A Brill Calendar: March 25
Europe's First Public Museum
Few European nations demonstrate in their past a social role for a high nobility as modest as the Netherlands.
Its Provinces were never at the back & call of great princes and palatial Courts maintaining a sophisticated culture for leisure, entertainment and intrigue; landed gentry being the upper-crust of the social ladder in various northern regions.
In Dutch cities another aristocracy prevailed: one cultivated by careful husbandry during successive generations within the bosom of a carefully limited number of families and by money; most of it amassed after the rebellion against Habsburg Spain. Nevertheless, riches thus assembled could result in enormous fortunes. Merchant dynasties like those of Trip, or De Geer counted themselves among the few true powerbrokers from the 17th century onwards.
Sometimes these resources came to serve unique purposes: like in the case of Pieter Teyler van der Hulst (March 25 1702 – 1778; both in Haarlem). He willed his vast estate, - a fine library, coins, drawings, paintings, scientific instruments - to a foundation to be incorporated after his demise. This foundation would be devoted to promulgation of sciences, poetry, history and other aspects of learning and culture.
Two years after Teyler’s funeral this foundation – in 2009 still as active as ever – had a museum built behind his town-residence. One century later, in 1880, a wing was added to the ensemble; with an entrance at the quay of Haarlem’s river, the Spaarne; to all practical purposes Europe’s first public museum, with an educational and scholarly mission. Its ‘Transactions’ have been published since 1781.
It is seldom that continuity of culture in a European nation is so compactly expressed as in Haarlem. While Pieter Teyler van der Hulst prospered, for instance, the distinguished Printing House of the Enschedé family, their workshop within ear-shot, added further to the brilliance of 18th century Enlightenment within the microcosm of an archetypal city in Holland.
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2013, April 11