Exhibition | African Servants at Court in The Hague

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on September 11, 2017

From the press release for the upcoming exhibition:

African Servants at Court in The Hague / Afrikaanse Bedienden aan het Haagse hof
Haags Historisch Museum, Den Haag, 21 September 2017 — 28 January 2018

Curated by Esther Schreuder 

With the exhibition African Servants at Court in The Hague, the Haags Historisch Museum will showcase the lives of two black men, Cupido and Sideron. Originally from Curaçao and Guinea, the two were, as enslaved boys, presented to Stadholder William V as gifts in the 1760s. They went on to spend much of their lives as well-paid servants at the court in The Hague. Whereas exhibitions about court life generally omit references to servants with a non-European background, this exhibition specifically focuses on servants of African descent to highlight an aspect of Dutch history that remains relatively unknown.

Hendrik Pothoven, William V Visiting the Fair at the Buitenhof in The Hague, 1781 (The Hague: Historisch Museum Den Haag).

The Museum places the story of Cupido and Sideron within the long tradition of African servants in European Royal courts and includes the story of Jean Rabo (ca. 1715–1769), valet to Stadholder William IV. Paintings, drawing, prints, and textual documents are used to relate the story of Cupido and Sideron. What do we know about these two African men? What role did they play as servants? Were there any other black servants? The exhibition features major loans from the British Royal Collection, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, and the Cultural Heritage Agency (Rijksdienst Cultureel Erfgoed). Writer and art historian Esther Schreuder is the guest curator, a role she previously held for the exhibition Black is Beautiful: Rubens to Dumas in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam (2008).

In the words of Director Marco van Baalen, “The Netherlands’ history of slavery has featured increasingly in the news in recent years, but there has so far been little attention paid to black people in the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries. Our aim with this exhibition is to highlight that shared history from a new perspective.”

In the exhibition and additional programming, the Museum explicitly intends to broach contemporary discussions about the history of slavery and racism. Especially for the exhibition, artist Tirzo Martha (b. 1965) from Curaçao will create an installation in which he gives his personal interpretation of the story of Cupido and Sideron. Also in connection with the exhibition, Balans Publishing House will issue the publication Cupido en Sideron: Twee Moren aan het hof van Oranje (Two Moors at the Court of Orange) by Esther Schreuder.

Hendrik Pothoven, William V Visiting the Fair at the Buitenhof in The Hague (detail showing Cupido and Sideron), 1781
(The Hague: Haags Historisch Museum)
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