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.
An impressive house
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.
Pieter Post, Front Façade of the Mauritshuis, 1652. From Post 1652, no. 3. The Hague, National Library.
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.
Pieter Post, Section of the Mauritshuis, 1652. From Post 1652, no. 5a. The Hague, National Library (128 A 34).
Jacob van Campen
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).
An exotic interior
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
Albert Eckhout, Study of Two Brazilian Tortoises, c. 1640
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.
The Mauritshuis becomes a museum
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.
A 17th century monument in a modern world
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.