The Mauritshuis is an art museum in The Hague, Netherlands. The museum houses the Royal Cabinet of Paintings which consists of 854 objects, mostly Dutch Golden Age paintings. The collections contains works by Johannes Vermeer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Steen, Paulus Potter, Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael, Hans Holbein the Younger, and others. Originally, the 17th century building was the residence of count John Maurice of Nassau. It is now the property of the government of the Netherlands and is listed in the top 100 Dutch heritage sites.
The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis is a world-class museum, situated in the heart of The Hague, The Netherlands. The museum presents the very best of Dutch paintings from the Golden Age, including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
The museum is housed in a seventeenth-century monumental building in the heart of The Hague, The Netherlands. Over two hundred works from Dutch and Flemish masters are on permanent display in the intimate rooms of the former home of Johan Maurits, Count of Nassau-Siegen.
In 1631, John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen, a cousin of stadtholder Frederick Henry, bought a plot bordering the Binnenhof and the adjacent Hofvijver pond in The Hague, at that time the political centre of the Dutch Republic. On the plot, the Mauritshuis was built as a home between 1636 and 1641, during John Maurice’s governorship of Dutch Brazil. The Dutch Classicist building was designed by the Dutch architects Jacob van Campen and Pieter Post. The two-storey building is strictly symmetrical and contained four apartments and a great hall. Each apartment was designed with an antechamber, a chamber, a cabinet, and a cloakroom. Originally, the building had a cupola, which was destroyed in a fire in 1704.
After the death of Prince John Maurice in 1679, the house was owned by the Maes family, who leased the house to the Dutch government. In 1704, most of the interior of the Mauritshuis was destroyed by fire. The building was restored between 1708 and 1718.
In 1774, an art gallery open to the public was formed in what is now the Prince William V Gallery. That collection was seized by the French in 1795 and only partially recovered in 1808. The small gallery space soon proved to be too small, however, and in 1820, the Mauritshuis was bought by the Dutch state for the purpose of housing the Royal Cabinet of Paintings. In 1822, the Mauritshuis was opened to the public and housed the Royal Cabinet of Paintings and the Royal Cabinet of Rarities. In 1875, the entire museum became available for paintings.
The Mauritshuis was privatised in 1995. The foundation set up at that time took charge of both the building and the collection, which it was given on long-term loan. This building, which is the property of the state, is rented by the museum. In 2007, the museum announced its desire to expand. In 2010, the definitive design was presented. The museum would occupy a part of the nearby Sociëteit de Witte building. The two buildings would be connected via a tunnel, running underneath the Korte Vijverberg. The renovation started in 2012 and finished in 2014. During the renovation, about 100 of the museum’s paintings were displayed in the Gemeentemuseum in the Highlights Mauritshuis exhibition. About 50 other paintings, including the Girl With the Pearl Earring, were on loan to exhibitions in the United States and Japan. The museum was reopened on 27 June 2014 by King Willem-Alexander.
History of the Building
The Mauritshuis was built in the 17th century as a home for count Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen. It had several other different uses later on, but has been used as a museum since 1822.
In 2012-2014, the building was extensively restored and expanded. Since then, the 17th-century building has been connected with the corner of Sociëteit de Witte on the opposite side of the street via an underground Foyer. This doubled the surface of the museum and allowed it to meet the demands of the modern day museum visitor.
Johan Maurits had an impressive home built at a prominent location in the heart of The Hague. The construction took place while he himself was Brazil, where he was governor of the Dutch colony on behalf of the West-Indian Company (WIC). When he returned in 1644, he took residence at the Mauritshuis. But in 1647, he left for Germany to become stadtholder of Kleef.
The Mauritshuis has also sometimes been mockingly dubbed the Sugar palace. This was not only a reference to the light-coloured natural stones of the building façade, but also to the origins of Johan Maurits’ income. In Brazil, he earned a lot of money for the West-Indian Company, and for himself, through trading in sugar cane. Its realisation was possible thanks to the efforts of enslaved men and women from Africa. Johan Maurits was able to have his home in The Hague built not only thanks to cane sugar, but also to slavery.
