Maurice de Nassau, Prince of Orange
Michiel Janisz Van Mierevelt
1609, oil on wood panel, 55 cm x 47,5 cm
Maurice de Nassau (1567-1625) was the Prince of Orange from 1618 until 1624. He succeeded his brother, Philippe-Guillaume, for whom he had served as a regent until 1596 when the prince was freed from his imprisonment in Spain.
This portrait is one of only ten of him that are currently known. He is dressed in armour and the Orange sash, which was the usual way of depicting Princes of Orange and refers to his role as the leader of the Dutch armies. ‘The best general of his time’ as Henry IV described him, is shown aged 42, as indicated in a text to the left of the painting.
Following the terrible ordeal of the religious wars, Orange was able to experience a time of peace as each Catholic and Protestant community was allowed to freely practice their religion under this prince’s reign. The Edict of Liberties and Privileges of the Principality of Orange which was introduced by Philippe-Guillaume at the end of the 17th century had the desired effects. The city also went through a period of economic success. The Protestant aristocracy built distinctive hotels along Rue Droite (now Rue Victor Hugo). The current site of the Orange Museum is in one of the hotels from this period and its original architectural decoration gives visitors an idea of life in the 17th century.
Maurice de Nassau completely transformed the city. He built a large hospital which complied with all the hygiene regulations of the time. He made Orange into an exceptional stronghold thanks to the way he organised the defence of the city. It is said that these defence plans were then replicated by French military mastermind Vauban to make ensure the safety of the French kingdom. The city walls boasted fortifications lined with moats fed by the Meyne River and counterscarps. On the hill there was a fortress in the middle of which was the castle, which later played a key role in the layout and life of the stronghold.
When this principality was made part of the French kingdom, Louis XIV ordered the destruction of this fortress.