The Prinsenhof in Delft is one of the most significant locations in Dutch history. It was where in 1584 Willem van Oranje, William the Silent or, as he is better known, William of Orange, was assassinated, an event which enforced the unification of the state of The Netherlands which had been established in 1581. He was also founder of the House of Orange-Nassau which has ruled the country ever since. He was shot by Balthasar Gérard, possibly on the orders of the Spanish king, and has the distinction of being the victim of the first ever assassination by firearm. So, it is satisfying that an exhibition tracing important historical events and personalities should take place where those events actually happened.
This beautifully designed and curated exhibition takes us through the life and times of the man who is considered The Father of the Netherlands. Taking up most of the rooms in the Prinsenhof Museum there are paintings, artifacts and documents portraying events up to and beyond his assassination – there is a whole wall dedicated to the capture and execution of Balthasar Gérard and even the wonderfully ornate flintlock pistol he used in his dastardly deed. The spot where William was shot and killed is on a stone staircase in the building with two large bullet scars providing a permanent monument.
One touch I particularly liked was that a lot of the paintings were displayed on stands, rather like easels, each with their own little audio/video show. I also liked the room containing portraits of all the Dutch monarchs up to and including King Willem-Alexander and his heir Catharina-Amalia, Princess of Orange. The display also emphasised the matriarchal nature of the Dutch monarchy, with queens ruling the country for 123 years up until the present King ascended in 2013.
The exhibition also include Williams private beamed chamber overlooking the leaning Oude Kerk where he conducted most of his business.
This, like the earlier Art Nouveau show is a top-class exhibition and its organisers deserve a great deal of praise. However, the management of the museum and the town council are proposing to make substantial changes to the museum and to the surrounding area known as the St. Agathaplein which adjoins it. These changes would ruin a building of world-wide significance radically destroying its integrity and, worst of all, destroy the beautiful and tranquil garden through which Balthasar Gérard made his escape. Michael Hasted 16th November 2018
William the Silent is here continues until 3rd March 2019