Den Haag (The Hague)
Just shy of an hour away using the Dutch train system, The Hague (officially known as ‘s-Gravenhage or ‘the Count’s Hedge’) is where the Dutch seat of government resides and is home to the royal family.
I was greeted with large parks and wide streets, to be expected of a city that houses such international affairs of the Dutch government, royal family, and the UN.
Mauritshuis (Maurice House)
The town was partially asleep when I arrived at 9:45 am, perfect to snap a couple photos sans people. I meandered my way to the Mauritshuis and entered the museum just as they opened. Prettily situated along the Hofvijver pond and next to the Binnenhof, the art museum houses 841 works of art/objects, most of which are paintings belonging to the Dutch Golden Age of the seventeenth century and one of my favourite periods. Seriously. This girl minored in Art History and I was practically drooling (if my eyes weren’t welling up) at all the art I witnessed.
Maritshuis still remains, a month later, as my favourite museum. As my Houten Castellum neighbour, Wilma, said, “It’s like a jewellery box: there are so many treasures inside.”
The museum, officially known as the Royal Picture Gallery, came into existence after King William I donated his father’s (Stadholder Prince William V of Orange) collection of paintings to the Dutch state in 1816.
I knew I was going to happen upon her in the Mauritshuis. I even knew what numbered room she was housed in. I was electric with excitement, the anticipation, and when I entered her space, I could not quite look her in the eye. I wanted to delay my gratification further, I wanted to have her to myself and so, I kept my back to Girl and admired other fine works by other notable artists I had studied some 10-years ago. I waited to be alone with her. When I was calm, I turned slowly around to meet her and I wept.
Johannes Vermeer is my fave and not because Colin Firth played him in the movie of the same name. Everything we have of his, everything I have studied of his, I love. Simple intimate tronies (a ‘head’ that was not meant to be a portrait), his mastery of light (reflections, shadow, highlights, contrasts), his everyday life scenes peeking into 17th-century households, etc. I love. I love it all. Girl, though. Girl is my fave. She brings up a lot of questions, not unlike da Vinci’s Mona Lisa—Girl is often referred to as ‘the Mona Lisa of the North’, after all.
And like this TED-Ed discusses, she, unlike most other works by Vermeer, becomes a ‘psychological subject’ that draws us in which ultimately puts her in such high regard.
Binnenhof (Inner court)
The night before my visit to The Hague, I purchased the only offered English speaking tour, to tour the Dutch Parliament, the Binnenhof. Once used for executions, is the central courtyard surrounded by parliamentary buildings. Courtesy of my tour via ProDemos tours I visited and learned all about Dutch Parliament and even got to see where all the magic happens.
The Binnenhof is the oldest House of Parliament in the world still in use (primarily built in the 13th-century) and originally housed the counts of Holland.
Since 1982, the Prime Minister’s office has been located in the torentje (little tower).
Ridderzaal (Knight’s Hall)
The first half of our tour took place in the Ridderzaal.
Originally built as a ballroom in the 13th-century, the hall today is used for the state opening of Parliament on Prinsjesdag (Prince Day)—when the Dutch monarch drives to Parliament in the Golden Coach and delivers the annual speech—as well as for official royal receptions, conferences, etc. The stained glass windows depict the coats of arms of Dutch towns.
Designed to look like the interior hull of a ship (turned upside down), the ceiling definitely provides that effect.
The rose window with the coat of arms of the principal noble families of the Netherlands.
The second half of our tour took place in the 17th-century north wing where the Upper Chamber of the Dutch Parliament meets (on the right side of the image, below). Security told us we weren’t allowed to bring in our cameras and I obliged. Here we learned about Dutch politics, which didn’t exactly hold my attention. I want to know why there are sealed old-timey inkpots on the desks the Senate uses (which I learned after the tour: they’re a leftover tradition and they’re sealed because the lids kept mysteriously disappearing).
Museum de Gevangenpoort (Prisoner’s Gate)
Located on the Buitenhof (Outer Court) the Gevangenpoort is a former gate and medieval prison.
The prison held Cornelis de Witt, who was wrongfully charged with plotting the murder of the stadholder (aka treason). He was brutally tortured and ultimately banished as he never confessed under torture and as if that wasn’t enough, upon being released he was lynched together with his brother Johan on the square in front of the building.
The following two images are of his more luxe accommodation he once resided within.
Some 300-year old grafitti behind protective glass. Two would sleep to a bed.
On the ground floor, down a few steps, lies the torture chamber. These pretty tiles were discarded ‘rejects’ due in part to the less than perfect paint job, chips, etc., donated to the Gevangenpoort to class up the place. Also, I suppose, it serves a practical purpose: easier to clean…
All the torture things used to extract confessions.
Galerij Prins Willem V
Sharing an entrance to the Gevangenpoort on the Buitenhof is a modern recreation of the Galerij Prins Willem V once founded there by Prince William V himself, in 1774 and is part of the Mauritshuis collection. So you get a side of pretty art with a less than grim prison and torture chamber.
The space is home to Rembrandt’s, Holbein’s, Jan Breughel’s (the Elder), van Dyck’s, and Rubens’, to name a few.
Escher in Het Paleis
My dad introduced graphic artists Maurits Cornelis Escher (M.C. Escher) to me as a kid. He brought home a workbook one day containing beautifully glossy and bright Escher imaginings. As a teen when the Albright Knox Museum in Buffalo had an Escher exhibit he took the family to pay witness. So, learning that he is, in fact, Dutch and has a permanent exhibition on display, was a nice little surprise and end to my Den Haag day.
M.C. Escher is a permanent exhibition housed in Queen Emma’s former winter palace, the Lange Voorhuis Palace, and features notes, letters, drafts, photos and fully mature works covering Escher’s entire career, from his early realism to the later ‘phantasmagoria‘ and ‘tessellation‘ he is known for. His works are mathematically inspired (and likely why my dad is a huge fan) and though he wasn’t exactly accepted in the art community as his works were seen to be “…too intellectual and insufficiently lyrical”, he was accepted by the public.
There was still much to see, but sadly not enough time in the day. Little did I know I would visit Den Haag again, however. Though less for a refined cultural experience and more for a little pop culture tourist attraction: the wonderful miniature world of Madurodam.