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Mauritshuis presents an exhibition about shifting perceptions and images of Johan Maurits

From 4 April, the Mauritshuis will present an exhibition devoted to the shifting perceptions and images of the man who built the Mauritshuis: Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679). Shifting Image – In Search of Johan Maurits will offer a variety of perspectives on Johan Maurits, from his reputation as the governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil in the seventeenth century to present-day interpretations of his life and work. In this exhibition, the Mauritshuis will show works from its collection that are related to Johan Maurits in new ways that will provide insights into our shifting image and perception of the man who built the museum. How was that image formed and how has it changed over the centuries?

Shifting Perceptions and Scientific Research

Johan Maurits spent eight years (1636-1644) as the governor of the Dutch plantation colony in Brazil, a coastal area in the northeast of Brazil that had been seized from the Portuguese in order to profit from its lucrative sugar plantations. Today Johan Maurits is best known as the ‘enlightened’ governor who, together with artists, architects and scientists, mapped out parts of the South American colony – both literally and figuratively. This view of Johan Maurits can be seen as somewhat one-sided: his role in and contribution to the Dutch West India Company’s transatlantic slave trade have, for example, gotten relatively little attention until now.

The Mauritshuis has initiated a research project in order learn more about other aspects of the history of the Dutch colony in Brazil and of Johan Maurits that have been understudied. The first steps were taken in 2018, when an inventory of sources was taken. This will lead to a long-term research programme that will start in 2020 and will result in a various publications. This research will focus on subjects such as a more in-depth understanding of the financing of the Mauritshuis (which in the seventeenth century was also known as the ‘Maison du Sucre’), as well as Johan Maurits’s contribution to and influence on the trade in enslaved Africans.

Jan de Baen, Portrait of Johan Maurits (1604-1679), Count of Nassau-Siegen, First owner of the Mauritshuis, ca. 1668-1670

Broader Context

In addition to works of art from the museum collection, the modern replica of the bust of Johan Maurits (polyresin with marble grit, 1986) will also be on display in the exhibition. This bust was removed from the Mauritshuis foyer in 2017 and put into storage after a presentation about Johan Maurits was installed in the museum’s permanent collection. The removal of the bust triggered a public debate that attracted considerable media attention at the start of 2018. With the upcoming exhibition, the Mauritshuis seeks to place the present-day discussion within a broader context.

Programme of Events

The Mauritshuis is organising an extensive programme of events to accompany Shifting Image. During the exhibition, there will be workshops, lectures, public debates and a performance, as well as song and dance. An education project is also being developed for secondary school students in which the students themselves will go in search of Johan Maurits and their own personal story.

Past Exhibitions

The Mauritshuis has previously focussed on Johan Maurits in exhibitions and publications. In 1953 the museum’s very first exhibition to include loans from other institutions was dedicated to the museum’s founder. This was later followed by the exhibitions As Far As The World Reaches (1979-80), In Brazil with Albert Eckhout (2004) and The Building in 2014-2015.


The Mauritshuis owes its name to Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen. Although he would later live in the building, he was largely absent during its construction (1633-1644). In 1636, Johan Maurits was appointed governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil, which had been taken from the Portuguese by the Dutch several years earlier. Johan Maurits returned to the Netherlands in 1644. His former home in The Hague continued to be commonly referred to as ‘Maurits’s house’ even after his death in 1679. It was still known by this name – the ‘Mauritshuis’ - when the Royal Picture Gallery was established in the building in 1822.

For more information and images, please contact:

Boris de Munnick
Elske Schreurs
+31(0)6 22 978 444 / /

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The Mauritshuis is home to the best of Dutch Golden Age painting. The compact yet world-renowned collection is located in the heart of The Hague in The Netherlands. Masterpieces such as Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt, The Goldfinch by Fabritius and The Bull by Potter are on permanent display in the intimate museum rooms of the seventeenth-century monument.

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