Thursday, April 28
Well, actually on the track again where we pass the train stations’ parking lots of bikes coming. One of these days we’ll have to use that mode of transportation. But, for now, to the train.
With Max’s ancestors in mind we zipped down to a town just 30 miles south, purported to be Holland’s largest city in 1500. We wanted to check out the site where many of the pilgrims who later sailed to America gathered after escaping religious persecution in England.
Knowing that trains left almost every 15 minutes for southern stops, we only had to wait five minutes to hop a ride to Leiden. A short walk took us into the old part of the city where we passed some unfortunate boaters pumping out their half-submerged craft with the help of a crane.
Since the pilgrim museum didn’t open until later, we opted to visit the Museum de Lakenhal, which obtains its name (“Laken”) from a light woolen fabric woven in Leiden. Picking up our audio guides the woman behind the desk told us they would be closed for renovations for two years, starting at the end of May. Good timing on our part because it would have been a shame to have missed this museum.
The renovation will maintain the old part of the building, constructed in 1640, which was fascinating to tour. From the 13th to the 17th century Leiden’s wealth and prominence grew from exporting cloth to the Baltic and Hanseatic Cities (a group of city alliances formed for the purpose of economic growth in the middle ages; the Hanseatic League in northern Europe was a powerhouse). After 1577 thousands had fled to this city to escape religious persecution, bringing with them textile skills with which they expanded the types of fabric manufactured here. With a supply of laborers (who, unfortunately, weren’t paid much at all), the city’s cloth business thrived.
Weaving was a home-industry based on the ‘putting out’ system where by merchants supplied the raw materials to laborers who then are paid by the finished piece. To ensure consistent quality the city’s administration established inspection centers, one per type of fabric. Lakenhall became the most significant of the seven neringen (trades) or cloth halls in Leiden. Walking into a huge room we read that thousands of woolens had been inspected here, each bolt being 44m long by 2.5m wide (145 ft x 8 ft). Between 200 and 300 weavers brought their cloth to be inspected. Three times the cloth was stretched out and carefully scrutinized.
In this room also stood a 17th-century loom used continuously for 250 years.
A table stood in another room. On either side were brass bands for measuring using the Rhineland yard (approximately 68.5cm (27 in) based on an average length of a man’s arm).
If the cloth passed inspection it was stamped with a lead seal and shipped to Amsterdam. We even saw one of theses seals from an earlier time (circa 1275) found in Amsterdam and marked “Leyden”.
One of the most impressive rooms displayed sample books from the second half of the 17th ce. up to the 20th century. Here consistency of color was recorded foreach inspected bolt. Black cloth was even cooked to ensure the fabric maintained its color.
In addition to the sample books the room decor was startling with its walls covered in embossed leather panels, a type of wall covering used by the wealthy.
This museum also had several art galleries. I won’t go into all the detail but will mention they had several Rembrandt (1606-69) paintings. This famous painter was born here and spent 26 years of his life in Leiden, later moving to Amsterdam. Known for his use of chiaroscuro (strong contrasts between light and dark), the museum contains several of his early paintings.
Rooms flowed from one century to another, displaying a variety of Dutch artists, including Rembrandt’s first pupil, Gerrit Dou (1613-75) who became a virtuoso in rendering light in gradual tones and reflection. With his highly detailed painting style in small formats he became so popular and gained such international fame that England’s king Charles II tried to hire him as a court painter – but Dou said ‘no thanks’ and remained in Leiden.
Two other notable pieces were: an elaborate Catholic Altar found in an old ‘house church’ where Catholics were allowed to practice their religion, just not in public.; and a fascinating, 1587 propaganda tapestry displaying almost a wall-size map of Willem van Oranje’s first successful battle against the Spanish (with help from the English ‘Sea Beggars’, i.e., pirates) on October 3, 1574.
By this time the pilgrim museum was open. Located in the oldest house in the city we joined a group of five other tourists interested in the pilgrims’ history in Leiden.
(And, Gracie, you may recognize who’s sitting on the window sill of this old house :)
The museum turned out to be a 15-minute tour of two tiny rooms crammed with period pieces. It helped that the building’s owners were in the antique business; and, when someone asked how much a fireplace mantle would go for, our guide said he didn’t know but was aware that some of the pieces had sold for over 20,000 euros. Humph… No souvenirs for JUANONA here.
After the others left Max and I stayed to talk with the laconic curator who had an extremely dry wit. We discovered he happened to be from Oregon. His posting at the museum came about because the city administrators thought he’d know a lot about the subject matter since he ‘was from America.’ Fortunately for us he had learned a lot since then.
