The Power of the Throne Explored Through Royal Furniture
An exhibition in the Netherlands includes an iconic prop from the land of Westeros. Grab a seat!
The throne is an almost outmoded object in an age of fading monarchy. Still, the idea of a piece of furniture that confers a higher authority continues to hold sway in today’s political and cultural imagination. Consider the fancy seat Emmanuel Macron occupied during his inauguration, or the iconic sword-backed perch that anchored HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones.
At the Paleis Het Loo in the Netherlands, a new exhibition is examining the symbolism—and surprising staying power—of the throne. Featuring about 70 objects, “The Power of the Throne” explores the history and contemporary relevance of this power seat, while questioning exactly what elevates a humble chair into a symbol of sovereignty.
The show, said curator Niels Coppes in a statement, “will tell stories of different cultures through the lens of the throne: the defining symbol of divine and secular rule as a claim to power and authority. It will also invite visitors to reflect on the theme: ‘Is there a future for the throne?'”
The thrones gathered here range from historic examples, including an artifact of the Ashanti Empire in Ghana, to contemporary specimens like the East River Chairs, which accommodated speakers at 2019’s G20 Women’s Summit. The royal throne of King Willem-Alexander, the current Dutch monarch, serves as one of the show’s centerpieces, on loan from the Hague for the first (and apparently only) time.
According to Coppes, the participation of the Dutch king has spurred the loan of another—possibly more beloved—chair. A replica of the Iron Throne, the coveted seat of the Seven Kingdoms in Games of Thrones, joins the exhibition as a prime example of how popular culture has shaped our appreciation of royal furniture.
The chairs in the show are also accompanied by throne-centric artworks from the museum’s collection. Nicolaas Pieneman’s c.1840 painting immortalizing the inauguration of King Willem II depicts the grandeur of royal authority, just as Claes Jacobsz van der Heck’s The Judgement of Solomon (1616) captures its rare sagacity. A historical cartoon cheekily portraying the elder Willem I on a throne of cheese, however, dismantles that aura.
Alas, most of the thrones included in the show aren’t for sitting in. However, visitors are invited to plonk themselves on two seats: the Iron Throne and Alfred van Elk’s work Troon (Throne). The latter is a four-seat sculpture, crafted by the industrial designer with 288 wooden planks for the 2016 edition of Symposion Gorinchem. Its form, he said, was intended to reflect the “multiple truths and multiple beliefs” of his “ideal society.”
According to Van Elk, he had the opportunity to speak with then Queen Beatrix about the work. “Of course, she is the one with experience when it comes to thrones,” he wrote of their interaction. “Even Queen Beatrix felt that the one sitting on a throne does not necessarily hold the truth.”
See more views of the exhibition below.
“The Power of the Throne” is on view at Paleis Het Loo, Koninklijk Park 16, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, through March 10, 2024.
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