The garden of the Hofwijck estate has a most unusual shape. When he designed the garden, around 1640, Constantijn Huygens had the choice from several styles that were popular at the time. He could have chosen a Renaissance, a French or a Dutch-style garden. However, in consultation with architect Jacob van Campen, he chose a design which would distinguish Hofwijck from all other gardens and estates in the Netherlands and beyond. His design for the garden took the shape and proportions of the human body, a design originally conceived by the Roman architect Vitruvius. Constantijn's impressive library contained a number of books by Vitruvius, including his influential treatise De Architectura (On Architecture).
The head of the body is formed by Hofwijck house. The long lanes form the arms, and the fruit orchard is the stomach. The street Westeinde, that back in the seventeenth century divided the garden of Hofwijck in two, is in the middle of the body. The lower body has long since disappeared, having made way for Voorburg railway station.
The Hofwijck garden contains even more surprises which originated in the creative mind of Constantijn, such as a real stoa, an 'Athenian promenade' with columns in the form of silver fir trees. Then there is a ‘Tame Wilderness’, a place where wild seeds, borne by the wind, were encouraged to grow. The jetty jutting into the Vliet canal, where Constantijn enjoyed chatting to the skippers of the passing boats, is still a lovely place to stop and rest awhile. Come and see for yourself!
That the Hofwijck estate was not built for ostentatious display can be seen in the design of the modest brick house. Measuring just ten by ten metres, it is one of the smallest country houses in the Netherlands, if not the smallest.
Constantijn designed the house himself, assisted by the architect Jacob van Campen. Jacob van Campen had just finished designing the Mauritshuis in The Hague, and would later go on to create the new Amsterdam city hall – the present-day Royal Palace on Dam Square. For all its austerity, Hofwijck house is a well-thought-through piece of architecture. The small square house rises high above the water, giving it a monumental character. The striking yellow shutters lend the building an air of festivity. The only decorations on the building's exterior are the fifteen grisailles painted on the outside walls. The paintings, in shades of grey, are trompe-l’oeuils, intended to create the illusion of carvings in recesses.
The ascending brick bridge leading to the front door has an unusual form. The successive flights of steps consist of two, three and four steps, while the flat sections between them slope gently upwards. Constantijn called the bridge ‘my Rialt’, because his design for it was inspired by the Rialto Bridge in Venice, which he had seen during his visit to the city as member of a diplomatic mission in 1620. It provides an international touch in a Dutch country estate.