The painted room in Huis de Dieu in Alkmaar

An exceptionally well-documented ensemble of remarkable quality.

In 1744 the affluent Carel de Dieu (1708-1789), together with his wife Birgitta de la Croix (1711-1771), commissioned the construction of a new residence on the Langestraat in Alkmaar. Money nor efforts were spared. In addition to local artisans, the most skilled professionals from Amsterdam and beyond were recruited to work on both the exterior and the interior. The interior of the front room (voorkamer) on the right side of the building, dating to the period of construction, has been exceptionally well-preserved. The walls are covered with painted canvas wall hangings from paneling to ceiling, of which the depicted landscape continues from corner to corner. A painting on canvas, depicting a cloud-filled sky with deities, adorns the ceiling. The stucco decorations surrounding this ceiling painting (executed by Hermanus van Gorkum) are of remarkable quality as well, in addition to the richly decorated and skillfully sculpted chimney (by Asmus Frauen (1706/07-1779)) and carved wall-mounted lamp holders in the corners of the room (delivered by Dirk Langeraat in Amsterdam in 1744).

A conspicuous element in the wall hangings is formed by a life-size shepherd and shepherdess seen kneeling in one the landscapes. The prominent placement of these figures makes it very likely that the commissioning spouses had their portraits included here in the guise of a shepherds’ pair. The painter responsible for the wall hangings based the figures on a print by Jacob Neefs (1610-1660) after the famous Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678).

The painted room in Huis de Dieu is not only remarkable due to its quality, but also because the building’s construction history has been exceptionally well-documented. The De Dieu family archive, which is kept in the Regional Archive in Alkmaar, contains detailed administrative records for the building process, including ledgers for used materials and hours of labor. Most of the artists and artisans are mentioned by name as well. These documents allow for a detailed reconstruction of the processes by which the painted room was realized. In doing so, archival research is combined with an extensive technical investigation of the materials and production methods used in the decorations’ creation. Together with research into the patron’s biography and the iconography of the works, unique insight is provided into a historical moment, as well as the genesis and function of one of the most spectacular eighteenth-century painted rooms in the Netherlands.

The archival and art historical research into the painted room in Huis de Dieu is conducted by art historian and expert on historical interiors, Dr. Richard Harmanni, in the context of the project From Isolation to Coherence. The material-technical research in this project is conducted in part by Hinke Sigmond, during her intership as part of the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage graduate program, historic interiors specialization.

A publication by Ige Verslype and Richard Harmanni about this study is forthcoming.

A publication about the richly decorated chimney, containing numerous different sheet metal ornaments, is being prepared by Hinke Sigmond, Ige Verslype, Ineke Joosten, Arie Pappot and Margriet van Eikema Hommes.

The Huis de Dieu study will be published in the PhD dissertation of Ige Verslype (expected 2018).

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