Sunday, 13 July 2014

Mauritshuis - the Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague, Netherlands

Spending a couple of days in the Netherlands with some friends has  become an in-depth visit for me, as I am getting to know more about this country. Thanks to our host who had graciously offered to take us around to see some of the interesting sites here.

This country was once a territorial possession as Habsburg Netherlands of the Holy Roman Empire under Philip II of Spain (the successor of Charles the V). In the 16th century, that began to change. The Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands began their revolt under the leadership of William I, Prince of Orange, in exile (c.1533-1584), in what is dated in history as the Eighty Years War or the the Dutch War of Independence (1568-1648). The Kingdom of Netherlands gained her independence in 1648 with the Peace of Münster.

At this point,  there are three terms that I need to clarify for my own edification. The name Netherlands came into use in the mid 16th century. The country name is Netherlands (Nederlands). It has no ethnic origin, but Netherlands means "low country" or "lowlands." Only 50% of its land is above sea level. Reclaimed land from the sea and lakes comprises 17% of the country's land mass. Her people are called Netherlanders.

Sometimes, inaccurately referred to as Holland (especially by foreigners), this term strictly refers to only two provinces - north and south Holland, which together include the most famous and populous cities of Amsterdam - the capital city; The Hague - the seat of government; and Rotterdam - the biggest seaport in Western Europe. Except for the national football team, it can  be referred to as Holland.

Her citizens and language are also identified as Dutch. People from Germanic lands were called Flemings, Theotonici, Doch, or Germans, in the 15th and first half of the 16th centuryAround the mid 16th century, inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire who spoke German were called Dutch or Douch. The Dutch language has developed from German and English. Dutch is also used as an adjective to identify other things that are Netherlandish. 

Moving right along... The developments that followed after, during the 17th century, catapulted the Netherlands to being recognized as a world power as she entered the Dutch Golden Age in the fields of  maritime and economic power (had the monopoly of trade with Japan), scientific discoveries, and in visual arts and culture. 

My recent visit to Holland has brought me to discover more Dutch artists, whose phenomenal works have traveled and impressed the world audience. And what perfect timing it was to find them all exhibited in one place.

The Mauritshuis

Mauritshuis is a museum situated in the heart of Den Haag (The Hague), in the Netherlands. It was closed for renovation for some time. After the work was completed in the last two years, it reopened its doors on June 27, 2014.
It is located on the Hofvijer - a small pond in the central part of The Hague, since 1644. The building is considered as a Dutch classic, architectural design by Jacob van Campen. Count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679) had commissioned van Campen and his assistant - Pieter Post, to build this house which has become known as the Mauritshuis. In Dutch, huis means house.

There is a large exhibition hall, featuring Art Deco architecture, located in the Royal Dutch Shell Wing. Various exhibition programs are scheduled to be featured during the year.
Here is a view of the water through an opening, as we were descending to enter the building. 
The lobby is situated below sea level.
The museum fee is 14€. There is a Mauritshuis Tour from the Google app store that can be uploaded to your smartphone, or an electronic guide can be rented. In our case, we just relied on the English text.

The Royal Picture Gallery

There are two floors to go through to see the current exhibition, which has been organized according to specific themes. Here's a sampling of what I saw.
 Joachim Beuckelaer, c.1533-1574
Kitchen Scene with Christ at Emmaus, c.1560-1565

Joachim Beuckelaer was a Flemish painter who hailed from Antwerp. He is famous for his market and kitchen scenes. By 1560, he had established himself as an independent master in this genre. He had a way of incorporating biblical events and themes in the background of his works.

At the early part of 1560s, he painted purely religious themes and he also designed stained glass. His works were sold at low prices, and soared after his death. The number of workshops he had and the abundant number of his works in his later years gave an indication of his success. 

 Rogier van der Weyden, c.1399-1464
The Lamentation of Christ, c.1460-1464

This altarpiece shows Mary kneeling by her dead Son, and mourning his death, with the disciples looking on, expressing their sadness. The bishop, who looks like an odd character in this piece, had commissioned this painting.