Johan Maurits had his home designed by architect Jacob van Campen and his assistant Pieter Post. Van Campen chose a design based on Dutch classicism, a building style characterised by the use of elements from classical architecture, such as columns, capital, cornices and pediments.
The Mauritshuis is one of the first and most beautiful examples of that style. The free-standing building construction emphasizes the symmetry from the four impressive natural stone façades. Later, Van Campen became highly popular with the construction of the Amsterdam town hall (the current Palace at Dam square).
The original interior of the Mauritshuis must have been quite special. Tropical hardwood was used, and the walls were decorated with frescoes of Brazilian landscapes. The large room on the top floor was filled with art and objects that Johan Maurits had taken from Brazil, such as weaponry and headdresses, jewels, feathers, shells, and stuffed animals. There were paintings with Brazilian landscapes and exotic flora and fauna, that Johan Maurits had painted by Albert Eckhout and Frans Post. Two of those paintings can still be seen at the Mauritshuis: Albert Eckhout, Study of Two Brazilian Tortoises, c. 1640 and Frans Post, View of Itamaracà Island in Brazil, 1637
After the death of Johan Maurits, the Mauritshuis was used as guest house by the States General. Shortly before Christmas 1704, however, fate struck: due to the negligence of a drunken clerk, a devastating fire developed. Extinguishing was difficult because the Hofvijver was frozen; eventually only the blackened outer walls were left standing. Fortunately, the chosen option was to renovate: between 1708 and 1718, the building was rebuilt, with ups and downs.
After the reconstruction, the Mauritshuis was decorated with modern taste in mind. On the ground level, the Golden Room was embellished with golden decorations in Louis XIV style. On the walls and the ceiling of that room, allegorical representations were made by the travelling Venetian artist Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, who was in The Hague at that time.
In 1822, the Mauritshuis became a museum: the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery. At the time, it looked far from the museum that can be visited today, because half of the building was confiscated by the Royal Cabinet of Curiosities. It was only in 1875 that the entire Mauritshuis became available for the painting collection of royal origins.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Mauritshuis grew into a museum that attracts many domestic and foreign visitors every year. Due to the intensive use, expansion was deemed necessary and minor renovations took place in 1982 and 1987. In 2012, a very ambitious construction project began, which would last for two years. Both the interior and the exterior of the monument were thoroughly rebuilt during this renovation. Furthermore, the museum gained quite a lot of space: an underground foyer connects the old building with the 20th-century corner of Sociëteit De Witte across the street. The Mauritshuis once again meets the needs of the modern museum visitor.
History of the Collection
The Mauritshuis is known worldwide for its unique collection of paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters from the Golden Age. The basis of the collection was established in the 18th century by stadtholder Prince William V.
Since 1816, the collection has officially become the property of the Dutch state and is known as the Royal Picture Gallery. Throughout the centuries, the collection has kept on growing thanks to acquisitions by the state and private donations. But even today, new works are added to the collection on a regular basis.
The oldest part of the collection consists of paintings that used to be owned by stadtholder Willem V, prince of Orange-Nassau (1748-1806). Willem started collecting art at a young age. In 1774, he created a gallery for his collection of paintings at the Buitenhof in The Hague. He opened the gallery a few times a week to visitors who would have to purchase a ticket for it. This makes Prince William V Gallery the first public art collection in the Netherlands.
The 18th century collection of William V included The Bull by Potter, The Young Mother by Dou andThe Garden of Eden by Rubens and Brueghel.
In 1795, the collection was taken to Paris as spoils of war by Napoleon’s troops, and exhibited at the Louvre. It was only 20 years later, in 1815, that the collection largely returned to the Netherlands.
In 1816, king William I (1772-1843), the son of stadtholder William V, donated the collections of his father to the Dutch state. This formed the basis for several museums in the country, such as the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Royal Picture Gallery in The Hague. In 1822, that Royal Gallery moved from the Gallery to the Mauritshuis, on the opposite side of the Hofvijver. The Mauritshuis became a museum.
