Constantijn Huygens: Lord of Zuilichem (1596–1687)

(part three)

Artistic Pursuits

Huygens' artistic interests laid not only in painting but in classical architecture, numismatics and horticulture, but in sculpture as well. In 1641, the sculptor François Dieussart (c. 1600–1661)1 arrived at The Hague from England with a letter of recommendation from the court painter of King Charles I, Gerrit van Honthorst, addressed to Constantijn Huygens. This introduction not only served to secure Dieussart a good reception at the Hague court, but initiated a relationship of mutual interest and respect between Huygens and Dieussart. The timing of Dieussart's arrival was particularly favorable. After the death of Hendrik de Keyser in 1621 (the sculptor of the famous tomb for William of Orange in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft), no sculptor had emerged to satisfy the increasing demands both of the court and the culturally sensitive élite of the nobility or wealthy burghers.

Dieussart's arrival was especially welcomed by Huygens who had been charged to promote the architectural projects of the House of Orange maintaining close contact with the artists and architects involved. At the same time he entertained a keen interest in the tenets of classical architecture (particularly those of Vitruv), and he was the first in Holland to put these rules into practice (see his house at "Het Plein" and later his country estate "Hofwijck"). Thus, Huygens had for the first time an opportunity to commission a piece of sculpture which answered his classical ideal.

Amalai van solms Portrait of
Amalia van Solms

Gerrit van Honthorst
73.4 × 60 cm.
Historical Collections of the House of Orange Nassau, The Hague

On the other hand, Huygens played a fundamenta rolel in obtaining stadtholder commissions for Dieussart. Huygens introduced Dieussart to Frederik Hendrik and his wife Amalia van Solms, and the first fruit of their collaboration was a bust of Frederik Hendrik (1641). Larger and smaller commissions followed, e.g. four life-sized, full-length portraits of the stadtholders, intended for the Oranjezaal (Orange Hall) of the Palace Huis ten Bosch. But Dieussart refused to depend exclusively on the court, and joined the Guild of Saint Luke in The Hague, which allowed him to place his work on the open market and to have pupils, a significant source of income for artists in those times. During this period, Dieussart received a commission for a marble wall monument to the nobleman Arent van Dorp (1528–1600) and his daughter Josina (d. 1646), for the Klosterkerk in The Hague, which was presumably made soon after Josina's death. It is still to be seen at the Klosterkerk.

As we learn from Huygens' autobiography, he had not only a theoretical interest in sculpture but an active one as well, particularly in making medals and commemorative coins. He wrote:

In one way or another I became interested in bronze and lead coins, of which I made casts. When, in the end, I had enough of busying myself with the work of others I went on to making originals myself. It is with some pride that I allowed myself to be guided in this by the example, amongst others, of my fellow townsman Janus Secundus of The Hague. ... Here too the injustice of fate thwarted my ardent enthusiasm. Out of consideration for my sensitive eyes I had to drop this enjoyment at the stage of breast-feeding, as it were. ... So there are but very few medals from my hand which have survived, but for what remains, the maker does not have to feel ashamed in front of connoisseurs.2

A number of exceptionally interesting notes have survived in Huygens' papers, including detailed recipes for making modeling wax and casting plaster, as well as for the casting of medals in tin, lead, bronze and silver. These notes attest to his interest in medals and their manufacture, but unfortunately Huygens' poor eyesight prevented him from pursuing and mastering the art of the medallist.

Shortly before Dieussart's departure from The Hague in 1651, he presented Huygens a precious oval portrait medallion in marble showing Huygens in profile. At that time it was still unusual for sculptured portraits to be executed in profile, but Huygens himself may have suggested this form. This unique gift testifies the special relationship between Dieussart and Huygens, although nothing is known of Huygens' reaction to the medallion although it can be safely assumed that he felt especially honored by it.

.by Adelheid Rech.