Rogier van der Weyden was a Flemish painter. Most of his surviving works have a religious theme - triptych, altarpieces and commissioned single and diptych portraits. His paintings traveled to Spain and Italy. His works were commissioned by the Netherlandish and foreign nobility.

By the late 15th century, he had become more popular than Jan van Eyck - recognized as the most influential painter from the north but forgotten by the 18th century, and he came to be known again - slowly, during the next 200 years. Today, he is recognized as the third of the great early Flemish painters, with Robert Campin and van Eyck.

He used oil as his medium, and this allowed him to work in great detail.

 Our exit from the first floor, leading up to the second floor - where the masterpieces can be found.

While the renovation was going on at Mauritshuis, part of the collection - a selection of masterpieces - went on tour and was displayed in different museums, both at home and abroad. Among them was Girl with a Pearl Earring.

The tour of the masters' paintings was a big success, attracting millions of worldwide visitors. Vermeer's painting served as an ambassador for Mauritshuis, making the museum known as it was always mentioned in the write-ups about the painting.  The other famous works that went around were The Bull by Paulus Potter, and The Anatomy Lesson by Rembrandt.

Locally, art lovers found the parts of the museum collection in Gemeemtemuseum in the Hague; at Paleis het Loo; the Groeninggemuseum in Bruges; the Dordrechts Museum; the Amsterdam Museum; the Frans Hals Museum, and other museums.

Paintings by Johannes Vermeer, c.1632-1675

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter in the provincial genre. His specialty was painting domestic, interior scenes of middle-class Dutch life. These were usually set in the two small rooms in his house in Delft. This became apparent as the same furniture and decorations, and the same characters (mostly women) - in various compositions, appeared in several of his paintings. He had only produced a few paintings and left his family in debt, after his death.

He painted with great care and he had a penchant for using  expensive pigments like lapis lazuli and Indian yellow. He is renowned for his treatment of light in his works. 

He was moderately famous in Delft and the Hague, and his name became obscure after his death. It was only in the 19th century when his works were rediscovered by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger, who published an essay, giving Vermeer credit for sixty six pictures of his supposed works. However, presently, only thirty-four paintings are universally considered as his original works. Since that time, his reputation escalated and he is  acknowledged as among the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.
Girl with the Pearl Earring, c.1665

Johannes Vermeer
View of Delft, c. 1660-1661
 Close-up details

 Johannes Vermeer
Diana and her Nymphs, c.1653-1654

Paintings on the 2nd floor featured the works of Dutch masters and lesser known artists.

Paintings of Jan Steen, c.1625-1679

Jan Steen was born in Leiden. He came from a well-to-do, Catholic family that was engaged in the brewery business. He was the contemporary of Rembrandt and received his painting lessons from a German painter in Utrect - Nicolaes Knupfer. Knupfer's influences on Steen's work can be seen in his use of composition and color.

Steen was active in the art scene. He - along with Gabriël Metsu, founded a painter's Guild of Saint Luke at leiden. He worked as the assistant of a landscape painter - Jan van Goyen - until 1654, married his daughter in 1649 and had eight children, and moved to Delft to run a brewery De Sleng (The Snake) for three years, but without success. From here, he moved his family to Warmond for four years (1656-1660), north of Leiden, and to Haarlem for the next ten years (1660-1670). It was at this period - 1656-1670 that he was most productive. Of his 800 paintings, only around 350 have survived. 

His subject matter was daily life, "lively to the point of chaos and lustfulness..." His work took shape from Dutch proverbs and literature. He also had historical, mythical, religious scenes; portraits; still lives; and natural themes. His mastery of light and attention to detail were most notable in his paintings of fabric and persian rugs. He used members of his own family as models, occasionally. He also painted self portraits. 

First he lost his wife in 1669, and his father in 1670. In 1672, the art market collapsed.

His works were valued much by his contemporaries. It is believed that he was paid well. To survive the the art market collapse, Steen opened a tavern. He remarried in 1673 and had another child. He still remained active in the art scene and became the president of the San Lucas Guild in 1674. He passed away in Leiden in 1679.

