Porcelain Atlas of the Dutch Provinces at the Het Loo Palace, the Netherlands

Jul 13, 2015 by

[This post was originally published in October 2012]


As my readers know, I always keep an eye open for innovative, useful, and elegant maps. Naturally, I was mesmerized on my recent trip [in September 2012] to the Netherlands to see a set of detailed maps done on… porcelain plates! This service, the first ever joint purchase by the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) and Het Loo Palace (Apeldoorn), is currently exhibited at the latter location; after the re-opening of the new Rijksmuseum in 2013, the plates will be displayed there, eventually alternating between the two museums every three years. The set, nicknamed by journalists “the porcelain atlas”, is a real showstopper. It consists of 18 painted porcelain plates, each about 22 cm in diameters, with a map of a different Low Country province.


The dark edge of each plate is decorated with the national coat of arms and the coat of arms of the respective province, painted with gold over enamel in the Empire style. The image on the left is that of the plate depicting Gelderland province, where the Het Loo Palace in the town of Apeldoorn is located. Made in Paris in 1822 for King William I (1772-1843) of the House of Orange-Nassau, these plates most recentlybelonged to the royal descendants of William I, living in Germany. According to Rijksmuseum’s press release, this set is “of great importance to Het Loo Palace, which owns other important historical sets belonging to the House of Orange”. But its intrinsic value comes also from the fact that no other known art object illuminates as clearly the short period in European history when the Kingdom of the Netherlands included present-day Belgium and Luxembourg.


William I, for whom the plates were designed, was the first and only ruler of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was created in 1815 from part of the First French Empire and which existed until the Kingdom of Belgium emerged in1830.* In accordance with the Eight Articles of London of 1814, William was granted the lands of the former Dutch Republic (Republic of the Seven United Netherlands) to the north, the former Austrian Netherlands within its 1789 borders (i.e. without French Flanders) to the south, and the former Prince-Bishopric of Liège (though small changes were made to its borders on Prussia’s behalf). In March 1815, William proclaimed himself King William I of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, with the permission of the Great Powers of Europe. His kingdom officially consisted of 17 provinces: Drenthe, Friesland, Gelderland, Groningen, Holland, North Brabant, Overijssel, Utrecht (see image on the left), and Zeeland (all currently part of the Netherlands), Antwerp, Hainaut, Liège, Namur, East Flanders, West Flanders and South Brabant (the latter renamed Brabant; all now part of Belgium), as well as Limburg (which is currently divided into Dutch and Belgian parts).

But what of the eighteenth plate? It depicts the Duchy of Luxembourg, which was not fully granted to William because it was a member of the German Confederation. Historically, however, the Duchy of Luxembourg had been a part of the informal region of the Netherlands up to 1648 (defined as the Seventeen Provinces, or as the former Burgundian Netherlands). Therefore, William insisted that Luxembourg as well would become a part of the United Netherlands; such an addition to the union would also create a stronger buffer against France. As a result of the negotiations, Luxembourg became a Grand-Duchy in personal union with the Netherlands and stayed a member of the German Confederation, being garrisoned by Prussian troops on behalf of the Dutch king. The “porcelain atlas” is thus an important symbol of the Dutch unification projected completed by William I but initiated by his ancestor William of Orange in 1579.


* William I refused to recognize a Belgian state until 1839, when he finally yielded under pressure by the Treaty of London; only at this time were exact borders agreed.


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