Constantijn Huygens & Related Topics
Bust of Constantijn Huygens, Francois Dieussart
Sir Constantijn Huygens
François Dieussart
Marble, 58 x 58 cm.
Huygens Museum Hofwijck

Constantijn Huygens as a Garden Architect

Constantijn Huygens with his friends in Hofwijck Attributed to Isaac de Moucheron Constantijn Huygens with his friends in Hofwijck
Attributed to Isaac de Moucheron
c. 1710
Colored drawing
Huygens Museum Hofwijck

In 1639, after two years as a widower, Huygens acquired a piece of land from Jacob van Adrichem on the 25th December along the Vliet canal in Voorburg, near The Hague, with the intention of building a country estate, a buitenhuis, which he called "Hofwijck." The word Hofwijck covers the meaning of a "place"' (wijck) with a "garden" (hof) as well as a place where one could "avoid" (wijck) the "court" (hof) of Orange. This piece of land stretched all the way from the Vliet to the Lijtwech, now named the Prinses Mariannelaan. The land is dissected by the Heerwech, now named the Westeinde. There, with the assistance of Van Campen, he had the chance of a lifetime to integrally realize his ideas of classical architecture inspired by Vitruvius in his famous De architectura.

Some years before Huygens made a Dutch translation of Vitruvius' work,3 together with Count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (the owner of the Mauritshuis, neighbor and friend of Huygens), Huygens carefully planned the garden (with a little house as its "head") following the proportions of what was considered the greatest work of art—the human body whose essential symmetry served as a symbol for the harmonious symmetry of the universe as a whole. Constantijn found confirmation of these views in the Bible's tale of creation where God created man in his image and likeness. Unfortunately, the ground between Lijtwech and Heerwech turned out to be poor, sandy soil, so bad in fact, that the newly planted oak trees died in droves. Constantijn interpreted this setback as the devil striving to prevent the return of paradise on earth but Post advised to simply dig up the devilish soil and remove it. The bad sand was used to create a hillock with a "green cap"of grass, wild flowers and daisies. This high hill also afforded a delightful view of the wide surroundings, reaching all the way to coast at Scheveningen. The soil between Heerwech and the Vliet was instead rich clay, and was destined to become the tame garden. The house would be built right next to the Vliet and surrounded by a pond, alike to a stone jug in a cool barrel of water. Thus to a good extent, nature itself determined the basic design of the estate.

Click on the image above
to view a large view of
Hofwijck seen with the aid of
Microsoft's Live Search Maps.
Although a modern six-lane
highway passes within yards,
this enchanting place still
preserves much of it original

In a long court poem entitled Hofwijck, Constantijn described in detail how the estate came into being. He raccounted with great enthusiasm how, after many drafts, a human figure suddenly appeared in the garden plan. Symmetrically designed lanes with long rows of trees formed the legs, arms and shoulders. The tree orchard formed the chest. The house had to be the head, with windows as ears, nostrils and eyes. Even the Heerwech river fit into his plan perfectly; it formed the division between the upper and lower body, the way a belt divides the trousers from the coat. And so Hofwijck became a harmonious piece of paradise on earth, with a garden in God's image and likeness.

While walking, meditating, reading or talking with his friends in a such a harmonious environment, Huygens searched for an inner peace and harmony which he longed for his entire life. And it was the same peace and harmony that he wished to bestow on his visitors in the midst of this little "Garden Eden."

Hofwijck was an utopia of hospitality, entertainment and reflection. One could engage in archery at the foot of the mountain, pick fruits in the orchard or "bowl" on the lawn of the "bolbaen" along the Vliet. Music and singing were at home in the state room or garden. The meticulous Huygens had planned Hofwijck employing sizes and proportions in the rooms that would optimize the sounds of a string instrument. In February 1642, Huygens celebrated the festive opening of "Hofwijck," also called in the Latin form "Vitaulium," together with his family and many friends. Some lines from his later written poem about "Hofwijck" speak well for Huygens' sincere and generous hospitality:

Twee poorten zeggen meer: onthaal ik vriend of gast,
dan is 't niet door één deur, 't is door twee open deuren
De ruime ingang toont wat binnen zal gebeuren,
en dat de vrienden op mijn brood en op mijn wijn,
niet half, niet heel, niet één-, maar tweemaal welkom zijn.

