This remarkable set of 18 plates shines a spotlight on each province of the Netherlands in turn, asserting the kingdom's new identity and boundaries under King Willem I (1772-1844). The historical context underpins their significance as, when they were painted in 1822, this political reality was of quite recent date. Willem had returned home in 1813 and assumed his new title after 18 years of war and exile during the Napoleonic era. The Treaty of Vienna ratified his kingdom which, for the first time, comprised the united Northern (Dutch) and Southern (Belgian) provinces of the Low Countries. The new king took a particular interest in his country's economic development, and these plates are used as a canvas for detailed maps which vaunt his improvements to the canal and road networks. The building schemes also provided mass employment at a time when large areas of the country's population suffered from extreme poverty.
In 1822, fine porcelain was once again being manufactured in Brussels, but only on a very small scale at the factory established by the accomplished porcelain painter, Frederic Faber. The majority of porcelain sold in the Netherlands at the time, including these plates with their typical deep blue ground, was undoubtedly made in Paris. An important Paris dessert service had been ordered by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands as a present for the king on the occasion of his birthday in 1820. The service, signed by Faber's workshop, was decorated with topographical views of the kingdom within richly gilded borders. 300 plates from this service survive in The Hague today (see Cyp Quarles Van Ufford, Frederic Faber (1782-1844) Porcelaine Royale du Royaume Uni des Pays-Bas 1815-1830, pp 84-91, plates 63-67). The present set of plates, also in Paris porcelain, does not appear to be decorated by Faber however, and was probably painted by an independent enameller (with the initials R.D. as each plate is signed) working in Brussels, copying contemporary maps. The cartographic subject matter would have dovetailed neatly with the dessert service decorated with views, and it is not surprising they also originate from a royal Dutch collection.
A set of maps of the Netherlands' provinces was published in 1820 by the Parisian surveyor, geographer and mapmaker, Jean Baptiste de Bouge (1757-1833), also recorded at The Hague. It is possible a Dutch version of the set was made soon afterwards and these were copied by the decorator in order to paint these plates.
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