Gerson Digital : Germany I


2.7 Cleves as an Intermediary with Brandenburg

The Brandenburg court in Berlin had close relations to Holland since the Great Elector ascended the throne in 1640. Already as the Prince Elect, Friedrich Wilhelm (1620-1688) stayed in Holland between 1634 and 1638. He studied in Leiden, was in The Hague, Arnhem and Rhenen, where his aunt the Countess Palatine resided. In Breda he met Frederik Hendrik, whose daughter Louise Henriette he married in 1646 [1]. As the Duchy of Cleves had been gained by Brandenburg in 1614, his land bordered on the Netherlands, which facilitated cultural exchange. Cleves formed the bridge between the Netherlands and Brandenburg. The protestant territory of Cleves was always an area of Dutch culture. The catholic lands of Cologne and (Palatine) Düsseldorf, just like the rest of the Rhineland, were artistically more oriented to Flanders.

From 1647 Johan Maurits ‘the Brazilian’ (1604-1679) was stadholder of Cleves, Mark and Ravensberg. He was born in Dillenburg as a son of Johann the Younger of Nassau-Siegen. Prince Maurits of Orange-Nassau, a cousin of his father, had been his godfather. He was in Brasil in 1636-1644 as a Dutch stadholder and built himself the Mauritshuis in The Hague after his return. Family ties, his long activity in Holland and the Dutch possessions in America almost made him a Dutchman. He recommended to the Great Elector many Dutch artists ̶ architects, painters, sculptors and craftsmen. He mediated in the purchase of artworks and submitted many of his own paintings, curiosities and other treasures to pay for land in the Cleves area.

Gerard van Honthorst
Louise Henriette leads Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg, to her parents, dated 1649
canvas, oil paint 319 x 202 cm
lower left : GHonthorst 1649
The Hague, Paleis Huis ten Bosch (Oranjezaal)

The Great Elector stayed frequently in his Cleves residence and from there visited the Netherlands. On the other hand Johan Maurits did not stay there all the time. At the instigation of the Elector he was appointed ‘Herrenmeister’ (master of the knights) of the Order of St. John in 1652. He immediately started to rebuild the church of the order in Sonnenburg (now Słońsk, Poland, ed.). Some years later he attracted the Dutch architect Cornelis Ryckwaert (1652-1693) to build the new Johanniter Ordensschloß, in which he decorated the banquet hall with his own portrait of 1666 by Pieter Nason [2].1 He also took care of the other German offices of the order, mostly using Dutch craftsmen.2

Pieter Nason
Portrait of Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679) as a knight of the order of Saint John of Jerusalem, dated 1666
canvas, oil paint 232 x 171 cm
center right : PNason f.1666
Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, inv./ M.Ob.527 MNW


1 [Van Leeuwen 2017] On Ryckwaert: Van Kempen 1924. Ryckwaert built the castle between 1662 and 1667; it was designed by Pieter Post (1608-1669), the designer of the Mauritshuis in The Hague. The building survived WWII but a fire in 1973 turned it yet into a ruin (Heckmann 1998, p. 11, 80, 96). The painting by Nason had been transferred from the castle to the National Museum in Warsaw in 1946. Benesz et al. 2016, p. 432-433, no. 465, ill. (color).

2 [Gerson 1942/1983] Galland 1893; Galland 1911. Seidel 1890; Nicolai 1786.

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