During the first 10 years after the opening of the Mauritshuis, king William I remained closely involved with the collection. He personally ensured that masterpieces such as Vermeer’s View of Delft, Rembrandt’s The anatomy lesson by Dr Nicolaes Tulp and Jacob van Ruisdael’s View of Haarlem with Bleaching Fields were purchased for the collection.
From 1875, the Mauritshuis began expanding the collection with cautiousness. Acquisitions were made by the state at the initiative of the directors of the Mauritshuis. The goal was not to piece together an art history record, but to enhance the existing collection with beautiful and important works by leading painters. Thus, The Goldfinch vby Carel Fabritius was purchased in 1896, Jan Steen’s As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young in 1913, and Rembrandt’s Portrait of and Old Man in 1999.
Besides purchases, private donations have been of incalculable value for the creation of the collection.
The Hague collector A.A. des Tombe (1818-1902) left twelve important paintings to the Mauritshuis. One of them is the now world-famous and favourite Girl with a Pearl Earringby Vermeer.
The Mauritshuis also owes much to Abraham Bredius (1855-1946). As a museum director, he acquired many paintings for the collection, but he also donated 25 paintings upon his death. These included no less than three works by Rembrandt: Andromeda, Homer andSaul and David.
In 1936, Sir Henri Deterding (1866-1939) donated five important paintings to the museum, including Girl Eating Oysters by Jan Steen and Gerard ter Borch’s The Letter Writer.
Louise Thurkow-van Huffel (1900-1987) bequeathed three paintings, including a Sea View by Salomon van Ruysdael.
In 2002, Willem baron van Dedem (1929-2015) donated five paintings to the Foundation Friends of the Mauritshuis. These included a Still Life by Willem Kalf, a Brazilian Landscape by Pieter Post and Peasants Dancing outside a Bohemian Inn by Roelant Savery.
The current collection of the Mauritshuis consists of over 800 pieces, including about 200 masterpieces which are part of the permanent collection. An additional 150 or so pieces are visible at the Prince William V Gallery. The rest of the paintings have been lent out to other museums in the Netherlands or are kept in storage.
The collection of the Mauritshuis keeps on developing. In the last twenty years, several purchases have been made with financial support from parties such as the Foundation Friends of the Mauritshuis, the BankGiro Lottery, and the Rembrandt Association. This allowed a rare 16th-century bloemstilleven by Ludger tom Ring to be added to the collection in 2014, and a masterpiece by Roelant Savery in 2016.
The collection of paintings of stadtholder William V, Prince of Orange was presented to the Dutch state by his son, King William I. This collection formed the basis of the Royal Cabinet of Paintings of around 200 paintings. The collection is currently called the Royal Picture Gallery. The current collection consists of almost 800 paintings and focusses on Dutch and Flemish artists, such as Pieter Brueghel, Paulus Potter, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacob van Ruisdael, Johannes Vermeer, and Rogier van der Weyden. There are also works of Hans Holbein in the collection in the Mauritshuis
All the works of art of the Mauritshuis collection can now also be admired online. Most of the collection has been photographed in high resolution
Johannes Vermeer – Girl with a Pearl Earring
Level 2, Room 15
Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring is, without a doubt, the most famous painting in the Mauritshuis. Many are captivated by the way the girl turns towards the viewer, by her gaze, by the colours. Her full, red lips are slightly parted, as if she is about to say something.
Her shining pearl seems too large to be real. Vermeer painted it with only two strokes of white paint: one at the bottom to reflect the collar and a thick dab at the top. Nothing more.
Fabritius – The Goldfinch
Level 2, Room 14
Carel Fabritius saw it: the beauty of the black, yellow and red in front of the white wall. The light and shade. A single glistening beady eye. The shadow on the wall.He painted the bird – a goldfinch – with loose, visible brushstrokes. Not too much colour or detail. A little bird on a chain, in front of a rather battered wall. That is all. Not much, but just enough.
