The “Golden Room” in the Mauritshuis, The Hague

Research into a spectacular early eighteenth-century reception hall.

During a recent renovation (2009-2014) of the city palace Mauritshuis in The Hague the early eighteenth-century painting ensemble of its so called “Golden Room” underwent a restoration. This provided an opportune occasion to conduct an in-depth analysis of the paintings and the “Large Room Downstairs” (“De Groote Beneden Sale”), as the room used to be called.

The monumental series of canvases (1718) was composed by the famous Italian painter Giovanni Pellegrini (1675-1741). The paintings are surrounded by questions. Why specifically did an Italian painter, who moreover only had been in the Republic for a short time at that point, receive this highly important commission? We know that Pellegrini was responsible for the three ceiling paintings, two mantle paintings and four grisaille works. But did he also execute the six round paintings depicting flowers that can be found above the entrances, or was a local still-life painter approached for this task? Another question of significance here is whether or not the scenes formed part of an interrelated iconographic program. In particular the iconography of the two mantle paintings until now had eluded art historians.

Another important question pertains to the manner in which the paintings were produced. What was Pellegrini’s artistic process? How were the irregularly shaped canvases of these chimney and ceiling paintings stretched and sized? Which materials and techniques were used? Did Pellegrini paint alone or with the help of others? Were the canvases provided with a layer of varnish from the very beginning?

One of the most important questions that arose in relation to the room relates to its original appearance, which, as research has demonstrated, was very different from its current one. Research from conservators, working in collaboration with Dutch Shell, has shown for instance that the color of the ceiling paintings was initially different: particularly the pink and blue skies used to have much deeper and more intense hues.

But the most dramatic transformation in the space can, without a doubt, be found in the architecture itself. In the current situation the wooden ceiling has been painted in a chalk white color, which is why many a visitor today will interpret it as stucco. The paneling of the walls is composed of lye-washed oak in which the majority of the painting frames and decorative carvings are gilded. It is to these many gilded details that the room owes its present name. But it has only looked this way since 1951. Until recently it was virtually unknown what finishes had been used before that date. The project From Isolation to Coherence investigated the matter during the aforementioned renovation project. This revealed, among other things, that the walls and the ceiling were originally painted in a light grey color and richly decorated with gold leaf and brass sheet metal.

The results of this research project have, among other avenues, been presented during the Mauritshuis’ inaugural exhibition, which was dedicated to the rich interior, construction and utilitarian history of this remarkable building (June 2014-2015).

The research is conducted by the conservators and curators of the Mauritshuis, together with its external partners. In addition to the project From Isolation to Coherence, these are the Royal Dutch Shell, Jos van Och (Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg), Richard Harmanni, Johan de Haan (Central Government Agency for Real Estate and Radboud University Nijmegen), as well as architectural historian Henny Brouwer (formerly Technical University Delft and Government Agency for Real Estate). From Isolation to Coherence is responsible for conducting architectural color research together with Ruth Jongsma (Bureau voor kleuronderzoek & restauratie) and Mariël Polman (Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands). The project also investigates the painting techniques of Pellegrini together with Mauritshuis conservators.

Royal Cabinet of Paintings, Mauritshuis, web application which allows the viewer to behold the Golden Room in its original color scheme (in production. expected June 2016).

M. van Eikema Hommes, K. Keune, R. Jongsma, M. Polman, C. Pottasch, ‘The original colour finish of the Golden Room’ in: Q. Buvelot, Mauritshuis, the building, Zwolle 2014, pp. 152-157.

H. Fuhri Snethlage, C. Pottsch, “De lucht breekt weer open/ A break in the clouds”, Mauritshuis in focus, vol. 27 (2014), no. 1, pp. 23-28.

Q. Buvelot, “De grote benedenzaal”, Mauritshuis, het gebouw, The Hague 2014, pp. 131-142.

C. Pottasch, J. Van den Burg, M. Van Eikema Hommes, R. Haswell, “Venetian splendour in the Mauritshuis: a little known painting ensemble by Pellegrini in The Netherlands”, in: A. Wallert (ed.), Painting techniques, Postprints of the conference Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, September 2014, Amsterdam (date of publication 2016).

An article, co-authored with the Mauritshuis conservators on the topic of Pellegrini’s paintings techniques and the original appearance of the Golden Room is forthcoming.

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