A painted room in the Martenahuis, Franeker

An early eighteenth-century room bearing the traces of later generations.

The Martenahuis in Franeker, located at Voorstraat 35, harbors a painted room that forms an amalgamation of paintings and architectural components dating to different periods. The large, almost square room (7.5 x 7.6 meters) is situated to the front of the bel-etage. Six painted wall hangings featuring Arcadian landscapes, measuring three meters in height each, embellish its three walls. Below these landscapes nine decorative paintings have been installed at a wainscot paneling-height, while an overdoor painting decorates the main entrance.

All paintings are incorporated in a wooden framework of unmolded stiles and rails. This framework continues into the coffered ceiling, in which nine deep sections have been created that similarly hold canvas paintings. Architectural paint research conducted previously by Edwin Verweij has demonstrated that numerous old finishes are hidden beneath the current white color of the framework. The earliest one concerns a dark faux wood finish with a painted tromp-l’oeil panel molding. This all is complemented by a nineteenth-century fireplace mantle with a nineteenth-century stucco chimney breast. The shutters date to the same period. The historicizing windows with stone muntins are from ca. 1970

Much is unclear about the manner in which the room arrived at its current appearance. This uncertainty is foremost presented by the six landscape wall hangings. It has been argued that they were not executed simultaneously: the three broad canvases have been said to date to 1700 while the three narrow paintings have been dated to the eighteenth century on stylistic grounds. This begs the question whether these various dates are justified, or that the canvases in fact do belong to the same phase. Another question is whether the works were originally made for the room.

The decorative paintings in the paneling similarly present questions, as the pictorial lighting in the works does not correspond with the actual lighting in the space. And the ceiling poses questions as well. The central section features what seems to be an eighteenth-century painting that depicts architectural and floral elements, and is surrounded by canvases showing simple beige surfaces with broad, dark brown frames. These, however, consist of later overpainting. Architectural paint research conducted previously by Huub Kurvers has demonstrated that decorative paintings, stylistically dated to ca. 1900, can be found underneath. The question remains whether these sections were originally empty, or if the decorative paintings replaced eight older paintings.

The paintings and the architectural components of the room are currently undergoing an in-depth analysis that includes extensive architectural paint research conducted by Annemieke Heuft (see “collaboration” below), complimented by archival research. This comprehensive approach aims to recover the original concept of the room as accurately as possible, and determine how, when, why and by whom it was changed as time went by.

The study is in full swing, but has already demonstrated that all six landscapes, as well as the nine decorative paintings below them and the central ceiling painting, were all executed at the same time in the early eighteenth century, and custom-made for this room. Presumably the works originated in the same workshop.

This information is of major importance in determining how the room should be restored. The paintings are in dire need of a restoration: discolored overpainting and cloudy varnish tarnish and darken their appearance. The current finish of the wooden framework, in a bright white color, moreover severely detracts from the landscapes spatial illusion. But which phase in the room’s history could function as the base for a restoration? To revert to the original concept is no longer a possibility, since numerous important elements in the room – such as the fireplace and shutters – are of a later date. Knowledge of the room’s genesis therefore can contribute to a responsible decision.

The architectural paint research of the painted room was conducted in 2013 by Annemieke Heuft, during her internship as part of the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage graduate program of the University of Amsterdam, historical interiors specialization. A continuation of her research will take place in 2014.

Architectural historical research into the Martenahuis by Jan van der Hoeve took place in 2005. Preliminary architectural paint research was conducted by art historian Edwin Verweij in the same year. Paint research into the ceiling components took place in 1969-1972 and was conducted by Huub Kurvers (1940-2010), a researcher with the former RDMZ.

I. Verslype, M. Van Eikema Hommes, A. Heuft, R. Jongsma, ‘De geschilderde kamer in het Martenahuis: ontstaan en oorspronkelijke verschijning’ in: Jaarboek De Vrije Fries, 2016.

A. Heuft en M. van Eikema Hommes, Deel 2. ‘De geschilderde kamer in het Martenahuis in later tijd’ in: Jaarboek De Vrije Fries, 2016.

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