Two Gates speak of more: be I greeting friend or guest
't is not by one door yet by two open doors;
the spacious entrance shows what is to happen indoors,
And that friends are welcome to my bread and my wine,
not half, not whole, not once, but twice.

(Hofwijck 1653, lines 1064–1068)

Until the end of his life Huygens spent as much time at Hofwijck as he could possibly afford away from his lifelong business. Shortly before he died, he drafted his own will and in order to safeguard the continued existence of his country estate. He stipulated that Hofwijck must remain within the family. As a consequence it became the shared property of his three surviving sons: Constantijn Junior (1628–1697), Christiaan (1629–1695) and Lodewijck (1631–1699). No part of Hofwijck was to be sold or let.

Leonardo da Vinci, Vetruvian man
Vitruvian Man
Leonardo da Vinci
c. 1492
Pen and ink with wash over metalpoint on paper, 34.4 x 25.5 cm.
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice


But the initial period of tranquility in the buitenplaats last briefly. In September 1642, his brother Maurits, secretary of the "Raad van Staate," died and left him as the head of the family. This was a blow to Huygens, and as it was often the case, he could not bring himself to write poetry in Dutch, but only in Latin. In 1644, he published a collection of Latin poetry, called Momenta Desultoria.

In 1645, the sons Constantijn (jr.) and Christiaan began their studies at the Leiden University, as their father had done 27 years earlier. The serious illness of Frederik Hendrik, Huygens' protector, and the problematic political situation caused by the English Civil War complicated Huygens' position at the court calling on him to employ his most subtle diplomatic abilities. On one hand, he was a Dutch patriot absolutely loyal to the House of Orange. On the other he had numerous English friends from his travels to England. He always felt a certain loyalty to James VI and the House of Stuart from his short contacts to the English King in 1618 and 1621.

In 1647 Frederik Hendrik died. Huygens continued to serve as confidential secretary, but his master was now the twenty-one year old son William II (1626–1650). Huygens attended in 1648 the final negotiations in Brussel which ratified the Peace of Westphalia which officiallygranted independence from Spain, ending the Eighty Years' War.

In 1641, William II had married Mary Henrietta Stuart, the eldest daughter of King Carles I of England. This marriage made the relationship between the Dutch Republic and England closer but not easier. Huygens' was personally worn by the drawn-out, sometimes fruitless negotiations between the two countries. At the same time he negotiated between the Prince of Orange, the Queen and the States Council which consumed almost all of his time and energy, although he always attempted to maintain a position of consistent civility to both sides.

Pathodia sacra et profana, cONSTANIJN hUYGENS

He tried to find time writing and publishing. In 1647 a number of Huygens' musical creations, Pathodia sacra et profana, were published in Paris. It contains some compositions on Latin psalms as well as French and Italian amorous worldly texts.

The work was dedicated to Huygens' best musical friend, the beautiful Utricia Ogle (see image below left), daughter of the English military governor in Utrecht, John Ogle, 1645 married to the English officer William Swann. Huygens had performed some pieces from the Pathodia with her in private circles, deeply fascinated by her superb voice, evident in the dedication ("nostra Siren") or later in his poem Hofwijck ("I heard her singing here, I think I hear her still / Out-sing the nightingale, eclipse the nightingale," lines 409–10, transl. Davidson/Van der Weel).

After ruling for only three years, William II died. With his death there began the so-called "Eerste Stadhouderloos Tijdperk" (the First Stadtholderless Period) lasting from 1650 to 1672. The son of William II, now William III, had been born only eight days before the death of his father. The fact, that the future of the House of Orange depended on a frail little baby meant years of oppressive anxiety for true Orangists like Huygens. It is remarkable, that despite of all the dissentions within the minute court at The Hague, Huygens could manage to write a meditative description of his beloved "Hofwijck," which was completed towards the end of 1651.