Our last exchange went something like this:
me: What’s that against the wall?
him: It’s a screw.
me: A screw?
him: Yes. Interestingly the pilgrims actually had a screw on the MAYFLOWER.
me: The pilgrims had a screw on the MAYFLOWER…
him: Yes, and it was lucky they did because the mast cracked at one point so they needed a screw.
At this point I knew it was time to leave because now I had a vision in my head that didn’t tally with anything I had ever assoiciated with the Pilgrims. And, so we left.
We had several other pilgrim sites left to explore, primarily the neighborhood, then called the English Gate, where the pilgrims eventually congregated.
In 1609 approximately 300 pilgrims arrived from England with their leaders William Bradford and John Robinson, a minister. Robinson subsequently built 21 houses surrounding the 15th-ce., St. Pancraskerk Church. On the way we passed the old town hall where civil marriages were performed,
and walked by buildings where surely the pilgrims had also trod:
Using directions from the curator we located the lane where Max’s ancestor, Wiliam Brewster, had lived. Near by he printed religions books and pamphlets promoting the pilgrims’ beliefs.
The house was discernable only by the older brick incorporated into a newer structure.
We then entered the church where the pilgrims worshipped, no longer in use except as a historical site.
It did have a memorial to John Robinson (he died in Leiden in 1625) given by MAYFLOWER descendants 1926.
Our final stop was the oldest university in the Netherlands, founded in 1575 by Willem van Oranje in appreciation of Leiden being the first city to not fall to the Spanish (hence, the map tapestry mentioned earlier). Here, the Netherland’s famous botanist, Carolus Clusius (1526-1609), cultivated a flower soon to become ubiquitous in his country. He became the first director of the Hortus botanicus Leiden, founded 1590. The grounds are lovely with the tulip featured in abundance. A perfect way to end our day in Leiden.
DEN HAAG (The Hague)
Friday, April 29
The next morning we hit the track again, this time to zoom down to Den Haag, the center of the Netherlands government and home to the royal family. This city had been the capital up to 1609, when Napoleon enthroned his baby brother Louis – the little emperor was populating Europe’s kingdoms with nepotism. Louis moved the seat of his government to Amsterdam while ruling for eight years. Upon his ouster, the government hightailed it back to Den Haag but Amsterdam remained the capital. Now, you’ll find this city hosting other global entities, such as the UN’s International Court of Justice.
Although there’s plenty to see here, we focused on two museums: Mauritshuis, a beautiful, 1640 mansion now housing enough Dutch artists to provide a very thorough history lesson through oil paintings throughout its 16 rooms; and, Escher in Het Paleis Museum, the former winter residence of Queen Emma (1858-1934) and subsequent working palace for her queenly descendants, Wilhelmina, Juliana, and Beatrix up to 1984.
Because I believe I’ve inundated you with art, I’ll simply say, If you’re ever in Den Haag, GO. These museums are gems. The first requires more time than the two hours we dedicated and the last is an eye-opening view into the 20th century artist M.C Escher (1898-1972).
If you do end up at Mauritshuis, some of the artists you’ll see are Flemish, German, and French with the majority being Dutch.
It was crowded so at times I just waited for a group to pass then step as closely as I could to peer intensely at the details, colors, and forms. What a wonderful way to learn about art, even if my study of it is pretty superficial. I can only imagine what it would be to follow an Art Historian around. I’d be hanging on her/his every word.
Some of the artists whose work caused me to pause were:
Anthony van Dyke, Willem van Hecht, Peter Paul Ruebens, Jan Bruegel the Elder, Hans Holbein, William Claesz Heddan, Roeland Savy, Rembrandt, Willem van Mieris, Jan Steen, Frans Hals, Frans van Mieris, Johannees Vermeer (whose “View of Delft” hangs here), and many others.
And, yes, there were stunning flower arrangements strategically placed in entrance halls and the reception area, many sporting the tulip.
The Escher museum provided background on his early years and his honing of his exquisite disorienting graphics, including his tessellation art (I needed a definition of that: “any pattern made of repeating shapes completely covering a surface without overlapping or leaving any gaps.” http://www.exploratorium.edu/geometryplayground/activities). His approach to art and his work brought to mind one of my favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, if the latter desired to take a sophisticated tack in his illustrations.
So, our day in Den Haag ended in a blur of art but all memorable.
Next, flowers galore…