Other people’s houses (and gardens) have always excited our curiosity. Today’s books and magazines dedicated to the latest styles in domestic architecture, interior design and gardens give us ideas, inspiration, aspiration. As visitors they allow us into houses we will never live in, guests of owners we will never know. In these worlds everything is perfect; there is no dust, no unfinished decorating projects.
De Zegepraalende Vecht (the triumphant Vecht) could be seen as an interesting precursor of the modern lifestyle publication. Published in Amsterdam in 1719 it records the most notable houses and gardens on the river Vecht, illustrated in meticulous detail by Daniel Stopendael.
The Vecht, a branch of the Rhine originating in Utrecht, was already home to medieval castles but in the 17th century became the place for the newly wealthy from Amsterdam to build lusthooven or recreational houses. Whilst not on the scale of a royal palace, these are grand houses, by most people’s standards, which would have been used by their owners in the summer months.
Daniel Stopendael (1672 – 1726) was an artist and engraver based in Amsterdam producing architectural drawings and maps. His father Bastiaan followed the same profession.
In his book, we don’t see inside the buildings, but the exteriors and the layouts of the gardens give a fascinating insight into the styles of architecture and garden design that were fashionable in the Netherlands at this time. Larger houses, such as Hoogevechts, command several pages depicting all the features of the garden, while smaller houses have just a single page.
The influence of French garden design is everywhere, in the formal avenues, parterres, the hedges, topiary and the symmetry. The captions at the foot of each illustration are in Dutch and French. A commentary on Gunterstein (one of the smaller houses mentioned in the book) describes how the French born owner Magdelena Poulle would ‘use prints of the latest French gardens to create designs, garden furniture, statues and features’. It seems likely this book might have been used in the same way, by those looking for ideas for their gardens.
Alongside the gardens Stopendael supplies glimpses of ordinary life on this stretch of waterway; people fishing, travelling, visiting; sometimes gardeners can be seen at work. Many of the gardens use water from the river which is diverted to form canals and feed elaborate fountains.
The symmetry of the double fronted houses is repeated in the design of the gardens, with their lines of trees, hedges, and spaced topiary. The planting is precise and controlled. The trees are spaced evenly and pruned so that their naturalistic shape is preserved, and their height is maintained in a close relationship with the house (at least, at this point in the garden’s development). The hedges and topiary are meticulously clipped into solid geometric shapes in contrast to the looser form of the trees.
Wooden trellis supporting a line of espaliered trees together with a gardener and wheelbarrow.
Climbing plants are supported by wooden trellis on the wall of the house and the roof of the smaller building.
Interesting wooden seats either side of the garden gates.
Do you think these animals were allowed off their rectangular island from time to time?
I’m intrigued by Groenevechts (pictured below) where the planting becomes an extension of the building. On either side of the house are green ‘walls’ with a parapet and openings suggesting windows and a door. A man passes through one of the green doorways to the garden beyond.
This text can be found at archive.org where you can also enlarge the illustrations and inspect them more closely – link below:
Many of these houses still survive and can be identified via http://rijksmonumenten.nl/