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Locking Up The Golden Coach

January 21, 2022
image of the Golden Coach with royalty inside - By Toni - originally posted to Flickr as the dutch royal family loves me!, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6512699

By Toni – originally posted to Flickr as the dutch royal family loves me!, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6512699

Earlier this week, the Dutch Royal Family announced that they would stop using their official state carriage, known as the Golden Coach. I first heard about the Golden Coach last summer when it was displayed at the Amsterdam Museum. The museum opened an exhibit delving into the colonial history of the Netherlands and its legacies, with the carriage serving as a sort of centerpiece. The museum’s artistic director, Margriet Schavemaker, commented how the exhibit is meant to highlight the ongoing debates regarding Dutch history: “For the Netherlands, I can only say that we are a country [with] a national identity based on the idea that we are very tolerant, very open, always for unity and polyphonic by heart. But at the same time, this means that we do not want to acknowledge that there is racism and structural inequities.”

The coach was originally gifted to Queen Wilhelmina upon her inauguration in 1898 on behalf of the people of Amsterdam. It’s one of those typically opulent carriages used by European royalty, intricately carved with a seemingly infinite number of ornaments and details, all of course covered in gold leaf. Before undergoing extensive renovations, it was last used by the king in 2015 to drive him to the opening of parliament. The main reason why the royal family decided to temporarily retire the carriage has to do with one of the decorative panels on one of its sides. This particular panel is known as the Tribute to the Colonies. It depicts several Black people bringing forth raw goods and crops like sugarcane, cacao beans, and elephant tusks, among others, laying them at the foot of an enthroned white woman, meant to serve as a physical embodiment of the Netherlands. Standing next to the seated woman is a white man handing a book to a Black child. According to the artist, Nicolaas van der Waay, this represented bringing civilization to the world.

Many in the Netherlands have been calling for the coach’s retirement for years, including activists, artists, and some members of the Dutch parliament. While King Willem-Alexander announced that the royal family would stop using the coach, at least temporarily, the coach is still scheduled to be on display at the Amsterdam Museum until the end of February. In a video message, the king said, “Our history contains much to be proud of. At the same time, it also offers learning material for faults to recognize and to avoid in the future”. The king also said the carriage could be used again in the future, but only “when the Netherlands is ready.” There had been a great deal of resistance towards discussing the Golden Coach in the past. Even the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has stated that altering or discontinuing the use of the coach would be “rewriting history”. A royal spokeswoman has said that after the end of the exhibition, the Golden Coach would be returned to the royal stables in The Hague. But it may be a good idea for the royal family to keep the carriage in the museum as a long-term loan. That way, Dutch people can continue to learn about it and therefore learn about their country’s colonial history.