Rembrandt – The Anatomy Lesson
Level 2, Room 9
Rembrandt was around 25 when he left his hometown of Leiden and moved to metropolitan Amsterdam. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp was the first public commission he received there: a group portrait to mark the annual anatomy lesson given by the guild of surgeons. The virtuoso painting became the young painter’s business card in Amsterdam. ‘Hello, I am Rembrandt van Rijn. You do not know me yet, but this is what I can do’.
Vermeer – View of Delft
This is the most famous cityscape of the Dutch Golden Age. The interplay of light and shade, the impressive cloudy sky and the subtle reflections in the water make this painting an absolute masterpiece. We are looking at Delft from the south. There is hardly a breath of wind and the city has an air of tranquillity. Vermeer reflected this tranquillity in his composition, by making three horizontal strips: water, city and sky.
Potter – The Bull
Level 2, Room 12
Paintings of livestock were very popular in the 17th century. Paulus Potter was one of the painters to specialise in the subject. His paintings were often modest in size, making them particularly suitable for hanging at home. What makes The Bull so special is the fact that Potter painted something as ordinary as a bull on such a grand scale – the painting is almost 3,5 meters wide! Despite this large size, he paid great attention to the smallest details, such as the lark in the sky, the sunshine on the meadow, the flies on the bull’s back and the cow’s whiskers. This made the painting the epitome of Dutch naturalistic painting.
Steen – As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young
Level 2, Room 14
Jan Steen was a born storyteller and the joker of the Dutch Masters. There is always humour in his paintings. But not everything is as innocent as it may at first appear. Steen used his humour to deliver a moralising message. He often did this by illustrating – and ridiculing – well-known proverbs. This painting depicts the old Dutch saying As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young. This loosely translates as to lead by example. But what example are the adults in this merry family actually setting for the children?
Jan Brueghel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens – The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man
This painting depicts the world as God created it: the Garden of Eden where the first humans lived peacefully together with the animals. Two painters worked together to create this panel: Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder. These were the two leading painters in early 17th-century Antwerp.
Brueghel prepared the panel in his studio, where he also worked out the painting’s composition. The painting was then taken to Rubens’s studio so he could paint his parts: Adam and Eve, the tree, snake and horse. The panel was then returned to Brueghel’s studio, where he completed all the trees, plants and animals. Only when the painting was finished did the two painters add their signatures.
Rembrandt – Self Portrait
Level 2, Room 10
Rembrandt was the master of the self-portrait. He sketched, etched and painted his self-portrait some eighty times – far more often than any of his colleagues. This self-portrait was painted during the last year of his life. Despite the grey hair, double chin and bags under his eyes, there is nothing to suggest that death is near. On the contrary, the master is at his best here and has painted himself with great confidence.
De Heem – Vase of Flowers
Level 1, Room 8
Portraying abundance seems to have been what Jan Davidsz de Heem had in mind when he painted this flower still life. The painting differs completely from the flower pieces made at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Compared with those neatly arranged bouquets, this specimen represents a true explosion of colour. The huge bouquet contains not only flowers but also ears of wheat, pieces of fruit, and no fewer than twelve small animals. Can you find them all?
Van Ruisdael – View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds
Jacob van Ruisdael is without doubt the greatest landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age. The view of Haarlem, where Jacob van Ruisdael lived until 1657, was one of his favourite subjects, he produced about a dozen of these panoramas. One of the most conspicuous elements is the sky, whose impressive array of clouds takes up most of the painting.
The Mauritshuis was a state museum until 1995, when it became independent. The Prince William V Gallery is also managed by the organization.
The museum has a staff of around 50 people. Emilie E. S. Gordenker has been the museum director since 2008, and Victor Moussault has been the deputy director since 2007.
In the period 2005–2011, the Mauritshuis had between 205,000 and 262,000 visitors per year. In 2011, the museum was the 13th most visited museum in the Netherlands. In 2012, when the museum closed for renovation on 1 April, it received 45,981 visitors. The museum was closed all of 2013 and was reopened on 27 June 2014.