Rijksmuseum acquires Giovanni Battista Piranesi mantelpiece

November 28 2013 - 6:00 PM

Donation from the Dutch province of Noord-Holland to mark opening of new Rijksmuseum

This afternoon, the King’s Commissioner in Noord-Holland, J.W. Remkes, and General Director of the Rijksmuseum, W. Pijbes, signed the agreement transferring ownership of a rare marble mantelpiece by the famous designer Giovanni Battista Piranesi to the Rijksmuseum. The mantelpiece was given on loan to the museum in 1962, but the provincial executive has decided to donate the object to mark the opening of the new Rijksmuseum. The province has previously donated an ensemble of lead sculptures by Righetti to the Rijksmuseum. Both the sculptures and the mantelpiece have now been given a prime spot in the new Rijksmuseum.


The mantelpiece by Piranesi (1720-1778) was fitted in Villa Welgelegen in 1784. This building now serves as the offices of the Noord-Holland provincial executive. The mantelpiece is one of Piranesi’s most important completed designs. It was created using the remnants of sculptures from the Roman Era, complemented with 18th-century sculptural techniques. There are only 11 other composite mantelpieces based on Piranesi’s designs known in the world.

Huis Barnaart
In 1943, the then owner of Villa Welgelegen (i.e. the Dutch State) decided to remove the mantelpiece for a museum exhibition in the yet to be founded Empire Museum in the townhouse Huis Barnaart in Haarlem. Villa Welgelegen and its contents (including the mantelpiece) became the property of the province of Noord-Holland in 1949. When Huis Barnaart was turned into offices in 1962, the province decided to give the mantelpiece on loan to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

The province is now donating this historic mantelpiece because it is an important and valuable work of art, and presenting it as a museum object in the Rijksmuseum will do it more justice. It has been agreed with the Rijksmuseum that a smaller replica of the mantelpiece will be made available to the Province of Noord-Holland for the Historical Exhibition in Villa Welgelegen.