Dutch Masters Part I (Andrew Zapata)

| Andrew Zapata | 24 July 2012 | The Hague, Netherlands |

Whenever I travel to a new city, I am always eager to learn about its history. (Disclosure: I was an undergraduate history major at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst!) Irrespective of my partiality to this educational field, I would maintain that history plays a critical role in framing our understanding of how things stand in the present today.  In this sense, history is context. So after more than two months of living in The Hague, I finally made it to the Hague History Museum, known locally as the Haags Historisch Museum.  I was fortunate enough to share this experience with members of my family, who were visiting from Boston, Massachusetts, and together we set off to learn about the history of Den Haag.

I had anticipated a Smithsonian-eqsue museum, flaunting dates, names and places, all the while dripping with pomp and patriotism and encased in something echoing the grandeur of a neo-classical or Jeffersonian style edifice.  Expectations did not align with reality.  The rather cramped and dense museum housed two temporary exhibitions – one displaying the work of Dutch artist Israel Isaacs, and the other providing an overview of Dutch-Turkish political, economic, and cultural relations.  While that was all well and good, it did not satiate my desire to learn about the heavy hitters of Dutch history that I had first encountered in my European History classes back at Brookline High School.  There was no Prince of Orange, no Dutch Resistance, and certainly no War of Spanish Succession. Just as I was about to leave the museum in a somewhat dejected state, I happened upon a room with two rows of benches.  On the large wall opposite the benches was a crudely produced flash animation, showing the historical development of The Hague’s population and urban layout. For the next ten minutes, I reveled in the rudimentary history lesson offered by the museum, absorbing all of the juicy nuggets of history served up by the presentation. Perhaps most interestingly, I learned that the road between my apartment and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was formerly part of an extensive anti-tank ditch dug up by the German occupiers during World War II.

The next week, I was lucky enough to visit the Gemeentemuseum, which is the temporary home to some of the most famous paintings by the Dutch and Flemish Masters, as well as other prominent artists from the continent. Jan Vermeer’s View of Delft, Potter’s The Young Bull, and Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp are all on display there, as well as works by Degas and Van Gogh. I realized somewhere in that museum that these works are equally as important to my understanding of Dutch history as the Prince of Orange, the Dutch Resistance, and the War of Spanish Succession. I also realized that the exhibitions on Israel Isaacs and Dutch-Turkish relations factored similarly into my understanding of Dutch history.  I guess the lesson here is that history is far more subtle than dates, names, and places, and as a result the way in which it frames our understanding of how things are in the present day is rather complex.

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