The Mauritshuis in Den Haag (The Hague) is a top art museum to see Dutch and Flemish Golden Age paintings including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Some of the finest paintings in the Netherlands are on display in the small Mauritshuis art museum in the heart of the Dutch capital Den Haag (The Hague). This gallery is far smaller than the famous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam but a more intimate setting for the around 250 works on display. The two most famous paintings in the museum are Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt. The gallery tickets include admission to the small Galerij Prins Willem V on the same day. Buy skip-the-line tickets online in advance with time-slot reservations.
Mauritshuis Dutch Golden Age Art Museum in The Hague
The Mauritshuis in The Hague is one of the best art museums in the world to see Dutch and Flemish Golden Age and old masters painting from the 17th century. Although the collection consists of only around 250 paintings, all the major artists from this period are represented with works of astonishing quality. Famous works on permanent display include Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft, Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Fabritius’s The Goldfinch, and Potter’s The Bull.
The museum is spread over two buildings: the main exhibition and best works are on display in the Mauritshuis — a city palace from 1641. The main building is linked by an underground passage to a smaller annex used for special exhibitions that change usually three times per year.
From 29 September 2022 to 15 January 2023, ten paintings from the New York Frick Collection, including arguably Rembrandt’s finest self-portrait, are on display in the Mauritshuis as the Manhattan Masters special exhibition.
A further small museum that is included in the Mauritshuis tickets is the Galerij Prins Willem V (Gallery of Prince William V) — the original royal collection started here and it still consists of only a single long gallery room where paintings are hung so close to each other that they almost touch.
Permanent Collection of the Mauritshuis
The permanent collection of the Mauritshuis includes works from the 15th century to the 20th century but the core of the collection is Dutch and Flemish painters of the 16th and 17th centuries. The main exhibition is spread over only two floors and 16 relatively small halls — the most famous works (Vermeer and Rembrandt) are on the top floor.
Originally, the paintings now on display in the Mauritshuis were mostly intended to be hung in homes or offices. While the Dutch upper classes of the 16th and 17th centuries were fabulously wealthy, houses were relatively small and far from the elaborate palaces, churches, and monasteries of southern Europe.
The paintings are thus often relatively small making the intimate rooms of the Mauritshuis a perfect museum to display these works.
The eight rooms on the lower floor of the Mauritshuis cover work from the 15th century onwards including a few altarpieces, portraits, still lives, and famous Flemish masters. The paintings by Rembrandt, Jan Steen, and Vermeer are on the higher floor.
Flemish Masters in the Mauritshuis
The first two halls have works by famous Flemish masters including several works by Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Brueghel, and Anthony van Dyck, as well as outstanding works by lesser-known artists.
Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel collaborated to paint The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man. Rubens painted Adam and Eve, the snake, and the horse, while Brueghel did most of the large number of animals.
An atypical Rubens is Old Woman and Boy with Candles — a work influenced by the style of Caravaggio and a painting never offered for sale by Rubens.
Willem van Haecht — Apelles Painting Campaspe: a painting of a kunstkamer with numerous further paintings and sculptures. Most of the works are known but have never been in a single collection.
Jan Davidsz de Heem — Vase of Flowers: one of the most splendid and colorful paintings of a bouquet of flowers ever.
15th and 16th Century Portraits and Altarpieces
Rooms 6, 7 & 8 are mostly filled with 15th and 16th-century portraits and altarpieces:
The portraits include works by Hans Memling, Jan Gossaert, Bartholomäus Bruyn, and several by Hans Holbein the Younger. His Portrait of Robert Cheseman, the chief falconer of King Henry VIII, is particularly refined, although Jane Seymour is still generally known now even without further explanation.
Rogier van der Weyden’s The Lamentation of Christ is the best rated of the altarpieces (with a distinct European note due to the dress of the commissioning bishop and the castles in the background) while other paintings include works by Lucas Cranach and the Master of Frankfurt.
Top Floor of the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague
The luscious rich red walls of the top floor landing (room 16) give visitors a choice — rush off to the museum’s top paintings or enjoy the works here first (rather than on the way out).