Utricia Ogle, Lady Swann
Utricia Ogle, Lady Swann
Drawing (bister) by
Jan de Bisschop
after a lost painting
by Caspar Netscher.
Turin, Royal Library

Her unusual first name refers to
her birthplace Utrecht.

Apart from all the troubles in business Huygens lost a number of friends in this decade: among them Hooft in 1647, his brother-in-law Barlaeus in 1648, and even more painfully, Maria Tesselschade in 1649. The world and the friends of his youth were gone, and from this point onwards in his life, he became more and more resigned. Moreover, he had difficulties in assuring suitable careers for his sons, especially for Constantijn, for whom he could only get a relatively humble post at the court partially on account of the indifference of the Princely family. Christiaan, who continued his studies of the natural sciences in Breda, went to Paris where he became the most celebrated physicist and astronomer. Lodewijk, the third son, was able to initiate a diplomatic career in the Dutch Embassy to the English Parliament thanks to the many friendly relationships of his father with English persons of influence. Philips, the youngest and perhaps less talented of the sons, died in 1657 while attached to a diplomatic mission to Poland and Sweden. The loss caused Huygens a long, dangerous illness. He recovered very slowly, more sombre and more deeply committed to his Calvinist faith. During his father's illness Christiaan supervised the publication of a collection of Huygens' poems from the last years which appeared in December 1657 under the title De Korenbloemen van den Heere van Zuylichem ("The Cornflowers of the Lord of Zuilichem"). Huygens himself had chosen this title explaining it in a preceding poem, where he—with some understatement—compared his poems with the simple cornflowers, transient and appealing weeds, only peripheral to the business of "agriculture."

In 1660, when William III was just ten years old, his mother died. In her will, Mary Henrietta had designated her brother, King Charles II of England, as William's legal guardian, but Charles delegated this responsibility to William's paternal grandmother, Amalia of Solms, the widow of Frederik Hendrik. In the same year Orange was invaded by France, and Huygens had to undertake enormous diplomatic activities during the next years to attempt a resolution of the problem, which meant a constant traveling between Paris, The Hague and London. The only personal satisfaction in 1660 was the marriage of his daughter Susanna with her cousin Philips Doublet, son of Huygens' sister Geertruyd.

Some political accomplishment which brought a lowering of tension at the court, came from the Restoration of Charles II to the throne of England. Although Huygens finally attained a temporary resolution of the "French question" (the status of the principality of Orange in the south of France) and acted as representative of the House of Orange in 1665 in the symbolic repossession of the principality, his poems from this period, especially the very moving one Op mijen geboort-dagh ("On My Birthday") read more and more like a prayer for release from the fatigues and anxieties of his life, silently longing for death (Huygens was now 69 years old):

Hoe veel Septembers, Heer, en hoe veel' vierde dagen
Wilt ghij mij noch verdragen

Wat wacht ick meer op aerd, waerom en scheid' ick niet?

How many more Septembers, and fourth days,
Lord, will you suffer me?

What do I hope on earth, why not now leave?5

Engraving from the Scheveningse Zee-Straat Engraving from the Scheveningse Zee-Straat

But yet another stressful decade of public life laid before him. Eighteen years ago, in 1643, Huygens had made a plan for a paved road from The Hague to the coast at the nearby Scheveningen.

Although he saw this road as a more comfortable way to the coast for the Hague citizens to enjoy the fresh air of the sea, it meant vice versa an enormous improvement for the fishermen and -women as well as peasants and traveling craftsmen to carry their goods more comfortably to the markets of The Hague as the ways through the sandy soil of the dunes had been very hard and dangerous. But the officials had considerable objections at first against the plan, as the costs for the realizing where immense and had to be paid to the half by the "city" (The Hague wasn't an official city in that time, got the city rights late in 1806). Only when they had realized that the road could also be used for the Republic's troops to prevent an invasion from the sea they agreed with Huygens' plan, and the road was finally built in 1665. In 1667 Huygens celebrated his plan in an extended set of verses called Zee-straet. The poems and epigrams he wrote within the following years were gathered and added to an extended publication of his Korenbloemen in 1672, the last publication in his life.

momument to Constantijn Hiygens
Monument of Huygens at the Scheveningseweg
(entrance to the "Scheveningse Bosjes"), The Hague.