His only recorded student was Richard Brackenburgh (1659-1702). Steen's influences are evident in his paintings' composition and themes. 

Jan Steen
Portrait of Jacoba Maria van Wassenaer 
also known as 
The Poultry Yard, c.1660

Jan Steen
The Sick Girl, c.1660-1662

 Jan Steen
As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young, c.1665

Jan Steen
The Life of Man, c. 1665

 Jan Steen
Moses and Pharaoh's Crown, c.1670

Paintings of Frans Hals, c.1582/83-1666

Frans Hals
Laughing Boy, c.1625

Frans Hals
LEFT: Portrait of Jacob Olycan (c.1596-1638), 1625 
RIGHT: Portrait of Alletta Hanemans (c.1606-1653), 1625
Close-up of lace detail which is so well defined

Paintings by George van der Mijn, c.1726/27-1763

George van der Mijn

Portrait of Elisabeth Troost,  c.1758

George van der Mijn

Portrait of Cornelis Ploos van Amstel, c.1758

Cornelis Troost, c. 1696-1750

Portrait of a Man, c.1730

Jacob van Ruisdael, c.1628-1682

View of Bentheim Castle, c.1652-1654
Painting of Paulus Potter, c.1625-1658

In his short-lived life, this Dutch painter produced a hundred works, specializing in painting animals in a landscape from "a low vantage point."

He was born in Enhuizen. As a child, he moved with his family to Leiden (1628), then to Amsterdam (1631). He studied painting under his father - Peter Simonz Potter.

He joined the Guild of Saint Luke in Delft. From there, he went to the Hague where he met and married his wife. His father-in-law made the introductions for him to meet the Dutch elite. He left after some criticism about a painting he had delivered in 1652.

He died of tuberculosis at the young age of 28 in Amsterdam.

His most famous painting was The Young Bull (not the one pictured below). Although it had been criticized earlier, it gained prominence in the early 19th century as an example of Romanticism. 
Paulus Potter

The Bull, c.1647
Additionally, in my opinion, this is what makes this a master's painting - the life-like details in painting the bull's fur. It looked like the cow was in front of me.

 Peter Saenredam, c.1597-1665

The Mariaplaats with the Mariakerk in Utrect, c.1659

Dirck de Bray, c.1635-1694

Still Life with a Bouquet in the Making,  c.1674

Rachel Ruysch, c. 1664-1750

Vase of Flowers, c. 1700

Jan Davidsz de Heem, c. 1606-1684

Garland of Fruit and Flowers, c. 1650-1660

Paintings by Rembrandt, c.1606-1669

His full name was Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, and he was a Dutch painter and an etcher who earned the recognition as one of the greatest painters and printmakers in Europe, and, of course, in his native land, during the Dutch Golden Age. At this time, the Dutch Golden Age painting was contrary to the Baroque style that was predominant in Europe. Rembrandt, along with the other Dutch painters led the innovative painting style that led to other new and important painting genres. 

In his youth, he achieved much success as a portrait painter. Though, later on, he faced personal tragedy and financial hardships. Overall, his works remained popular throughout his lifetime, with his good reputation as an artist remaining high.

His masterpieces included his self-portraits, portraits of his contemporaries, and scenes from the Bible. In a way, his self-portraits at the different stages of his life served as an "intimate" part of his biography. His works showed his "knowledge of iconography..., his classical composition, and his observation of Amsterdam's Jewish population." He had so much empathy for the human condition and this earned him another honor as "one of the great prophets of civilization."

A prominent characteristic of his work is the use of chiaroscuro - a dramatic  or theatrical presentation of light and shadow which he had seen in Caravaggio's work, and adapted to his designs. His characters were painted dramatically and lively, sometimes using his family members as models in his mythical, biblical, and historical themes. He was most praised for his narrative paintings with biblical themes by his contemporaries, as he skillfully showed the emotions and details of a scriptural story.

