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Delft private group commissions statue of William the Taciturn

Sculptor Auke Hettema immortalizes early Dutch leader

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

DELFT, the Netherlands - Dutch people everywhere know the centuries-old city of Delft as the ‘Prinsenstad’ because of its ties with the House of Orange, the Dutch royal family. The connection dates from the late 16th century when Prince William the Taciturn, then Stadtholder of the Dutch provinces, made the city his home. It also became William’s last resting place. The House of Orange since then has entombed all its deceased royalty and the great majority of other family members in the crypt at Delft’s New Church. Prince William of Orange who led the Dutch Revolt (the Dutch refer to it as the 80 Year War) was assassinated in Delft in 1584. Most of his scions have been buried in the crypt.

Amazingly, Delft never dedicated a statue to honour Prince William, also known as the ‘Vader van het Vaderland,’ although his tomb in the New Church is adorned with his life-sized image (the practise of placing commemorative sculptures in the Netherlands is fairly re-cent). At the 419th anniversary of his death this year, on July 10, this oversight will be remedied when a full-scale statue of William will be unveiled close to the location where he was struck by his assassin’s bullets.

Frisian artist Auke Hettema, a prolific pre-1940s student of famed sculptor Prof. J. Bronner, has been commissioned to create the statue by the Prince Willem I Commemorative Foundation. Hettema’s earlier bust of Prince William graces a prominent spot at Castle Vianden in Luxembourg, where William served as Count. The counties of Nassau, Katzenelnbogen and Dietz also belonged to him. The title of Prince he had inherited in 1544, upon the death of his cousin Rene of Orange.


William was born at the family castle in Dillenburg, Germany on April 24, 1533, the oldest son of William the Rich, Count of Nassau-Katzenelnbogen, and his wife Juliana van Stolberg. Educated at the Brussel court of Emperor Charles V, William in 1559 was named Stadt-holder of Burgondy, Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht. He gradually became opposition leader against the policies of King Philip II of Spain who had inherited the Dutch provinces upon the death of his father Charles V.

William in 1572 was confirmed as Stadtholder by the States General, after the assembly’s declaration of independence from Philip. In March 1581, Willem survived the first assassination attempt on his life, following a charge of treason by King Philip. Bounty hunter Balth-asar Gerards succeeded in his murder attempt three years later. The marks of the assassin’s bullets still can be viewed at William’s residence, the ‘Prinsenhof.’

Hettema statues

Statues and sculptures of Hettema, now in his seventies, can be found in a number of locations. In the Frisian provincial capital of Leeuwarden, a 1955 sculpture of two men honours that city’s Resistance in WWII. Another Leeuwarden statue by the sculptor shows the famed Friesian horse. Near the traditional starting point of the hugely popular Eleven Cities speedskating marathon, a Hettema sculpture symbolizes those skaters’ struggle against the elements. Other Hettema statues (one in Rotterdam) acknowledge 17th century international law scholar Hugo Grotius - who was born in Delft - and at the Amsterdam College, ‘Two Men at the Counter.’

For more on Willem van Oranje, read “William of Orange - The Silent Prince” by W.G. van de Hulst, available from Vanderheide Publishing. Another tome on the subject is “The Dutch Republic 1477-1806” by Jonathan I. Israel, also in Vanderheide’s book catalogue or at