The last third of this century so crucial for the development of the young Dutch Republic saw a continued degeneration of relations with the English House of Stuarts. And so in 1670 Huygens had to make a last, disillusioning journey to England in the retinue of the young Prince William III (later the King of England). But while the Prince, after a royal visit without much problems, returned to Holland in Spring 1671, Huygens had to remain in London with the thankless task of attempting to extract from the English court and parliament some of the debts which they still owed to the House of Orange, of course without success. He felt certainly very relieved when he finally could return to The Hague in October 1671. The somewhat fatalistic poem Oogentroost ("Consolation of the Eyes") written on the voyage home and addressed to his sister Geertruyd who was going blind from cataract, showed an ever more urgent desire for release, a feeling that he had outlived this time, his contemporaries and his natural span of life.

Constantijn Huygens, Caspar Netscher
Portrait of Constantijn Huygens
Caspar Netscher
Oil on panel, 27 x 23 cm.
Huygens Museum Hofwijck

But the worst came with the year 1672, the terrible rampjaar ("Disastrous Year"), where the United Provinces were attacked at near the same time from England, France, Münster and Cologne. This meant a dramatic decline both for the flourishing economy and the entire social and cultural life in the Republic as well as humiliating losses of territory and the payment of indemnities, which lead to the outbreak of violence and the mob murder of the raadpensionaris (Grand Pensionary) Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis. The only consolation for a loyal Orangist like Huygens could have lain in the appointment of William III as the new stadtholder and with him some restoration of Orange's former place of eminence in the life of the Republic. The Treaty of Westminster with England in 1674 and with France 1678 in Nijmegen put a temporary end to the constant warfares.

Huygens' last years were naturally less active than all those before. His relationship with William III was very distant. Although no longer personally involved in diplomatic activities surrounding the treaties with England and France he acted, as a representative of the House of Orange, in a few official functions. He was certainly very glad about the treaty with England which lead in 1677 to a new alliance between the Houses of Stuart and Orange with the marriage of William III with Mary, daughter of James, Duke of York (later James II of England).

Tombstone of Huygens' puppy Geckie in Hofwijck
Tombstone of Huygens' puppy Geckie in Hofwijck

But despite this rather positive outlook for Orange's future Huygens' life seemed rather to be marked by gentle melancholy and his longing for release. His son Constantijn (who followed his father as private secretary to William III) moved away with his family in 1680 from the great house at the Plein and most of his friends had died. He suffered deeply from this loneliness, but always tried to find some pleasures in writing poetry (1683 the extended Cluys-werck about the nature of last words, and a long autobiographical poem in Latin) or making music (although, as he wrote in a letter, he was only be able then to play some simple accompanying chords on the theorbo due to the gout in his hands). In 1682 even his little puppy "Geckie" ("Little Fool") left him. He buried it in Hofwijck, at a place near the house. His weary epitaph for his little Geckie reveals once again his entirely longing for an end and his disgust with the great men of the world whom he had served throughout his public life.

Myn Geckies grafschrift

Dit is mijn Hondjes Graf
Ick segger niet meer af,
Als dat ick wenschten (en de Werld waer niet bedurven)
Dat mijn klein Geckje leefde en all' de groote sturven.

My Puppy's Epitaph

This is my puppy's grave:
No more than this be said,
I'd wish (and were it so, the world were none the worse)
My little dog alive, all this world's great ones dead.6

25 October, 1682

His deep Calvinistic faith in the chastising and consoling Deity was his last refuge and comfort as it had always been before in so many hard times in his long life.

