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Document Details :

Title: Het paleis op de Meir in Antwerpen (The former royal palace of Antwerp)
Subtitle: Van particuliere woning tot keizerlijke en koninklijke verblijfplaats (from ‘town palace’ to imperial and royal residence)
Author(s): DEBRUYN, Mimi
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Interieurgeschiedenis en Design
Volume: 33    Date: 2004   
Pages: 39-84
DOI: 10.2143/GBI.33.0.563295

Abstract :
The former royal palace of Antwerp: from ‘town palace’ to imperial and royal residence Jan Peter van Baurscheit Junior (1699-1768) had already built several villas in Zeeland (Holland) and in the neighborhood of Antwerp before he started this ‘town palace’ in 1745. By the time the proprietor died in 1764, the building was not yet completely finished. The deed of sale of 1764 gives little specific information about the interior: marble chimneys, ceilings, gilded framework and decorations, as well as a number of painted portraits and bas-reliefs. Before the house was resold in 1777, two salons on the ground floor were enriched by decorative wall paintings, and there were also a fountain, stables and a coach-house in the garden. It certainly had gained in richness since being described in 1771 as ‘a royal house’! When it was bought in 1812 by Napoleon, the house was being rented out and had deteriorated. Together with this deed of sale, an inventory of the interior was drawn up, specifying the characteristics of each room (see appendix). This inventory, combined with the plans of the ground floor and of the first floor added to this deed, offer a realistic impression of the original, particularly as the interior was well conserved until 1970. When entering through the front door, guests were welcomed in the two salons on the right side. Behind them was a staircase from the basement to the attic, leading to the private living quarters on the first floor. Behind this staircase was the kitchen. To the left of the front porch a monumental staircase led from the basement to the first floor. Next to it was the dining room with tapestries and three family portraits, followed by the music room with gilded bas-reliefs. Above the music room, a ‘red room’ was located behind a tapestry room, while the right front rooms on the upper floor were decorated in blue and green. Service stairs for the personnel were located in the corners of the back wings and the side wings. In addition, the salleor the main reception room was in the left back wing, opposite three service rooms in the right back wing. Bedrooms and cabinets were on the upper floor of the back wings on each side of the building. The private rooms for the personnel were in the attic, which also housed a drying area for the laundry. In his youth, van Baurscheit had worked together with the famous Daniel Marot (1663-1752) in The Hague (Holland). Together with Marot, French concepts of interior decoration had become even more fashionable in Holland, especially among a continuously growing bourgeoisie. The fact that they were drawn by the architect himself give these interiors their particular character. He personally designed every part of a marble chimney, stucco ceiling, wooden staircase, framed mirror, wainscot, and so forth. This is not to suggest that every single detail was reinvented over and over again, but that it was copied in a never-ending variation on a general concept that only slightly varied, depending on the specific situation. In this sense all the Antwerp ‘town palaces’, city houses and villas by van Baurscheit resemble one another. Typical for van Baurscheit’s interiors are the sopra portas in grisaille above the doors and chimneys executed by the Flemish painter Maarten Jozef Geeraerts (1707-1791). They were especially popular among the upper class of that period. No fewer than eighteen painted bas-reliefs are mentioned in the deed of 1812, of which nine have survived, all representing allegorical putti. Their resemblance to the sculptured putti by Jan Peter van Baurscheit Senior (1669-1728) is striking. Moreover, they are very similar to those at the top of the building’s facade, works made by van Baurscheit’s sculptors, Slavon and Gillis, in 1753 and 1757. They represent ‘Commerce’ on the left frontispiece, and ‘War’ on the right – both typical themes for the status of the original owner. Although ‘capitalism’ had not yet been institutionalized, it was highly appreciated in practice. The same message is embedded in the room-size mural paintings by Balthasar Beschey (1708-1776) representing the story of Joseph of Egypt. Later, under the supervision of Pierre Fontaine (1762-1853), Napoleon redecorated part of the building in Empire style, and under the Belgian king Leopold II several rooms were renovated in a more glamorous 18thcentury style – e.g. the present ballroom in Italian classicist style; none of them managed to live in it, however, leaving behind more debts than treasures...

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