The picture postcard town of Haarlem is located just 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam. Quainter and quieter than its neighboring capital, the town has a rich history dating back to pre-medieval times, and is the focus of a forthcoming excursion as we expand our nascent Amsterdam program. Founded in the late 18th century, the Teylers Museum is the oldest museum in the Netherlands, and will be one of the key stops on our excursion to Haarlem. Named after Pieter Teyler, a wealthy local businessman and an advocate of the Enlightenment with a profound interest in science and the arts, the museum holds a collection that has changed very little since its founding over 200 years ago.
The fossilised treasures of these two dusty, atmospheric rooms were obtained during a time when the idea that animals and plants had lived and become extinct was still quite new. Teylers’ collection turned out to hold some key items in the emerging scientific field of palaeontology; the presentation of the petrified remains of flora and fauna, along with hand sketched explicatory diagrams, hints at the excitement and mysticism that must surely have accompanied such discoveries.
Largely acquired by Martinus van Marum, the museum’s first director, the collection of instruments is vast and hugely varied. Van Marum was a “universal scientist”, meaning that his skills spanned the subdisciplines, so he had access to a great range of scientific instruments. The highlight of this room is undoubtedly the enormous electrostatic generator--until 1855 the world’s largest--which dominates the space and looks somewhat like an oversized perpetual motion desk toy.
Officially called the R. van Stolk room, this small alcove is dedicated to the tools of the conjurer’s trade. Using newly discovered principles of physics, 18th century magicians would shock and amaze audiences with an imaginative array of intricate and specially crafted tricks. New discoveries in optics, mechanics and hydraulics were sometimes introduced to the public by way of such performances.
The oldest room in the museum, the spectacular Oval Room has been open to the public since 1874, when the museum was first founded. Across the ground floor a collection of miscellany is displayed, from globes and models of the solar system to magnets and minerals. The upper level constitutes the ornate gallery of the library upstairs, which is accessible by appointment only.
Though science dominates the Teylers Museum, art also has its not insignificant place among the Enlightenment exhibits. Two paintings galleries, along with a prints and drawings room contain works from early 19th century Dutch Masters. This charming, glass-roofed chamber complete with plush velvet sofa and tropical plants harks back to a period of optimism and discovery, and is evocative of the colonial ambitions--and achievements--of the epoch.