Two young boys, Cupido and Sideron, arrived in the eighteenth century as enslaved children in The Hague at the court of the family of Orange. Sideron came from Curaçao and Cupido from the Coast of Guinea in West-Africa.
My book about Willem Frederik Cupido and Guan Anthony Sideron was published in 2017 in Dutch. It is about two boys who were given as gifts to Stadtholder William V. They are not the two, now famous, Ashanti princes in the novel by Arthur Japin, The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi, but two enslaved children.
I was able to reconstruct most of their lives on the basis of thousands of documents and letters from the Royal Archives, the National Archives, journals, newspapers, diaries and other archives in the Netherlands and abroad. Simultaneously with the publication an exhibition opened in the Historical Museum of The Hague that I was asked to curate as a guest curator.
Because the book is only published in Dutch and I get quite a few international questions from scientists, but also descendants of Cupid, I will post parts here in English.(It has not been translated by an official translator).
This post is about the arrival of Willem Frederik Cupido in 1766 in The Hague
(see for Guan Anthony Sideron in 1763 here)
The symbol of love: Cupido
The area that was called, in 1765, the coast of Guinea is the coastal strip from the present-day states of Guinea to Nigeria. Along that coast, the Europeans had built fortresses from which they traded on the one hand with Africans, who maintained good contacts with the kings in the interior, and on the other with Europeans on ships. These European ships visited the fortresses to buy gold, elephant tusks and captured Africans. In the years, 1764-1765, that Cupido was sent from the Coast to Europe, the headquarters of the wic (Dutch West Indian Company) was located in the Fort of Saint George in Elmina, in what is now called Ghana.
The management was in the hands of Jan Pieter Theodoor Huydecoper. His recent appointment could have been an excellent reason for sending a gift to the future stadtholder of the Dutch republic Willem V. Certainly because the young prince would soon become supreme governor of the wic. For Huydecoper, the choice of the present was simple: the basement of the fort usually held groups of people from all over West Africa until they were sold to European captains. Many children sat among them, sometimes with their parents, sometimes alone. Huydecoper could easily choose a child with a nice appearance from these cellars.
These conditions were traumatic for both adults and children. They often sat close together for a long time. Most of them did not understand each other and did not share a past or culture with anyone. The Europeans gave each a new name; the use of African names was prohibited. Their identity was completely ignored.
It is certain that Cupido, like Sideron, was taken at a very young age – probably by force – from his family and other loved ones. There is a chance that, unlike Sideron, he was born free and only later captured and made into a commodity. Because neither his African name nor the area he came from are known, it is almost impossible to find out who his parents were. What is certain is that Cupido never returned to Africa.
Cupido could have been shipped to the Republic in two ways. The first possibility is with one of the Republic’s at least 41 slaves ships. Between 1764 and 1765 they crossed the trans-Atlantic triangle between Africa, to the Americas and after that to the Republic. In the transatlantic slave trade, children of Cupido’s age, about six or seven years old, did not bring in that much money, because they could not do hard work. If they survived the trip, between 80 and 172 guilders would be paid for them in the Caribbean. A second possibility is that Cupido was taken directly to the Republic with a merchant ship that supplied fortresses and took gold and ivory back.
At some point between his capture and his arrival at court, someone must have given him the name of the love god Cupid, the son of Venus. It was a popular name for an African boy owned by an European at the time. Cupids of color, sometimes called Amor or Putto, had regularly appeared in European art for a few centuries. The putti were depicted with or without bow and arrow and with or without wings. A distant relative of Willem v, Johan Maurits van Nassau Siegen (Maurits the Brazilian), is depicted with both white and black cupids (putti).
Cupido arrived two months before Willem’s installation as stadtholder in early 1766. Immediately upon his arrival, new ‘morenmutsen’ were ordered for both Cupido and Sideron, although the latter had just been given a new one. This probably concerned extra beautiful turbans with larger – and more expensive – plumes in the tricolor.
A role in the state ceremony
Africans were more than welcome at an ambitious court that wanted to compete with other European courts. With black servants, a European monarch visually linked him- or herself with powerful kingdoms in Africa and the trade with these empires.
On March 8, 1766, Willem v’s eighteenth birthday, the festivities around Willem’s installation began and would last for days. The day started spectacularly with 21 cannons blasting out at seven in the morning. Instructions for March 8 indicate that Sideron and Cupido, together with all other livery wearers at that time, had to report to the court.
After the completion of the ceremony, the stadtholder and his entourage left for Noordeinde Palace (Het Oude Hof). This was the time to present the young stadholder and all servants in expensive liveries to the outside world, the common people of The Hague and the Republic. William V thus showed his stadtholder’s rank, position and face. The procession showed the wealth of the Republic to the outside world. The two boys of color were of course in full uniform. Several newspapers reported about the spectacle. The Dutch Mercury added an image. Cupido and Sideron can be recognized here by their high plumes. An explanatory text confirms that these two figures were Cupido and Sideron: “No. 7 two Moors”, it says below.
A gate of honor had been erected at Noordeinde Palace to welcome the stadtholder. Accompanied by a drum roll and a trumpet blast, Willem v went through the gate to the dining room where he sat down at a table set with 150 place settings. Each guest was assigned a personal servant. For this, servants of others were deployed and courtiers, such as chamberlains, had to serve the guests who stood above them in status. It was about the quantity of the employees and the quality. The ten-year-old Mozart played his own compositions on the harpsichord during this dinner. For the occasion he had composed Eight variations kv 24 for harpsichord, and an orchestral composition Galimathias musicum kv 32 for two violins, viola, bass, two oboes, two horns, bassoon and keyboard. “Galimatias” means something like mishmash, a humorous hodgepodge (quodlibet) of styles.