This brings to mind my favorite work of his - The Return of the Prodigal Son, which is at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. I had studied this painting in a class I took in psychology. The emotions in this work were palpable. I have yet to see it up close.

In the forty years or so as a painter and etcher, Rembrandt changed his style and form from time to time. In his personal life, his love life was colorful behind his wife's back, though he never remarried so as not to lose access to a trust set up by his wife for their son. 

He lived beyond his means as he bought art, rarities, and antiquities. He almost got bankrupt. The authorities were, generally, accommodating to him except for the Amsterdam Painters' Guild - they introduce a new law that anyone in the  same status as Rembrandt could not trade as a painter. But he was able to get around this rule.  As arranged in a court order, he had to sell his treasures and his house to pay off his debts. 

Ironically, with his fame, his death did not make waves - he was buried in an unmarked grave in Westerkerk.


Self portrait, c.1669 (the year he died)


The Moors, c.1661


Portrait of an Elderly Man, c. 1667


Simeon's Song of Praise, c.1631


Portrait of Rembrandt with a Gorget, after c.1629


Suzanna, c.1636


The Laughing Man, c.1629-1630 


'Tronie' of a Man with a Feathered Beret, c.1635-1640


The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, c.1632


Religion in the Netherlands

The state religion was Calvinism, though she was tolerant of other religions. However, Catholics in Utrecht and Gouda did not benefit much from the Golden Age period. After all, religion played a role in the Eighty Years War against Spain. The Catholics had their traditional celebrations in buildings that doubled as churches. They kept to themselves and lived in specific areas.

There was a split among the Protestant towns - there were bitter controversies between the Calvinist followers and the more permissive protestants known as the Remonstrants. The Remonstrants did not believe in pre-destination. They fought for freedom of conscience. The Calvinists became the Contra-Remonstrants. 

Renaissance Humanism (with a central emphasis on the human realm) had gained a foothold through the initiative of Desiderus Erasmus (c.1466-1536).

With the religious sects that sprung up, religious tolerance was the practical thing to uphold. This attracted religious refugees, notably, the wealthy Jewish merchants from Portugal and the French Huguenots who were shopkeepers and scientists.

Arent de Gelder, c.1645-1727

Simeon's Song of Praise, c.1700

Jan van der Heydan, c.1637-1712

View f the Oudezijds Voorburgwal (oldest canal) with the Oude Kerk (oldest parish church) in Amsterdam, c.1670

Hendrick Ter Brugghen, c.1588-1629

The Liberation of Peter, c.1624

Gerrit Dou, c.1613-1675

The Young Mother, c.1658

Jan de Bray, c. 1617-1697

The Adoration of the Shepherds, c.1665

Gerrit van Honthorst, c.1592-1656

Woman Playing the Violin, c.1626

Willem van Aelst, c. 1627-1683

Flower Still Life with a Timepiece, c.1663

Johann Georg Ziesenis, c.1716-1776

Portrait of Princess Frederika Sophia Wilhelmina, c.1768-1769

A salon on the 2nd floor - anteroom

 Lucas Cranach I, c.1472-1553

Virgin and Child, c.1515-1520

 Quinteen Massys, c.1465/66-1530

Madonna and Child, c.1525-1530

 Jan Provoost, c.1464-1529

Triptych with 
The Virgin and Child, John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene, c.1520-1525

 Anonymous ( Germany)
The Birth of Mary,  c.1520

 Jan Gossaert, c.1478-1533/36

Madonna and Child, c.1520

Hans Holbein, c.1497-1543

Portrait of Robert Cheseman, c.1533

 This about ends the museum tour.
We took the see-through elevator on the way up. The glass walls reflected the water on the building's perimeter, the riders, and showed the structure below on the ascent.

Next to the Mauritshuis is the Parliament - the Binnenhof - a complex of buildings which has been the meeting place of the States General, the center for Dutch politics.

I enjoyed this visit so much for it was a new learning for me. 


  1. What a thorough coverage. Thank you for bringing back memories of a great museum.

  2. Wonderful and comprehensive blog, Y. :) Thank you for posting.



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