Catherine the Great conquers Amsterdam

While at Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn Queen Máxima of the Netherlands will open the exhibition “Anna Pavlovna, colourful queen” on 5 October – the exhibition itself will be open to the public from 6 October 2016 to 5 February 2017 – there is still an exhibition going on in the Netherlands about another royal, and much more powerful, woman: Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. “Catherine the Greatest. Self-polished Diamond of the Hermitage” at the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, already opened its doors on 18 June, but I only managed to visit early September. You can still visit until 15 January 2017. Another splendid Hermitage exhibition. Not the biggest I have seen, but certainly not the worst one.

Once upon a time … it says on the wall at the start of the exhibition, followed by portraits of six actresses that once played the role of this extraordinary Empress in a film: Marlene Dietrich, Elisabeth Bergner, Jeanne Moreau, Julia Ormond, Catherine Zeta-Jones and most recently Marina Aleksandrova (and there were even more). Although you could wonder if even an actress will ever do justice to this extremely powerful woman, however they’re all certainly more beautiful than she ever was. Born as Sophie Auguste Friederike, Princesss von Anhalt-Zerbst in a tiny principality in Germany in 1729, she married the later Tsar Peter III of Russia in 1744 and took the name of Catherine. To put it mildly not the best marriage in royal history. She already had lovers long before her death, and it is not certain that Peter is even the father of their son Paul, who was born in 1754. There are quite a few portraits of lovers and other favourites on show at the exhibition. After Peter’s death in 1762 it was Catherine who became the new Tsarina, and reigned until 1796. A period of national power and glory and a golden age in the history of Russia.

The exhibition shows more than 300 objects from the Hermitage in St Petersburg and invites visitors to have a look into Catherine’s world. There are lots of portraits, sculptures as well as personal possessions such as clothing and jewelry. And it includes an amazing copy of the Great Imperial Crown, created in 2012 for the 250th anniversary of Catherine’s coronation out of 14-carat white gold, 11,352 diamonds, two rows of white pearls (74 in total) and one ruby-red rubellite. The original one is permanently on display at the Diamond Fund of the Russian Federation. But for me the copy was already a masterpiece.

Royal Amsterdam once again

High on my list this Summer was a visit to Amsterdam. On 3 September 2016 I didn’t manage to do everything I wanted, but that wasn’t such a big deal. And the company – royalty-watcher Oscar Meijer – was good as always.

The “Nieuwe Kerk” where the Dutch monarchs are being inaugurated, is an interesting place to visit if you  haven’t been there before yet. But we both had been there lots of times. However we wanted to have a quick look inside to see the exhibition “History & Royalty: Journey in Time”. According to some people I know it wasn’t the first time the exhibition was on display. And it wasn’t a real exhibition either. Some nice videos to see, a few banners, and a huge picture of the inauguration of King Willem-Alexander on 30 April 2013. Of course we had our picture taken in front of it, and it turned out we accidentally had chosen wearing matching outfits in our national colours red-white-blue. Their new exhibition, starting on 1 October, sounds much more intriguing: Marilyn Monroe (yes, in a church)! Might be worth going, even for a royalty watcher.

Much more fun than we thought beforehand was the exhibition next-door at the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. Also a Summer event only unfortunately. The exhibition “Dynastie. Portretten van Oranje-Nassau” (Dynasty. Portraits of Orange-Nassau) was on display until 25 September. It was opened on 1 July by King Willem-Alexander personally. Lots and lots of portraits of Stadtholders, Kings and Queens, Princes and Princesses decorated the halls and rooms of the palace for the time being. Not that there usually aren’t any portraits, but not as many. From state portraits and royals on horse to children’s portraits, the paintings gave an overview of the members of the Orange-Dynasty over the centuries. For a long time it was a tradition as a royal to have your portrait painted, and even now there is the photography it is still done. Some of the paintings, newly restored, were on loan from Palace Huis ten Bosch. There were much more portraits on show than I had thought before, and I especially enjoyed the children’s portraits and galleries with beautiful ladies and stadtholders/monarchs.

Summer at Palace Het Loo

On Saturday 20 August I visited Palace Het Loo in Apeldoorn once again. The palace is always worth a visit when there is an exhibition, or even more. And due to a foot/ankle injury I hadn’t seen the ones of the Summer of 2016 yet. And I really was only just in time, or I would have missed some of them. Luckily the roof was open too, and in the afternoon the weather was so good that the gardens looked great also.

