Dutch exhibit is a stroke of genius

Dutch exhibit is a stroke of genius

THE HAGUE — During the past year’s lockdown, I’ve travelled dozens of times. I visited a Royal Delft Blue tile workshop to paint a portrait of “Girl with a Pearl Earring” on a Delft tile. I listened to a wine maker in Switzerland’s Lavaux talk about her beloved vineyard; a cook near Parma who prepared ham and cheese cooked in butter; a guide who described bicycle tours in Italy’s Euganean Hills; a craftswoman who demonstrated how they weave exquisite cloth in Umbria.
I had those experiences and so many others sitting in front of my computer as I travelled across Europe, visiting Italy, Switzerland and The Netherlands.
While an online visit can’t replace in-person travel, virtual tours reconnected me with destinations I love and introduced me to new ones that I expect will become favourites.

13  03

Above: Emilien Leonhardt (Hirox Europe), left, examines 'The Girl with a Pearl Earring' using the Hirox 3D digital microscope.
Right, different stages of the process, like polarized light photography and mapping of the image are displayed.

An exhibit to entertain the senses

Not that long ago, I hopped on a train in Amsterdam for a 45 minute ride south to explore The Netherland’s third largest city, The Hague. A highlight of the trip was a visit to the Mauritshuis.
With a collection to rival any within The Netherlands, the museum feels like a home because that’s what it was. Originally the private residence of Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen (1604-1679), I climbed a grand staircase and walked into rooms that were once bedrooms, dining rooms and sitting rooms that are now galleries adorned with remarkable, world-class art.
To reconnect with the Mauritshuis, recently I took a virtual tour of the museum’s "Fleeting — Scents in Colour.”
Had I been able to travel in-person, I would have walked into galleries with slate-grey walls and dramatic lighting specially outfitted for the exhibit from the Dutch Golden Age (1575-1675). I would have marvelled at paintings, jewellery and clothing that exploded with colours and scents.
But since I could not do the walking myself, I relied on the Mauritshuis and The Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions, which created a virtual tour.  Personable curator Ariane van Suchtelen guided me through the exhibit, explaining the history behind the art.
Ariane explained that the museum curated almost 50 art works to focus on the ways in which artists of the period used objects to suggest scents which would, in turn, make the viewer reflect about life and mortality.
To bring those scents alive, funnels and foot pedals were installed next to selected paintings. With a quick press of a foot pedal, a scent is delivered into the funnel.

Mauritshuis_Zelfport...  DeVoiscopy

Above: Mauritshuis is home to many important art works, including a great many Dutch Masters.

Scents reveal long-lost realities

Looks can be deceiving. Ariane pointed out that today when we look at Jan van der Heyden’s “View of the Oudezijds Voorburgwal with the Oude Kerk” (c.1670), we see an idyllic cityscape with puffy white clouds suspended above the Old Church. Ariane pointed to a woman washing her clothing in a canal and then to the foot pedal next to the painting.
Had I been at the museum, to have an olfactory sense of the canal, I would have pressed the foot pedal and bent to the funnel. Instead, I had been mailed a small vial which I now opened. I sniffed. Unbelievably disgusting! One whiff of that wretched smell and I understood that van der Heyden was making a critical social statement about the degradation of urban life.
In front of the “Portrait of Maria Schuuman” (Anonymous, 1599-1600), Ariane gestured to the elegant woman wearing meticulously crafted gold chains and orbs. The 17th century viewer would know that on the chain are pomanders.
Raised to the nose, the fragrances inside the pomander would mask unpleasant odors. I twisted open another small vial. This time I sniffed a wonderous mix of floral and herbal scents. Now I understood that Maria Schuuman’s wealth afforded her great privileges, including the privilege to avoid the stench of the city.
Painters also used smells to characterize the countryside.
Ariane noted that large paintings usually glorified the nobility. On a very large canvas, Paulus Potter had created a portrait not of a noble person but of a farm animal. “The Bull” (1647) is a grand painting of an ordinary animal. Ariane pointed out that the bull’s domain included odiferous cow pies. No need to bend to the funnel to encounter the scent. I knew it all too well from my walks with our son’s dog.
Ariane stood in front of Abraham Mignon’s colourful “Still Life of Flowers and Fruit” (c.1670). Look closely, she said, and see that the painting has a visual prompt to the darker side of nature.  A gloriously large melon is overripe, on the verge of rot. Mignon declares, what lives, dies. That which smells sweetly, will one day become rank.
The exhibit made me eager to travel again, especially to visit the Mauritshuis in person. Until then I’ll take virtual tours as reminders of the pleasures that await, the sights, sounds and scents of familiar destinations and ones new to me.


• For more details about "Fleeting — Scents in Colour” go to:

•  To take Ariane’s virtual tour of the exhibit, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Qbr8Foehh8&feature=youtu.be

• To approximate the tour in the museum, fragrances in specially constructed dispensers can be ordered from the museum store. Submit your email on the website at https://www.mauritshuis.nl/en/discover/exhibitions/digital-tour-fleetingscents-in-colour/ and you will be notified when the fragrance packets are available






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