We all want to be favoured by the gods. But how do you get the right god to favour you? Shopkeepers and other entrepreneurs in The Hague did this by decorating their facades with the image or symbols of Mercury, the god of commerce.
The Roman god Mercury was the god of travellers, commerce and profit. It was only when the Romans started trading with the Greeks that they needed a god to cover this ‘department’. That is why Mercury joined the family of Roman gods relatively late.
Mercury is depicted with symbols indicating speed: winged sandals (talaria), a winged helmet (petasus) and a winged staff (caduceus) encircled by snakes.
When people see the staff of Mercury on a building, their first idea is often that a doctor lives or works there. But the symbol of the Greek god Asclepius, patron of physicians, is a staff with only one snake wound around it. And Mercury’s staff usually has the wings, which you will not find with Asclepius.
Where can we find shops in The Hague that display appeals to Mercury for their success?
At several large department stores and fashion boutiques. Among the many sculptures on the Bijenkorf building is one of Mercury.
Mercury’s staff can also be found on the facade of Peek & Cloppenburg.
In the 192 0’s a new arm was built to the Passage. The entrance of this arm is guarded by two symbolic figures, one of which we can again recognize as Mercury.
The facade of Vlamingstraat 35 was designed by architect W.B. van Liefland. This building was commissioned by Julius Lutkemeijer, owner of a ladies’ fashion shop. Unfortunately, this Mercury has been affected by the ravages of time.
In the facade of Venestraat 15 there are no fewer than three symbols of Mercury: staff, head of the god and a winged wheel. They undoubtedly refer to the first users of the building, only it is no longer known what kind of company it was.
The symbols of Mercury also do very well in tile panels. As can be seen from the beautiful Art Nouveau building on the corner of the Laan van Meerdervoort – Waldeck Pyrmontkade.
At Noordeinde 43 there is a building called Mercury. It was designed by the architects Hoek & Wouters and completed in 1900. It was the first building to be built especially for office work.
Would you expect the god of trade on a government building? In the past, the current Ministry of Economic Affairs was called the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce. And so it is logical to see Mercury on the building where in 1917 this ministry moved in.
If today we make a phone call or send a letter, we are being served by commercial companies. But once we had the State Post Office, Telegraphy and Telephony or the PTT. In 1923, the PTT moved into a new head office on the Kortenaerkade, architect G.C. Bremer.
Sculptor Van Lunteren made the sculptures of the allegorical figures. These figures all carry symbols: from left to right: Labour (symbol: a hammer), Science (symbol: an owl), Commerce (symbol: the staff of Mercury) en Industry (symbol: a locomotive).
At Kerkplein, the PTT built The Hague’s main post office and telephone exchange. There a Mercury without his staff, only very subtle wings at the heels of this athletic figure.
At Kneuterdijk you can find the building in which the ‘Raad voor de Rechtspraak’(= Council for the Judiciary) is now located. It was built in the 1920s for the Nederlandse Handelsmaatschappij (= The Dutch Trade Company).
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