Stepping into the Mauritshuis, The Hague’s collection of art from the Dutch Golden Age, is like walking into the lavish drawing room of your Great Aunt. The sleek wooden surfaces of its panelled walls and ornate fireplaces offset the heavy, velveteen scent hanging in the air. Even without the Old Masters, the flock wallpaper itself is a treasure; and every room is hung with kick-ass art, like Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt, The Goldfinch by Fabritius and The Bull by Potter. The rooms are small enough to feel intimate, but like Auntie’s ‘best’ room, the hush lets you know you must not touch anything.
There were no other children at the Mauritshuis on the day of our visit, which was surprising. I’d say it was the best museum we’ve been to for helping children really engage with the art on display. Yes, there was an app which guided you through the collection (this is worth dowloading even if you’re not visiting, as it contains a feast of high-res images, with all the history to go with them). But our children – aged four and six – were mainly gripped by the family activity package we picked up at the reception desk.
The family activity package is a bag containing a set for each child: a pad, with a new activity on each page; colouring pencils; and a music box.
The activities helped our children think about art from all different angles. Hendrick Avercamp’s Ice Scene, a detailed picture of villagers skating on a frozen lake (and falling over – one woman has toppled unfortunately, with her bottom on display), is reproduced in the pad as a bare scene. The children had to study the picture up close, then put stickers in the right places on the Ice Scene in their pad.
Children can draw portraits of each other, and chose the right shades (or the wrong ones, depending on how they feel) to colour in Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.
My favourite item in the activity package was the music box. It was the old-fashioned kind, where you turn a handle and a tune plays. I won’t give away which tune it was, but you were instructed to play it in a room stuffed with pictures of people dancing, army scenes, portraits of 17th-century dignitaries, and still-life flowers. The idea was to listen to the music box, and find the picture that went with the tune. There were no right or wrong answers; it was just an exercise in connecting emotions, conjured up by the music, with paintings.
The Mauritshuis is relatively small, but its 200+ artworks are ‘all killer, no filler’ – each one a piece that cries out to be studied for a while – and I felt as though I could easily have spent a day there. But, even with carefully crafted activities, a couple of hours in a museum is plenty for our young children.
If you have older children, there’s a ‘Golden Tour’ for over-13s, with an app taking them through an interactive tour.
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Adult tickets to the Mauritshuis are €14. Children (over 18) go free, but there is a €3 charge for the Family Activity Package.
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