The design for Antwerp's Paleis op de Meir dates from the second half of the 18th century, and was drawn up by the architect Jan-Peter van Baurscheit (1699-1768) for the rich merchant Johan-Alexander van Susteren. This new urban palace took its inspiration from French, Viennese and northern Dutch models. The imposing front facade, richly decorated with colossal pilasters topped with Corinthian capitals, was constructed entirely from various different types of natural German stone. Van Baurscheit's expertise in the rules governing the decorative forms of the 18th century was unparalleled during the period.
Ceiling of the Maarschalk salon
Between 1811 and 1812, this beautiful building - and all its furniture - was purchased by the French emperor. At the time, Antwerp was one of the most important military ports in the French Empire and Napoleon was keen to spend as much time there as possible. His official architect, Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853), was charged with transforming the palace into an "imperial headquarters". The entire building was renovated and redecorated in the Empire style with, on the first floor, a suite of imperial reception rooms and apartments which gave out onto the garden. The interior fabrics and imperial furniture were specially commissioned and installed for the site.
The Klein Empire salon
Despite this work, Napoleon never actually got to stay in his Antwerp residence, as the country returned to Dutch rule in 1815. After the defeat at Waterloo, the French properties were handed over to the new United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The building and its imperial furnishings were given to the Dutch king, William I, who, like his son, the Prince of Orange, spent much of his time at the residence. The magnificent Seventeen Provinces salon, located on the first floor, is preserved entirely as it was and is a beautiful reminder of the residence as it was during the Dutch period.
The Hollands salon
The Paleis op de Meir in Antwerp has recently received a complete renovation. The meticulous restoration project took fifteen years to complete, and to celebrate the completion of the works, the palace was reopened to the public on 8 and 9 May, 2010. It received nearly 3,000 visitors over the two days.