Currently, at the top of the staircase, just before the Rembrandts, are two small paintings worth studying closer:
Joachim Wtewael — Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan is the most erotic painting in the Mauritshuis. Vulcan caught his wife Venus in flagrante with Mars. He called the other gods to witness the adultery but the joke is on him rather than on the lovers. Cupid aims his arrow at Mercury, who is known to lust after Venus too. This is smut from 1601: painted on a sheet of copper allowed for details and for the painting to be handled for close-up inspection. It was long too risqué for public display.
Frans Hals — Lachende jongen is a small painting and study of a laughing boy — quite a contrast to the Hals full-length formal portraits in the next room.
Other paintings include splendid still lives of flowers and exotic food that the colonializing and trading Dutch came into contact with but also Hendrick Avercamp’s Ice Scene — a very popular painting of villagers on the frozen canal. People are playing but also working, a few fell through the ice, others are skating, and some slipped on the ice leading inevitably to a naked bottom.
Rembrandts in the Mauritshuis
Rooms 9 and 10 are dominated by around a dozen Rembrandts — portraits by Frans Hals and fine still lifes struggle to compete for attention.
Rembrandt van Rijn is the most famous painter represented here with some of his earliest and last works on display:
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp was a 25-year-old Rembrandt’s first public commission after moving to Amsterdam.
Rembrandt painted a few versions of Susanna and the Elders but Susanna here is without “the elders” and a fine opportunity to paint a female nude while sticking to a biblical story. (Although less full-frontal than his earlier Andromeda that hangs nearby.)
The Laughing Man is also an early work but shows the loose brushstrokes that Rembrandt would later be famous for.
Two African Men — although the identities of these men are unknown, this is not considered a tronie and thus a rare example of non-whites painted in 17th-century European art simply as people and not in a stereotypical portrayal as slaves or servants.
The Self-Portrait was one of three Rembrandt painted in his final year (1669) — as usual, no filters were applied by the master of the art who painted around 80 self-portraits. Portrait of an Elderly Man is similarly a late work and while the informality of the clothes suggests an acquaintance, the quality of the painting confirmed the master at work.
Agricultural Themes and Landscapes
The small room 11 has several still lifes, domestic scenes, and fantasies painted in exquisite detail. The small and refined works here precede the riot of colors and themes that follow in room 12 — the largest display gallery in the museum that covers the themes of land, water, and faraway places.
Paulus Potter’s The Bull is an unusually large painting for both the painter and the theme — it is the largest painting in the museum and fills nearly a complete wall. This painting of a bull and further farm animals was the main attraction of the museum for much of the 19th century and was praised above the Rembrandts and Vermeers, which are currently the most loved paintings in the Mauritshuis. Step closer, because of its unusual big size, it is easy to overlook the fine details in this work. His Cattle in a Meadow is what he usually painted — agricultural scenes that could fit (size-wise) in any house.
Jacob van Ruisdael — View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds: one of 15 known views of Haarlem by the most famous Dutch landscape painter of the Golden Age.
Further themes in this room include Dutch, Italian, and fantasy landscapes, sea views, and ships — traditionally a good earner for artists in Holland whether peaceful or battle scenes. Other agricultural scenes and poultry add to the large Potter.
Jan Steen in the Mauritshuis in The Hague
Room 14 — Everyday Life is the jolliest room in the Mauritshuis. It has several works by Jan Steen, famous for his disorderly domestic and unruly inn scenes that often illustrated popular expressions and idioms that were even more popular then than in current Dutch. The large As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young is a popular Steen motive showing eating, drinking, smoking, and music at a christening party. (It is also a Steen family portrait: Jan Steen holds the pipe while his wife is the model for the woman accepting more wine.)
The large Steen painting is flanked by two smaller ones with similar themes by Adriaen van Ostade — he may have been the inspiration for Jan Steen (and possibly his teacher). Even a rare religious-themed painting by Steen — Moses and Pharaoh’s Crown is turned into a farce.
Girl Eating Oysters is Steen’s smallest painting and although less obvious now, back then everybody knew she was not just offering oysters to the viewer. The intention is more obvious in Man Offering Money to a Young Woman by Judith Leyster — a rare Dutch Golden Age painting known to be by a female artist.
However, the most popular work with the Dutch in this room (and for many in the whole museum) is the small The Goldfinch (Het puttertje) by Carel Fabritius. Only 12 of his paintings survived — he was killed and his workshop destroyed in 1654 when the gunpowder magazine in Delft exploded.
