The House of Orange and Painted Black: Cupido and Sideron

Hendrik Pothoven detail Haagse kermis                            Detail Stadholder William V with Cupido en Sideron, Hendrik Pothoven, Historisch Museum Den Haag                               

In 1837 King Willem I was presented with two African princes, Kwame and Kwasi, as security in a deal concluded by the Dutch government. Arthur Japin’s novel, The two hearts of Kwasi Boachi, has made the story of these two African boys nationally and internationally famous.

The entrusting of African children to the care of a European ruler was not uncommon prior to 1800. Black people, often children, had been given as gifts to northern European rulers by their southern European counterparts from the first half of the fourteenth century. In 1354, for example, King Jean le Bon of France (1319-1364)had been presented by the prince of Aragon with a black man named ‘Jean le Blanc’. A few years later his son, Jean Duc du Berry (1340-1416), received a similar gift.Little is known about the life of these ‘presents’.

More is known about the life and identity of the two black boys/men who appear in various paintings beside Stadholder Willem V (1748-1806) or his wife Wilhelmina of Prussia (1751-1820). They are Cupido and Sideron (Citron), whom the Dutch West India Company (Dutch abbreviation WIC) probably gave to the stadholder in the 1760s, when he was still in his teens. Willem was sworn in as a member of the board of the company in 1768, and was destined to become governor-in-chief of both the Dutch West India and East India Companies (Dutch abbreviation VOC). Documents reveal that Sideron was born on Curaçao and came to court in 1763, at the age of seven. Cupido is first mentioned in 1766, although there is a picture of him from 1765.
Willem V WIC
Stadholder William V at WIC. 1768 Fokke Simon. Collection Maritiem museum, Collectie Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and more

The two young ‘Moortjes’ (little Moors), as they are known in documents from the Koninklijke Archieven [Royal House Archive], received several years’ training. In 1770 Isaac Lodewijk la Fargue van Nieuwland (1726-1805) painted watercolours of the two in their serving livery.

Isaac Lodewijk la Fargue van Nieuwland 1726 –1805 Watercolors 1770

Guan Anthony Sideron circa 1767. Collectie Rijksmuseum

                      Coll. Atlas van Gijn in Dordrecht, coll Koninklijk archief en collectie Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The two are still children in these works. They slept above the stables, received instruction in skills such as dancing and were supposed to entertain Willem V, together with his pages. For this they were paid 156 guilders a year.            

Around 1782 Cupido and Sideron were both promoted to the position of valet. It seems likely that they were constantly in Willem retinue. Their presence is certainly recorded in two paintings. In 1765 Albertus Frese de Jonge (dates unknown) painted the two little boys in the interior of the Grote Kerk in The Hague.

Although Willem V does not appear in the picture, the boys’ presence has given rise to the title A visit by Willem V to the Grote Kerk of The Hague. In 1781 Hendrik Pothoven (1725-1781) painted The Buitenhof during the Hague Fair looking towards the Gevangenpoort , (above detail). Standing at one of the booths is Willem V with two black men in his retinue, for by this time the little boys had become adults.

In approximately the same period Pothoven drew two splendid full-length studies of black attendants, who are more than likely to be Cupido and/or Sideron.

Hendrik Pothoven Cupido of Cedron collectie Boymans van Beuningen
Hendrik Pothoven Cupido of Cedron collectie Boymans van Beuningen

Pothoven may have produced this figure or costume study during his time in the court capital. The young man is probably one of the two black valets, Cupido and Sideron, who worked for Stadholder Willem V (1748-1806). Pothoven also included the two in his painting The Buitenhof in The Hague at fair time, looking towards the Prisongate (1781, Haags Historisch Museum), in which they can be seen in the retinue of Willem V. They wear similar clothing in this picture to the boy in this drawing. Moreover, Charles Dumas contends that the livery in the drawing is typical for the court of Willem V around this period.

In 1795, when Willem V was forced to flee to Great-Brittan by the French Revolution, he took his two black valets with him. Apparently he trusted them completely. Cupido departed for Oranienstein, Willem’s castle and estate near Dietz in Germany. Sideron remained with Willem an Wilhelmina in England until approximately 1802 when they all  moved to the German estate.

Het buitenhof tijdens de haagse kermis met Willem V, Cupido en Cedron door Hendrik Pothoven
Hendrik Pothoven. Het Buitenhof tijdens de Haagse kermis gezien naar de Gevangenpoort, met de stadhouderlijke familie. Collectie Haags Historisch Museum

William V visiting the fair at The Hague, Hendrik Pothoven 1781, Historisch Museum Den Haag

Esther Schreuder  See for the first essay on Cupido and Sideron (Cedron): Een vorstelijke Archivaris. Opstellen voor Bernard Woelderink 2003, Charlotte Eymael,’De geschiedenis achter een aquarel.Het verhaal van “twee moortjes’. pp 124-128

More literature in Black is beautiful Rubens tot Duma 2008 (sold out) Research made possible through funding from the Mondriaan Foundation, the VSB fund

A follow-up study was started, were new information has come afloat. It is published in 2017, There is increasing insight .

Dutch: <De Oranjes en zwart verbeeld> See for more recent research other pages and posts on this webisite.

Cupido en Sideron Cover 30-8-2017

About me:

In 2008 I was the guest-curator of the exhibition Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas. Important advisors were Elizabeth McGrath (Rubens and colleagues), Carl Haarnack (slavery in books), Elmer Kolfin (slavery in prints and paintings) en Adi Martis (contemporary art). Gary Schwartz made his research available for The Image of the Black in Western Art .

Black beautiful Rubens to Dumas cover
Black beautiful Rubens to Dumas cover

In 2014 my essay ‘Painted Blacks and Radical Imagery in the Netherlands (1900-1940)’ was published in The Image of the Black in Western Art Volume V (I). (ed. David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates jr.)

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In 2017 I published a book about the black servants at the Court of the Royal Van Oranje family. More than a thousand documents have been found about their lives. (only in Dutch)

Cupido en Sideron Cover 30-8-2017

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