Constantijn Huygens died on Good Friday, the 28th of March, 1687, in his ninety-first year. One week later, he was buried in the Grote or Saint Jakobskerk in The Hague in a large official funeral with fifteen black covered mourning coaches. He had "lived, as an active statesman, virtuoso, musician and poet through the whole cycle of maturing of the Dutch Republic as a unique state in Early Modern Europe, reflecting to the end the paradoxical status of his country as both a late flowering of the civic ideals of the high Renaissance and a forerunner of the liberties of the Enlightenment. … Few servants of any state can have performed their duties for so long, or with such exemplary fidelity: living his name, Constanter."7

huygens resources on the web:


  • Rosalie L. Colie, "Some Thankfulnesse to Constantine." A Study of English Influence upon the Early Works of Constantijn Huygens, The Hague 1956.
  • Rosalie L. Colie, "Some Thankfulnesse to Constantine." A Study of English Influence upon the Early Works of Constantijn Huygens, The Hague 1956.
  • Peter Davidson and Adriaan van der Weel, A Selection of the Poems of Sir Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687), Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 1996.
  • L. Strengholt, Constanter. Het Leven von Constantijn Huygens, Amsterdam 1987.
  • Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing, chapter I: "Constantijn Huygens and The New World," Chicago 1983, 1–25.
  • Rudolf Rasch, "Een raadsman voor de kunsten. Constantijn Huygens als adviseur van Frederik Hendrik," Harald Hendrix (ed.), Kunstenaars en opdrachtgevers, Amsterdam University Press 1996, 89–117 (Utrecht Renaissance Studies, 2).
  • Willemien B. De Vries, "The Country Estate Immortalized: Constantijn Huygens" Hofwijck," John Dixon Hunt (ed.), The Dutch garden in the seventeenth century. Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture (12, 1988, Washington DC), 81–97.
  • Frits Scholten, "Sir Constantijn Huygens and François Dieussart, a portrait observed," The Sculpture Journal, publ. by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association London, 1997, 7–15.
  • Julius S. Held, "Constantijn Huygens and Susanna van Baerle: A Hitherto Unknown Portrait," The Art Bulletin vol. LXXIII, no. 4, December 1991, 653–668.
  • Frits Noske, "Two Unpaired Hands Holding a Music Sheet: A Recently Discovered Portrait of Constantijn Huygens and Susanna van Baerle," Tijdschrift van de Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis XLII-1, 1992, 131–140.
  • Gary Schwartz, "How Sterre came home," Schwartzlist no. 226, January 2005.
  • Tim Crawford, "Constantijn Huygens and the Engelsche Viool," Chelys, publ. by the Viola da Gamba Society of Great Britain, London, XVIII, 1989, 41–60.
  1. See Frits Scholten, "Sir Constantijn Huygens and François Dieussart, a portrait observed," The sculpture-journal, publshed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, London 1997, 7–15.
  2. Constantijn Huygens, Mijn jeugd (translation C. L. Heesakkers), Amsterdam 1987, 95, see Scholten, note 25 15.
  3. see Scholten, 8.
  4. Constantijn Huygens, Vitaulium. Hofwyck. Hofstede Vanden Heere van Zuylichem Onder Voorburgh, The Hague 1653; Jacob Westerbaen, Arctöa Tempe. Ockenburgh, The Hague, 1654; Jacob Cats, Ouderdom, Buytenleven, en Hofgedachten, op Sorghvliet, Amsterdam 1655.
  5. Peter Davidson and Adriaan van der Weel, A Selection of the Poems of Sir Constantijn Huygens (1596–1684), Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996, 178/79.
  6. Peter Davidson and Adriaan van der Weel, A Selection of the Poems of Sir Constantijn Huygens (1596–1684), Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996, 9. 186/87.
  7. Peter Davidson and Adriaan van der Weel, A Selection of the Poems of Sir Constantijn Huygens (1596–1684), Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996, 9. 26.
Hofwijck poem
Hofwijck (handwritten title page of
with some sketches by the author)
Constantijn Huygens
Koninklijke Bibliotheek Den Haag

Choir of the Grote Kerk in The HagueChoir of the Grote Kerk in The Hague

The graves of Constantijn sr. and
Christiaan Huygens (d. 1695)
had probably been on the rear wall
near the altar.