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Melchior de Hondecoeter (Utrecht 1636-Amsterdam 1695)

Johan Ortt (1642-1701) on Horseback outside the Gate of Nijenrode Castle Signed and dated 1687

Oil on canvas | 79.8 x 97.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 405956

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  • Nijenrode Castle near Utrecht was begun in the middle of the fourteenth century and considerably enlarged in the early years of the seventeenth. It was destroyed during the French invasion of 1672, and rebuilt, complete with moat by the Amsterdam merchant, Johan Ortt (1642-1701), when he acquired it in 1673. Ortt became Lord of the Manor of Nijenrode in 1675. The Utrecht historian Cornelis Booth recounted that as well as restoring the castle, Johann Ortt ‘built a riding school and stables to the right of the house, capable of holding up to fifty horses, of which he was a great lover. Of horses he had an incomparable collection, not only measured against others in the county of Utrecht, but possibly in the whole Netherlands. Magnificent riding and coaching horses were raised in his own stud.’

    This is one of three depictions of the castle, its stud and its owner by de Hondecoeter (RCIN 405954-6). In this one, which should probably be hung in the centre, Johann Ortt appears to be setting off on a hunt; he rides a Spanish horse while a groom holds a smaller mount fitted with a side-saddle, presumably for his wife; a servant in livery holds three greyhounds on a leash and a pair of beagles follow. The left background of this painting depicts a seventeenth-century formal garden lying outside the moat, with classical stone gateway, statuary and pyramidal topiary-cage. This seems to contradict the evidence of contemporary views which show a large building, possibly a stable block, immediately across the bridge from the castle.

    There is a parallel between Ortt’s equestrian interests and those of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle (1592-1676), who built great riding stables at Welbeck in 1625. When Cavendish was exiled in Antwerp during the Commonwealth, he published his Méthode et invention nouvelle de dresser les chevaux (Antwerp 1658), with illustrations after drawings by Abraham van Diepenbeeck. These have exactly the same mix of favourite horse, trusty stable hands, brand new stable block and ancient vernacular castle as we see in de Hondecoeter’s works and are a further example of the close connection between the Dutch and English aristocracy, on the eve of the ‘Dutch invasion’ of 1688. One of the Dutch noblemen who accompanied William of Orange to England was Willem Bentinck (1649-1709). Stubbs’s image of the riding stables at Welbeck, painted in 1767 depicts William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland (1738-1809). Stubbs may even have known these paintings by de Hondecoeter, which were brought to England by Mary Doublet of Groeneveldt (c.1702-1801), who married Robert Darcy, 4th Earl of Holderness (1718-78) in 1743 and lived at Sion Hill. The Earl of Holderness was also tutor to George III’s eldest sons, Princes George and Frederick, in 1771-6; it is conceivable that as a child George IV saw these three paintings that he was to acquire as a man. He then took them to King’s Lodge in Windsor Park in 1822, along with his collection of works by George Stubbs, though whether or not they were hung together cannot be determined.

    Signed and dated: 'M. Hondekoe . . ./ Ao 1687'

    Text adapted from The Conversation Piece: Scenes of fashionable life, London, 2009

    Acquired by George IV between 1802 and 1806; recorded at Warwick House in 1816 (no 498) and 1819 (no 534, valued at 25 guineas); taken to the King's Lodge in Windsor Park in 1822

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    79.8 x 97.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    103.0 x 118.0 x 11.0 cm (frame, external)