First stop was the exhibition “Koninklijke Foto’s” (Royal Photos) with lovely photos taken by the Dutch photographer Vincent Mentzel, from official portraits to photos taken during foreign travels. They showed the life of the Royal Family and a time image of the Netherlands during the reign of Queen Beatrix. Often, but not always known, to royaltywatchers. Sometimes funny, sometimes very serious moments. I was only just in time to see them, as the exhibition ended after the weekend.

Up to the roof of the Palace, only open on certain Wednesdays and Saturdays in the Summer, and I hadn’t been there for ages. Remember this was the place where Prince Pieter-Christiaan van Oranje-Nassau, Van Vollenhoven, proposed to his Anita. The weather could have been better, but at least it wasn’t raining.To be honest I didn’t hear much of the stories of the guide, as I was too interested in the views.

Back inside for the fourteen cute summer dresses of the later Queens Wilhelmina and Juliana. All white with embroidery and lace of course … and the little princesses at the time also wore hats, gloves, pretty shoes and parasols. Imagine children in these dresses nowadays. They would be dirty within minutes! The exhibition ran from 7 June to 30 August 2016. There was some information about the time the princesses spent the Summers at Het Loo Palace, enjoying a bit more freedom than in The Hague.

Always enjoyable, also when it is snowing, is the garden, where at this time of the year stil some lovely flowers were blooming.

Still on show – until 23 October – is the exhibition “Dutch Delftware” in the palace gardens. The 45 vases on display in the gardens are produced based on three existing authentic vases from the 17th century, created for the first residents of the palace, King-Stadtholder Willem (William) III and Queen Mary II. At the time they were a very exlusive element and of course there were precious plants in the vases: orange trees and pineapple plants. They are the finishing touch to the renovation of the gardens. However the new ones haven’t been produced and hand-painted in Delft, but by Royal Tichelaar Makkum.


Noble Traces in East Frisia

Did you know that East Frisia (Ostfriesland) in Germany once had its own counts from 1464 to 1654, and even its own Fürsten (princes) from 1654 to 1744? Then the Cirksena dynastie became extinct. The last woman died in 1761. Without much trouble the Prussians then claimed East Frisia. In Aurich is the family mausoleum. There were also several noble families in the area. During the few days I stayed in the area early August I found back several traces – even when not really searching for it.

According to the booklet “Burgen und Schlösser in Ostfriesland” by Günter G.A. Marklein, that I bought only 12 of the 130 former castles in the area are still there, as well as a few other remaining noble buildings. Most of them were however either destroyed or torn down, or simply collapsed. The ones that are still there are: the castle in Aurich, Burg Berum, Steinhaus Bunderhee, the Beningaburg in Dornum, the Norderburg in Dornum, Burg Fischhausen, Gödens Castle (still residence of a noble family), the Osterburg in Groothusen, Burg Hinta, Jever Castle, Burg Kniphausen, the Haneburg in Leer, the Harderwykenburg in Leer, the Evenburg in Leer-Loga, Schloss Philippsburg in Leer-Loga, Lütetsburg Castle, Neuenburg Castle and the Manningaburg in Pewsum. I probably should travel in the area a bit more, as Leer for example is not that far from where I live.

Copyright: Netty Leistra

Copyright: Netty Leistra

The font in the Evangelische Inselkirche on the Isle of Norderney has the name of Carl Georg Graf Wedel-Gödens on it. It turns out he donated the font to the church when it was opened on 11 June 1879, not coincidentally the golden wedding anniversary of the Emperor and Empress of Germany.

On my second day in East Frisia I visited Lütetsburg Castle. I took the old steam train from Norden to get there, but there are also busses going. The park is beautiful, but probably better in Spring and when it doesn’t rain. Anyway I enjoyed a walk through it. The castle itself is unfortunately for visitors the residence of the Count and Countess zu Inn- und Knyphausen. I only got as far as the gatehouse. The eldest parts of the castle are said to be from the 13th century. Apart from the garden there is a nice café and a lovely shop, which you can visit.

The small place called Dornum is very nice to walk around for a bit. It even has two castles left. The first one is the Beningaburg or the Osterburg (Eastern Castle), named for the Beninga family, that once owned it. Not much has remained from the old 16th-17th century grandeur to my opinion. The “Ahnensaal” (ancestral hall) does have a collection of very bad copies of people who once lived here. But interestingly the building nowadays is a café, restaurant and hotel. That way you partly can go inside and have a look and a drink or some food.

The other castle is the Norderburg (Northern Castle), that actually nowadays houses a school. The first building was built by Hero von Dornum, but destroyed in 1514, rebuilt in 1534. The last member of the family Von Closter who owned the castle since,  Haro Joachim von Closter, had the castle changed into a castle in Dutch barock style, but died without heirs in 1707. The courtyard opens only late afternoon, outside schooltimes, and although it was still school vacation when I got there, I am not quite sure I did see it all.

Fabergé Exhibition at the Koldinghus

Finally online! My article about the opening of the Fabergé exhibition at the Koldinghus in Kolding, Denmark, on 12 May 2016. Just have a look and enjoy. Don’t miss out the photo reports linked in the right upper corner.

See also Ribe Cathedral, My Favourite Danish Magazine, Other Danish Purchases and Royal Legoland.

Royal Wedding Songs

Several royal couples received their own official wedding song when they got married. I might well have missed a few, but here are some official ones.

Starting with Willem-Alexander, The Prince of Orange, and Máxima Zorreguieta in 2002. No, the song wasn’t “Adiós Nonino” performed by Carel Kraayenhof. The national -yes national – wedding song was sung by singers Marco Borsato and Sita and called “Lopen op het Water” (Walking on Water). A duet, of course, what else for a wedding. The evening before the wedding, 1 February 2002, there was a huge concert in the Amsterdam ArenA. Of course the couple and several guests were present. Marco Borsato and Sita did sing their song during that evening.

While everybody in June 2010 was talking about the great performance of Roxette with “The Look” the evening before the wedding, the actual official wedding song was another one: Björn Skifs & Agnes were actuall able to sing “When You Tell The World You’re Mine” during the wedding ceremony.

And even Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume of Luxembourg and Countess Stéphanie de Lannoy in 2012 had their own wedding song. It is called “I’m in Love” (what else) written by Joel Heyard, and sung by Deborah Lehnen and Christophe Strotz.

Of course several wedding ceremonies were afterwards recorded on CDs or DVDs, as were the songs. I don’t have Sweden, but do have the Dutch and Luxembourg ones.

Music and Royals

Can you name an artist (singer, musician, group) you discovered via your love for royals?

If there is one I should name it is the Norwegian singer Sissel Kyrkjebø. The first time I heard her music it was during the wedding ceremony of Princess Märtha Louise of Norway and Ari Behn. A sad song actually, but so beautiful. I must have heard her music before tough as she sang the Olympic hymn at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, and in 1997, Sissel contributed to the soundtrack of the film “Titanic”. Born in 1969 her career already started early. By now I own several of her CDs, mainly bought in Denmark and even one in London. She actually has fans in the Netherlands, but I don’t think she ever performed in my country, nor can you buy her CDs in a shop as far as I know. Princess Märtha Louise herself in 2003 recorded a Christmas album together with the Oslo Gospel Choir, and I must admit I love to play it with Christmas.

Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark in the years 1996-1998 even had a singer as his girlfriend, Maria Montell. We will probably never know if she wrote any songs for him, but sometimes you really wonder … In 1996 she released the album “Svært At Være Gudinde”, the English version being called “And so the story goes …” I must admit this one and some of her other albums also ended up in my home. I was simply too curious.

But some royals do actually sing and released singles or even albums. Remember Princess Stéphanie of Monaco in the 1980s tried to become a popstar? I am not sure if she ever released more than one single, but if I am correct, Ouragan even reached the charts in the Netherlands. It is on one of the collections with French chansons I have. And what about Princess Christina of the Netherlands, who studied classical music in Montreal, Canada, and afterwards accepted a teaching position at a Montessori School in New York City. For a long time I don’t think the Dutch knew how well she could sing. She did sing during a few family occasions like the christenings of her niece Princess Carolina de Bourbon de Parme and her own son Nicolás Guillermo, the weddings of her son Bernardo Guillermo and her nephew Prince Bernhard of Orange-Nassau, Van Vollenhoven, and during the funeral services of both her parents Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard. In 2000 she recorded a Christmas Album, and in 2002 an album called “The me nobody knows”, and if I remember well her daughter Juliana Guillermo actually sang along on it. Both albums were pretty well received and again ended up in my home. I shouldn’t forget Princess Christina’s brother-in-law Pieter van Vollenhoven, who with his musical “Gevleugelde Vrienden” (Feathered Friends) Louis van Dijk and Pim Jacobs recorded several CDs with all kinds of songs played on the piano. He is an enthusiastic amateur piano player. Both royals by the way donated the money they earned to good causes. Another royal who loves playing the piano and released at least one CD is Fürst Alexander zu Schaumburg-Lippe.

But of course there were also many royal and noble composers in the old days (for example Frederick II the Great of Prussia, but there must be many more), music was composed for them also, and there is of course even the musical “Elisabeth”, about the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

Can you think of more?