Friday, August 28, 2015

Day 16: Mauritshuis: A Museum from the Dutch Golden Age

Mauritshuis means Maurice House in English. The house originally belonged to John Maurice, the Prince of Nassau-Siegen, a province that no longer exists, and the governor of ore-rich Dutch Brazil, no doubt the source of great wealth for him.

Bartholomeus Eggers, c. 1637-1692
Bust of Johan Maurits, 1664

He built the Dutch Classicist residence in the 1630s, the height of the Dutch Golden Age. In 1820 it was purchased by the Dutch state for the purpose of housing the royal collection of paintings.

The Maurice House, Mauritshuis, was built in the 1630s.

More than two hundred top works from Dutch and Flemish masters are on display there, some of them iconic paintings that are recognized around the world. We had toured the museum in 2003, but since then it had been renovated and expanded. This process made news in the Bay area because while it was going on, the Mauritshuis sent out a traveling exhibition that appeared at the de Young Museum, which we also attended. For our current visit, we were interested in the architectural changes and looking forward to seeing the paintings back in their proper place.

The museum's new extension is actually a separate building, across a narrow street. An underground passageway connects the two buildings. The new building is remarkably austere and functional.

The extension is across a narrow street but connected
with the old building by an underground passageway

In the interior, the old building's original elegance has been maintained. It can be devoted completely to the display of art, since the visitor services have been off-loaded to the new building.

Hallway of the original building
A gallery in the original building has silk wall covering.
The new building is for visitor services and educational functions.

Looking down into the gift shop in the new wing.

Dutch Golden Age

From our visits to the Rijksmuseum and the Frans Hals Museum we know that there are four big stars of painting in the Dutch Golden Age: Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Jan Steen, plus two early women painters, Rachel Ruysch and Judith Leyster. Mauritshuis has some of their greatest works.

Frans Hals

Frans Hals was a great portrait artist from Haarlem. He could be formal and precise enough to satisfy the most demanding clients.

Frans Hals, 1582-1666
Portrait of Aletta Hanemans, 1625
Or he could be casual and unpretentious.

Frans Hals, 1582-1666
Laughing Boy, c. 1625


The group portrait was an important genre in the 1600s, and nobody was better at it than Rembrandt. In this depiction of a group of medical specialists, he has added the dramatic focal point of a corpse, giving everyone a good reason to be looking the same way and engaging in the same activity.

Rembrandt, 1606-1669
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632
In his spare time, Rembrandt liked to imagine colorful characters. This type of portrait, of an imaginary person, is called a 'tronie.'

Rembrandt, 1606-1669
Tronie’ of a Man with a Feathered Beret, c. 1640


One of Vermeer's most beloved paintings makes its home at Mauritshuis.

Johannes Vermeer, 1632-1675
Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665
It was rare for Vermeer to do a landscape. This painting is considered one of the greatest landscapes of all time.

Johannes Vermeer, 1632-1675
View of Delft, c. 1661

Jan Steen

Jan Steen was an outrageously talented and highly productive tavern-keeper. He had a sort of tavern-keeper's sense of humor. He particularly liked to illustrate "old sayings," proverbs that were popular at the time. He was like a cartoonist who asks, what would that common saying look like literally? In the next painting he illustrated a proverb saying that children pick up the habits of their parents. The fashionable woman on the left, raising her glass for a refill, is based on Steen's wife, while the laughing man in the black hat teaching a child to smoke is based on himself. He frequently included his wife and himself in paintings depicting lax standards.

Jan Steen, 1625-1679
As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young, c. 1665
Even in this ostensibly sober portrait the character seems to have a sense of humor.

Jan Steen, 1625-1679
Woman Playing the Sistrum, circa 1662

Judith Leyster

Two women cracked the market during the 1600s. Judith Leyster was from Haarlem, from the generation following Frans Hals and influenced by his style.

Judith Leyster, 1609-1660
Man Offering Money to a Young Woman, 1631

Rachel Ruysch

Rachel Ruysch specialized in floral still lifes. Considering the amount of competition in this field, it is much to her credit that she was able to make it.

Rachel Ruysch, 1664-1750
Vase of Flowers, 1700

Other Dutch Masters

Dutch art of the Golden Age was very much influenced by an Italian painter named Caravaggio. Specifically, it was his dramatic, high-contrast lighting that everyone wanted to adopt, and a certain theatrical point of view. Kendrick ter Bruggehen was one of the most accomplished of Caravaggio's followers in the Netherlands. In this painting, an angel is explaining to Peter, a disciple of Christ, that he has been freed from his imprisonment.

Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1588-1629
The Liberation of Peter, 1624
Pieter Saenredam specialized in depicting buildings in a style that was both precise and atmospheric.

Pieter Saenredam, 1597-1665
The Mariaplaats with the Mariakerk in Utrecht, 1659
Landscape was a very important genre in the 1600s. Jacob van Ruisdael was the pre-eminent artist in this genre, and this is one of his loveliest works. This castle is in Germany, where they have hills; the Netherlands is quite flat.

Jacob van Ruisdael, 1628-1682
View of Bentheim Castle, c. 1654
Meindert Hobbema was a student of Ruisdael's. This is typical Dutch light, as the weather tends to be cloudy.

Meindert Hobbema, 1638-1709
Wooded Landscape with Cottages, c. 1665
Paulus Potter specialized in landscapes with animals. Cattle are very important to the Dutch economy, and very prominent in rural areas, and several painters specialized in representing them. This is a very famous masterpiece.

Paulus Potter, 1625-1654
The Bull, 1647
In the mid-20th century American painter Mark Tansey did a humorous take on this work. The experts wonder whether the "live" cow will think that the painted cattle are real. We had just seen this work at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

Mark Tansey, b. 1949
The Innocent Eye Test, 1981
Metropolitan Museum, NYC
Floral Paintings

Actually, several painters specialized in floral still life; it was a very popular genre during the 1600s. Just for the pure luxury of flowers in abundance, here is a bouquet of examples.

Balthasar van der Ast, 1593-1657
Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase, with Shells, c. 1650
Dirck de Bray, c. 1635-1694
Still Life with a Bouquet in the Making, 1674
Ambrosius Bosschaert I, 1573-1621
Vase of Flowers in a Window, c. 1618
Jacob de Gheyn II, 1565-1629
Flowers in a Glass Flask, 1612
Jan Brueghel I, 1568-1625
Flowers in a Wan-Li Vase, c. 1615
Jan Davidsz de Heem, 1606-1684
Vase of Flowers, c. 1670


In addition to the big names of the Dutch Golden Age, the museum also has works by less famous but very important and talented Dutch artists, plus Flemish masterpieces from the period. We enjoyed our immersion in the work of the old masters very much.

We had lunch in the museum's spiffy new restaurant.

Excellent fish dish, with veggies and mashed potatoes
Later we went back for a latte and a pastry.

After a latte and a pastry, Captain Dan is ready to get back to work.