'Natuur, met kunst vereent' Historisch onderzoek naar de vroeg 18de-eeuwse situatie van de terrastuin van kasteel Neercanne
The article is the result of a practical-training research executed within the framework of the scientific project 'Historical structural analysis Maastricht'. Neercanne Castle is situated in the south-western quadrant of Maastricht and environs; the castle lies in the Jekerdal, along the western range of hills, directed towards the east.
At some time, general and later military governor of Maastricht, D.W. van Dopff (circa 1655-1718) crowned his career by having this pleasure mansion built and thus giving expression, at a regional, national and perhaps also international level, to the status acquired by him. As the present owner of the castle intends to have the garden around the castle restored to an early 18th-century situation, it was not only archaeological, but also historical research into the layout and design of the garden that took place.
So far, the greater part of the information with respect to the castle (1699) and the garden (completed circa 1713) was based on F. Halma's court poem The castle of Aigermont and the surrounding regions in the Domain of Nederkan, adjacent to the town of Maastricht; sketched in the form of an epic poem (1713-14). This poem also includes the sole, historical depiction of the castle available.
The historical research was aimed at collecting as much source material as possible - in itself often incomplete. This has resulted in a synthesis giving shape to the origins of the 18th-century garden. The assumption that, apart from the perspective distortion, the engraving accompanying the court poem presents an accurate reproduction of the pleasure mansion, is confirmed by both the excavation results and the various archives.
Furthermore, it was evident from the archive material that, in accordance with the taste current at that time, the central axis of the garden was extended farther into the landscape. Although little has come to the surface with respect to the planting scheme, there is much more certainty on the details, ornament, colour combination, line pattern and dimensions of the garden. All of them relevant data for a restoration plan.
As hardly anything is known about the planting scheme, a sober reconstruction is advisable on the basis of designs of gardens from the same period and historical prints. A few French and English stylistic features point to the international slant Van Dopff's approach had. Since the castle as an economic entity was part of the Domain of Neercanne, it was situated amidst utility gardens and orchards.
Visually, this fact caused a gradual, but clear transition from farming land to the apotheosis: the castle and the ornamental garden. Irrespective of the general iconographic meaning of the ornamental garden, there are indications that Van Dopff's personal history and record of service have also been expressed in the garden. These are dominated by the themes of war and peace.
The trip through the landscape from Van Dopff's St. Pietersfort to his pleasure castle had a dramatic value that is not to be underestimated. The castle, together with the garden, can be regarded as a compositional unity entering into a relationship with the land surrounding it. They are contrasted, but on the other hand, they are so closely linked that they cannot be seen as separate.