The Westfries Museum, Holland
By Wendy Hughes
On a recent holiday to north Holland we spent an enjoyable day in the beautiful city of Hoorn, and decided to take a trip around the Westfries museum, situated in the town’s Roode Square. It is housed in one of the finest listed buildings in the city, Staten College, easily recognizable by its ornate facade. This was the former seat of the Staten-College (States’ Council); the body that once governed seven towns in Noord-Holland, the ‘wedding-cake’ facade bears the coat of arms of Oranje-Nassau, the Dutch-German royal dynasty.
Despite the highly decorated exterior once inside, you will encounter a homely, intimate atmosphere as you meander around the twenty-seven different exhibition areas, each with its own unique quirky character filled to the brim with objects of Dutch Golden Age, so do allow yourself time to savour every item. However, be warned, this is not an easy museum to get around for even the fittest, as there are two or three steps up or down to every room. In fact I had to miss out on one complete floor as my legs would not carry me up another flight of stairs but I have made a mental note to return, and perhaps start from the top down. Whether you are in the seventeenth-century militia hall with its impressive portraits of the Hoorn militia, or the eighteenth-century room in Louis XVI style, with its rich collection of glass, you will soon note that every room shines with rich history of West-Friesland during the Golden Age.
The entrance fee to the museum is low in comparison to other museums, and is crammed to bursting point with gems from the VOC – Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or the United East Indian Company, but often referred by the British as the Dutch East India Company. Interestingly, the Museum won a Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Award in 2014, the museum receiving this prestigious European award for its project on the subject of Jan Pieterzoon Coen (1587-1629), former Governor General of the Dutch East India Company and ‘founder’ of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). In 2011 a group of people initiated a movement to have the monument removed on the grounds that Coen, as a brutal colonial administrator, tried to establish a monopoly in the spice trade in the East Indies and therefore did not deserve a statue.
As the museum specialises in the Dutch ‘Golden Age’, it was well placed to join in the debate, but not on behalf of one side or the other. Its chosen role was as motivator and facilitator, helping people to make their own judgements by presenting historical facts and the full range of details in context to Coen’s activities. It published new accessible material on the subject and established a special website, together with a tour of the relevant objects in the museum, asking the visitor, as a member of a proposed jury, whether or not Coen was worthy of commemoration. Today the statue still stands boldly on the square and the museum is the only Dutch heritage institution among the winners, having won the award in the category of Education, Training and Awareness for its venture concerning Coen. The presentation of the award took place on May 5 2014 Vienna.
This stately building with its distinctive, richly decorated façade was built in 1632 for the Committed Councils of West Friesland and the Northern Quarter and was erected on the site of one of the first stone houses in Hoorn, the Cheers House. A late medieval vaulted cellar is one of the few remnants of this property, and the arms of the seven cities that were once represented are reflected on the stepped gable and in the meeting room, the current militia room.
The complete collection comprises of no less than 30,000 objects, and together they paint a picture of the cultural history of the region West-Friesland between 1500 and 1800 with its build-up, prime and aftermath of the Golden Age. The objects concerning the United East Indian Company form an important part of the collection. The fact that the V.O.C. maintained trade relations between East Asia and the Republic is well known, but what is less known is the fact that the United East Indian Company had an extensive trade network within Asia. In actual fact the company was the first multinational, with its own shares, and in1680 the employed approx. 22,000 men just in Asia alone. The directors and the high V.O.C. officials are portrayed often, but of the hundreds of thousands of seamen employed by the company we only know their names, not even their faces, but without them the long trips to Asia in the 17th and 18th century would have been impossible.
The museum is along a plotted route that takes you through its 27 rooms or spaces and the explanatory texts will provide background information, but there is also an audio tour, which is available at the museum desk.
Visiting the museum
Allow yourself at least two hours to enjoy this unique. There are plenty of paid parking in the immediate environment of the museum. I am a disabled blue badge holder and was lucky enough to find a disabled parking, down a side road, a short distance from the museum. In case you make use of public transport, please click here for information (link opens a new window). Unfortunately the museum is not accessible to wheelchair users, but in my own time and with the aid of a stick, I managed most it.
Open: Tuesdays through Fridays: 11:00 to 17:00 hours Saturdays and Sundays: 13:00 to 17:00 hours From April 1 to 1st open on Mondays
Closed: Christmas and New Year’s Day, and on the 3rd Monday in August (Lappendag – clothing market)
Admission: Adults: €6.50 65+: € 5.00 Young persons (up to 18): free of charge Museum card: free of charge