Vermeer’s Girls with a Pearl Earring in the Mauritshuis
Internationally, the most famous work by far in the Mauritshuis are the three paintings by Johannes Vermeer, each in its own way typical and atypical for the master from nearby Delft:
Pity the other works on display in Room 15 which have to compete with Vermeer’s famous Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft, often considered the most famous cityscape of the Golden Age. Even the third Vermeer in this room — Diana and her Nymphs — are often overlooked by many visitors.
By far the most famous Vermeer painting in the Mauritshuis in The Hague is the Girl with a Pearl Earring — in contrast to most other portrait paintings or tronies by Vermeer, she fills the whole space with no further characters or background. Art collector AA des Tombe bought the painting in an auction for around €1 in 1881 and bequeathed it to the Mauritshuis.
View of Delft is one of only two cityscapes by Vermeer — the other one, The Little Street, is one of four Vermeers in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Van Gogh was inspired by his combination of different colors in this work to achieve special color effects in the finished work.
Vermeer’s — Diana and her Nymphs — is often missed by visitors enthralled by the two more famous works. This painting is one of his earliest works and relatively large compared to his more famous works. It is also a rare mythological or religious work by Vermeer and shows Diana, the goddess of hunting and the night, with her nymphs in a relaxed setting.
The largest Vermeer exhibition ever will be held in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum in cooperation with the Mauritshuis (and numerous further museums around the world) from 2023.
Other paintings in this room by for example Gerard ter Borch, Gabriël Metsu, and Frans van Mieris also show exquisite fine details in the clothing and home decorations. Johannes Vermeer might have been the best but certainly not the only accomplished artist in this field.
Special Exhibitions in the Mauritshuis
The Mauritshuis arranges usually three special exhibitions each year. These are on display in the annex building that is reached via an underground tunnel that also houses the ticket windows, shop, and restaurant.
The special exhibitions are relatively small but usually with very high-quality works illustrating a special theme.
Mauritshuis in The Hague Visitor’s Information
Mauritshuis Opening Hours
The Mauritshuis is open daily:
- 13:00 – 18:00 on Monday (if not a holiday)
- 10:00 – 18:00 on Tuesday to Sunday
The Galerij Prins Willem V is open from 12:00 to 17:00 from Tuesday to Sunday and closed all day on Mondays.
The best times to visit the Mauritshuis are generally weekdays after 15:00, or right at opening time. (Sunny days in spring are also a good option but are harder to arrange.)
Avoid where possible visiting on weekends and during vacation periods.
Buy Online Tickets for the Mauritshuis
Tickets for the Mauritshuis are €17.50 and include admission to the Galerij Prins Willem V on the same day. The Galerij may also be seen separately for €5.50. Admission is free for those under 18 and Museumkaart holders.
Timeslot reservations are currently essential to visit the Mauritshuis. Buy skip-the-line tickets online to ensure priority admission — left-over tickets are still sold at the museum. Get Your Guide often has better cancelation policies, better availability, and may still sell tickets for visits on the day of purchase. The price for all options should be the same.
Combination tickets sometimes give small discounts, eg with the Escher in the Palace Museum or the Kunstmuseum Den Haag (the largest collection of Mondrians in the world)
Download the Mauritshuis app with an excellent free audio guide in advance — it is available for all, no museum visit (or ticket!) is required.
Transportation to the Mauritshuis in The Hague
The Mauritshuis is at Plein 29, 2511 CS Den Haag in the heart of The Hague on the Hofvijver next to the Dutch parliament. The Galerij Prins Willem V is at the opposite end of the water — walk through the Binnenhof courtyard of the parliament complex if open (or along the equally beautiful opposite bank of the small lake).
Parking is easy (if pricy) at the nearby Parking Centrum Plein. From the main train station walking is usually the simplest option. Tram stops Kneuterdiijk (on tram 1 Schevingen to Delft) and Buitenhof (tram 15 and 16) are close to the Galerij Prins Willem V and a pleasant stroll from the Mauritshuis too.
More in Den Haag / The Hague
- Mauritshuis — a top collection of Dutch Golden Age Old Masters’ paintings
- Kunstmuseum Den Haag — modern art including the largest Mondrian collection in the world.
- Louwman Museum — one of the best car museums in the world with the largest collection of veteran cars (up to 1904) in the world.