During our previous visits to Haarlem, we’ve passed the entrance to the Teylers Museum, which stands on the Spaarn embankment, many times, but I’d never visited.
Open to the public since 1784, it was the first museum in the Netherlands. It was founded after the death of Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (1702-1778) a successful silk merchant and financier who had a wide range of interests in the arts and sciences. In his will, Teyler left two million guilders (roughly 80 million euros) to establish a foundation, to promote theology, the sciences, and the arts. In 1779, the Foundation’s first directors commissioned the young architect Leendert Viervant to design a ‘Books and Art Room’ behind the Foundation House (Fundatiehuis, where Pieter Teyler had lived). The result was the Oval Room, which is still the heart of the museum, although the premises have been expanded considerably since then. In fact, it’s rather like the Tardis. It doesn’t look so big from the outside but once you’re inside there’s a whole series of interconnected rooms and a whole new extension which, from the outside, you wouldn’t know were there.
It’s quite an amazing place. In many ways it’s an old fashioned museum with lots of exhibits, including fossils, minerals, coins and scientific instruments, many in glass display cases. There’s also two galleries of paintings and a large collection of drawings and prints by artists including Michelangelo, Raphael, and Rembrandt. The building itself is also fascinating. We spent a couple of hours looking round but there’s really too much to see during one visit.
Visitors are provided with an audio guide which provides information on selected exhibits by entering a number. For this summer the audio guide also includes an introductory tour, a “radio play” based on Napoleon’s visit to the museum in 1811 which focused on the history of the museum and key exhibits.
We followed the “Napoleon tour”, which took about half an hour, and then had a more detailed look around, concentrating on particular areas of interest.
The Oval room was one of the highlights. Originally this was the whole museum! It’s lit only by natural light that comes in through the skylights – so it’s probably best to visit on a bright summer’s day!
It was difficult to get a shot that really shows off the room, so I resorted to embedding a picture from Wikipedia which was taken from the balcony, which isn’t accessible to the public.
A painting in one of the art galleries shows what the room looked like in 1800, with the large electrostatic generator in the centre.
The two art galleries were also lit by natural light
Like many other galleries and museums in the Netherlands there was a temporary exhibition marking 250 years since the death of Rembrandt. It featured prints by the master and some of his contemporaries.
As usual, I was bowled over by the beauty and the amazing detail of Rembrandt’s tiny prints. One of them had been blown up and covered the whole of one wall. Even on such a large scale the detail was amazing.
And this was the real thing, which, even though it is the largest of his landscape prints, was not even as big as an A3 sheet of paper
The newest part of the museum, an exhibition hall and a cafe, were built in 1996 and are airy, cantilevered spaces on two sides of a “secret” courtyard / garden.
It was time for some refreshment!
We’d spent more than a couple of hours in the museum so had a last look around before returning our audio guides and leaving the building to meet up with our son and daughter, who’s been spending some time together.
Teylers is an excellent museum and I suspect we’ll be paying a visit another time when we next visit Haarlem.