Peace Palace

New documentary about unique 17th century paintings in the Peace Palace


Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680) and Gerard de Lairesse (1640-1711) are among the most important artists of the 17th century. There are unique painting ensembles by both artists in the Bol Room of the Peace Palace in The Hague. Art historian Margriet van Eikema Hommes has undertaken extensive research into these ensembles. This beautiful room and the surprising results of the research are now available to everyone via a short documentary. 

The Peace Palace houses the United Nations International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and The Hague Academy of International Law. The palace was built following the first Hague Peace Conference (1899) and opened its doors in 1913.  

As a mark of support, many countries presented gifts in the form of artworks or building materials during the building process. Today, more than 40 of these specially crafted gifts are in the Peace Palace: the international icon for “Peace through Law”.  An exception to this, however, are the Ferdinand Bol and Gerard de Lairesse paintings in the Peace Palace’s art collection, as these were created centuries before the Peace Palace was built. 

The Bol paintings, as well as those of De Lairesse, are on such a scale that they cover many square metres which distinguishes them from most 17th century paintings. These canvasses were not intended to hang ‘loosely’ on a wall: Bol’s were originally incorporated into wainscoting while De Lairesse’s adorned a ceiling. Originally, such enormous paintings were created for palaces and town halls but in the latter half of the 17th century increasingly more civilians commissioned such decorations for their own homes. The Bol and De Lairesse ensembles are early examples of this. 

Although the artworks in the Bol Room were painted centuries ago, their subject matter is relevant today: “Initially you see biblical, mythological and allegorical scenes but these depictions relate to war and the fate of refugees searching for a new life”, Margriet van Eikema Hommes explains. 

Technical research, which included the use of X-rays and infrared light, and an iconographic analysis revealed that the canvasses are testimony to their time. For example, on the triptych “Concord, Freedom of Trade and Protection against Danger by Gerard de Lairesse (1672), Concord holds a bundle of four arrows. The research brought to light that originally there had been seven arrows symbolising the seven united provinces of the Dutch Republic. But following the ‘Disaster Year’ of 1672 when three provinces had to be ceded, De Lairesse reduced the number of arrows.  

De Lairesse’s painting once adorned the ceiling of the reception room of a canal house belonging to the famous and infamous Mayor of Amsterdam, Andries de Graeff. In 1903 the paintings came up for auction and they were purchased for the new, to be constructed, Peace Palace. 

Ferdinand Bol’s wall-sized canvasses were commissioned by the extremely wealthy Utrecht widow Jacoba Lampsins. She commissioned them in the early 1660’s for her reception room and chose subjects that had a bearing on her background and her ideas. The paintings “The discovery of Moses” and “Aeneas receiving a new set of armor from his mother, the goddess Venus” refer to her predecessors who had to flee from the southern Netherlands due to the violence of war. The canvasses “The Captain of God’s Army appearing to Joshua” and “King Cyrus” relate to a political conflict in Utrecht at the time. Well over two centuries after they were painted they were donated to the Rijksmuseum. At the beginning of the 20th century, the museum gave them on permanent loan to the Peace Palace. 

The Carnegie Foundation, the owner and manager of the Peace Palace, has produced a documentary in which art historian Margriet van Eikema Hommes and conservator Jacobine Wieringa highlight interesting details about the artworks in the Bol Room. Interested viewers can now have a look at this beautiful room which, generally speaking, is not open to the public. The documentary also makes the impressive results of the research into the 17th century paintings available to everyone.

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