Read more about this thesis


In August 2004 an international project was started to document and describe the monumental building complex of Makamah Agung (High Court) and Departemen Keuangan (Ministry of Finance) on Lapangan Banteng in Jakarta, Indonesia. This project has been initiated and conducted by the Dutch company PAC (Passchier Architects and Consultants, see and the Indonesian counterpart PDA (Pusat Dokumentasi Arsitektur, an architectural documentation centre). I participated with both PAC and PDA in the architectural research on the historic building of Departemen Keuangan; in the 19th century known as the Government House in Weltevreden. The collected data has been used to write this master thesis, which concludes my education in Art History at the University of Leiden.

In the months August and September 2004, I stayed in Jakarta to investigate the building and to review material in ANRI (Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia, the national archive of Indonesia) and PNRI (Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia, the national library). Preliminary research was done in the Netherlands, for which I used the services of the institutes of KITLV (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) in Leiden, KIT (Royal Tropical Institute) in Amsterdam and the National Archive of the Netherlands in The Hague.

I am very grateful to Cor Passchier of PAC who has given me the opportunity to broaden my horizon and to experience working as a researcher abroad; as well as for the many discussions we have had. Pauline van Roosmalen (PAC) gave me practical advise on my stay in Indonesia and on finding relevant literature. In Jakarta I was able to experience the office-life of Nadia P. Rinandi, Ria Febriyanti Suryaningsih and Devina S. Raditya, the ladies of PDA. I would like to thank them for making Jakarta a ‘new home’ for me by taking care the way they did generously. Finally, I want to thank prof.dr. A.J.J. Mekking and prof.dr. D.J. de Vries for their guidance while writing this thesis and for their inspiring courses in the years before.

This master thesis Art History has tried to answer the central question ‘why has the Government House in Jakarta (former Batavia), Indonesia, been built like it is?’, by making use of the theory of representation as formulated by A.J.J. Mekking and E. Roose (see chapter 1). The Government House is a building constructed in the period 1809-1827 in Batavia, ‘capital’ of the Dutch colony in the East-Indies. Construction was ordered by governor general H.W. Daendels (1808-1811) and completed by governor general L.P.J. du Bus de Ghisignies (1826-1830). The building has been preserved and is located on present Lapangan Banteng, Jakarta Pusat, which was known in the nineteenth century as Paradeplaats and since 1828 as Waterlooplein.

Daendels (1762-1818) was one of the first governors general to reign a colony, since the national trading company VOC (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, since 1602) had come to an end in January 1800. Daendels, an ambitious but short-tempered and fiery person, had, as a patriot, been closely involved in Dutch politics; being involved in two coups and having served in the French army. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Netherlands were in war with England, the stadtholder had fled the Netherlands and a French invasion had ended the Dutch Republic in 1795; supported by the patriotic movement in the Netherlands. In 1806 the Koninkrijk Holland (Kingdom of Holland) had been established, reigned by Lodewijk Napoleon, the brother of Napoleon, king of France. In January 1807 Lodewijk Napoleon appointed Daendels as governor general of the Dutch East-Indies, and granted him the title of Marshal of Holland.

As a governor general, Daendels stimulated the move southwards of Batavia; the densely populated walled city was unhealthy and many inhabitants suffered from malaria and cholera. The area of Weltevreden, several kilometres south of Batavia, originally a country estate, was developed and would turn into a highly fashionable area. Halfway Batavia and Weltevreden, the new accommodation for the club Harmonie was constructed. In Weltevreden, on the Paradeplaats, a new Government House was erected; since Daendels did not wish to inhabit the old country estate (known as the Van der Parra estate), officially assigned to the governors general.

The construction of this new residence for the governor general was proposed in a meeting of the Council of the Indies in March 1809 by a letter written by Daendels. In June 1809 construction works on the foundation started, although drawings had not yet been made by the beginning of April 1809. Apparently Daendels was in a hurry. However, construction was not yet finished when Daendels had to leave Java in 1811. His successor, Janssens had not priority to finish the building, with the threat of an English invasion of Java. It took until 1827 before construction works on the Government House were continued. This time, however, the building changed into a government office, as ordered by the then governor general L.P.J. du Bus de Ghisignies. On his order engineer J. Tromp finished the building by the end of 1827, completing the job of J.C. Schultze and J. Jongkind – engineer and architect of Daendels.

Several varying original ground-plans of the Government House have been studied. A likely design process has been reconstructed, showing that at first a piano nobile, with a well defined passage from front grand room towards the grand room at the back was designed; with a largely protruding front ressault containing two stairs at the sides as an open veranda façade of the front grand room. Later drawings show a more subtle ressault without stairs. The open façade over the length of the ressault has remained, however; probably this was executed in Daendels’ time, but closed by order of Du Bus in 1827. When referring to discussed palaces in North-west Europe and a concurring colony like India, stairs are a monumental element of royal buildings. Verandas serve as places where the monarch can show himself to his people, or where he can take the salute of his soldiers. Ressaults are used to indicate places where columns or pilasters could form such veranda-associated elements. Most discussed palaces also use the concept of a main building with two side wings, consisting out of two large storeys on top of a storey disguised as a base. Apart from these elements it was also chosen to create a building with an enormous seize and clearly European looks; while country estates of the wealthy Dutch more and more referred to the houses of Javanese noblemen.

Daendels clearly wanted to mark the start of a new era. For the construction of the Government House materials were re-used of the demolished city walls, the castle and the Dutch Church where Jan Pietersz. Coen – the founder of Batavia – had been buried. The symbols of the VOC were turned into the symbol of the new colony, the Government House – main building of the new government centre in Weltevreden – a clearly European building that referred to traditional European palace elements. The monumental landing disappeared in the design process, making the building less royal than it could have been. The verandas, on the contrary, stayed, providing space for a royal like presentation of the governor towards his people… Even though, as a patriot, Daendels idealistically opposed of the old regimes, apparently he could not resist the temptations of power when he himself was finally attributed a post he had longed for, already so long.

For more than a century, art historians have deliberately neglected the nineteenth century, considering this as a period with uninteresting, uninspired neo-classical (or, in this case, Empire) architecture. Hopefully, this thesis has shown the nineteenth century constructions are wronged by that view. To really understand and explain a building one has to go beyond a style analysis and start to investigate context and traditions the building could refer to.

Mireille J. van Reenen-----14 February 2005

Contact Mireille J. van Reenen




Recent projects

Click to print . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . >