvas hangings knew at least three separate forms of appearance between 1770 (period of the building’s construction) and 1808, when King Napoleon had the green canvas hangings covered with a blue paper wall covering, which was again replaced several years later by the aforementioned Chinese wall hanging. The multiple phases of overpainting found in this canvas shows how frequently a single patron could adjust the decorations in his home under the influence of changing fashions and/or room functions. This offers a surprising new view of the ideas and lifestyles of these residents, the relationship between patron and decorative painter, and of the history of interiors in general.

Research into the painted rooms in Oud-Amelisweerd is conducted in collaboration with Nico van der Woude of Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg, architectural paint researcher Judith Bohan and Hinke Sigmond, during her internship as part of the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage graduate program of the University of Amsterdam, historic interiors specialization. Research into the home culture of Oud-Amelisweerd was previously conducted by Sander Karst.

The study of Oud-Amelisweerd’s painted wall hangings will be published in the PhD dissertation of Ige Verslype (expected 2018).

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