After the installation as stadtholder, Sideron and Cupido traveled through the country with William V for the various inaugurations. From May 20 to June 23, 1766 they made a trip that included Zeeland. In Middelburg, Mr. Visvliet wrote on who would attend. He only mentions the noble people by name and: “2 Moors Ciedron and Cupidon”. The list further shows that almost everyone from the court was part of this company, even the linen maids, peat carriers and lower servants. In total there were 185 people, for whom 75 horses, Willem V’s yacht and several carriages were needed to transport them. Apparently everything was pulled out to impress and make a regal imprint.
There was of course an extensive dinner every evening. After the dinners it was customary to serve chocolate milk, coffee and tea with jams and cakes. It was obvious that Cupido and Sideron were assigned to this task. The two boys in their expensive clothes and with plumed turban were striking attention-grabbers in the company. The court followed fashion and “Moors” serving chocolate or coffee were regularly depicted in European paintings and in porcelain figure groups in this century.
Mascots of the stadtholder
Sideron and Cupido, together with the pages, were constantly in the vicinity of the stadtholder during the first years after their arrival. And that he involved them in many matters, can be found in various written and visual documents, such as the remark from the spy Pieter Anthony Huybert about the money that the prince constantly distributed to the pages and ‘negroes’. They also play a striking role in a remarkable painting: Visit of Willem V to the Grote Kerk from circa 1766 by the amateur painter Albertus Frese de Jonge.
What is immediately noticeable is that the young stadtholder cannot be seen at all in this painting. Little Cupido and Sideron and two runners are waiting at one of the stately monumental pillars of the church. They symbolize the presence of the young prince.
Meanwhile, the Hague artist Isaac Lodewijk La Fargue van Nieuwland captured the male livery and uniform servants of Willem V in watercolors. What is striking again is that only Cupido and Sideron are mentioned by name. He portrayed them both, not one individual as an example for the profession, as he did with the pages, lackeys, valets, and others at court. The two young boys also posed for him. Al vive pnx La Fargue wrote under the watercolors, which means: after life. They are individual characters. The fact that the portraits do come across as caricatural, is mainly due to the simplicity, the legs that are too short and lips and nose made pink.
A number of aspects stand out in these portraits of Cupido and Sideron. For example, apart from the pink in the nose and lips, they clearly show two different boys. One has a round face and the beginnings of a smile. He is standing with a tray in his hands, on which is a cup. According to a handwritten eighteenth-century list by probably the artist himself, this is Sideron. The other boy, Cupido, has a longer face. He is waiting a bit nonchalantly with a distant look and a tray under his arm. They seem to be intelligent children, there is no naivety in their gaze. Some character traits may already have been recorded here.
These images show also what their specially designed liveries looked like. The ‘Moor’ livery was a combination of the expensive livery, of velvet and damask, for the pages, and the simpler livery, of red and blue cloth, for the lackeys and falconers. The difference was mainly in the richness of gold buttons and gold gallons.
Remarkable is what is missing. Unlike all other servants, they don’t wear a wig. And they don’t have earrings, unlike most black children and adults in European painted portraits and scenes. Moreover they do not wear a silver slave collar around their necks, although it had been fashionable since the seventeenth century. Whether the boys had been branded by an owner in Curaçao or on the coast of Guinea is not visible.
What indicates that they had a special position at court is that, almost immediately after Cupido’s arrival, they received nine months of dance lessons from dance master Nicolaas Gautier, Willem v and the pages’ dance teacher. Dancing was considered an elementary part of children’s development, especially in boys because it taught them to walk and move elegantly. The fact that Cupido and Sideron were taught dancing might indicate that in their training they were in part equated with the pages (children of the nobility who were trained internally). This was not something for the lowest class of children. As far as is known, only Willem V, later his children and the pages received dance lessons at court of the family of Orange.
These were a number of pieces from the chapter on Cupido’s arrival at the court of The Hague. In the book I follow their further life with the family of Orange.
Ultra short a few key points about Cupido: He remains employed until his death and makes a career. Cupido would flee with the family from The Hague in a hurry from the French Revolutionaries in 1795 across the canal to the GB. He then lived for several months in the Hampton Court Palace. In mid-1795 he was ordered to leave for Germany with a large sum of money. He ended up in the middle of the war zone and had to flee several times from town to town escaping from the French. Cupido married a German girl. His daughter Wilhelmina Cupido also married and had numerous descendants who ended up in the Netherlands, Indonesia, the US, Canada and Australia. As far as I know now.
On this site more about these descendants, also the living ones. (see below this page)
In 2008 I was guest curator of the exhibition Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas. Important advisors Elizabeth McGrath (Rubens and colleagues, Warburg institute Image of the Black in Western Art collection), Carl Haarnack (slavery in books), Elmer Kolfin (slavery in prints and paintings) en Adi Martis (contemporary art). Gary Schwartz made his research for The Image of the Black in Western Art available to me.
In 2012 my Anniversary book: 100 years Schiller 1912-2012 was published. Initiative, idea, text and editing (ES). Design and photography Monica Schokkenbroek.
In 2013 my book Cobra aan de gracht / Cobra on the Canal was published by Samsara publications.
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.)
(About f.i. On the terras, by Nola Hatterman but also Jan Sluijters, Kees van Dongen, Irma Stern and more)
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)
All photos on this site are not intended for any commercial purpose. I have tried to trace all the rules and rights of all images. As far as I know, these images can be used in this way. If you ar a copyright holder and would like a piece of your work removed or the creditline changed then please do not hesitate to contact me.