Exposition : « Smell the Art. Fleeting – Scents in Colour », La Haye, Mauritshuis, jusqu’au 29 août 2021

Have you ever wondered what an Amsterdam canal smelled like 400 years ago? It would have been pretty grim: excrement, waste materials and all kinds of filth were dumped into the water. The same water that poorer housewives then did their laundry in. Personal and general hygiene were far from what they are today. People were convinced that foul smells could harm their health. Luckily there were all kinds of tricks for disguising unpleasant smells and situations. Wealthy women carried a pomander on a chain, then an expensive fashion accessory. As well as looking good, this also meant they could also protect themselves against dangerous odours.

In some 17th-century artworks the suggestion of smell is so strong that you can almost imagine yourself in the moment. Do you experience a painting differently if you can also literally smell the work as you look at it?

The exhibition Fleeting – Scents in Colour is a voyage of discovery that will inspire visitors to experience art from a new perspective. Via the various scent dispensers, they can smell a clean linen cupboard, bleaching fields, ambergris, myrrh and of course the foul-smelling canals.

Unique home experience fragrance box + Digital Tour

Special about the exhibition Fleeting – Scents in Colour is a voyage of discovery via the various scent dispensers to scents from bygone times that are depicted in the paintings. You can also have this unique experience at home with the fragrance box that will soon be available in our webshop! The fragrance box is part of the digital tour of the exhibition which you can watch any time when it suits you.

In the exhibition Fleeting – Scents in Colour you can smell the 17th century. As well as wonderful artworks where the colours jump from the surface and the wonderful scent almost comes to greet you, there are also paintings and drawings where you’d rather hold your nose. As well as seeing the paintings, you will also experience them with your sense of smell. Via (covid-safe) dispensers, visitors will be able to experience various smells represented in the art, both fragrant and foul. The exhibition explores the portrayal of smell and odour in 17th-century art, the scents of the past, the role of scent in stories, the suggestion of scent in artworks, as well as sensory perception. Even though scent is the subject of the exhibition and there will be all kinds of smells to enjoy, it is the artworks above all that carry the story.

Exhibition themes

The exhibition considers the portrayal of scent in art from both an art-historical angle and a more general historical perspective. The almost 50 paintings, drawings, print and objects tell us more about themes including scent, health and hygiene. For example, in the 17th century it was believed that putrid and foul smells were harmful to health and should be suppressed with other disease-repelling fragrances.

We also learn more about the role of scent in religion. Scent plays a role in all manner of Catholic rituals, and the divine can reveal itself by means of perfumed smoke. During the Reformation, Protestantism dispensed with the sensory acknowledgement of faith and placed the word of God at the heart of worship.

Another theme is scents inside and outdoors. Various works offer us a direct glimpse of the 17th-century landscape of smell, both inside and outside the home.

The exhibition also explores the theme of new aromas from far-off lands. Thanks to extensive overseas trade, new tastes and smells from other parts of the world were increasingly within reach and wildly popular. The average Dutch citizen had no idea of the darker side of this trade: exploitation, oppression and violence often preceded the moment they entered the shop to purchase these new delights.


Citer ce billet
Florence Larcher (2021, 8 mai). Exposition : « Smell the Art. Fleeting – Scents in Colour », La Haye, Mauritshuis, jusqu’au 29 août 2021. Collectif d'Historiens de l'Art de la Renaissance. Consulté le 14 juin 2024, à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/mokc

Florence Larcher

Florence Larcher est doctorante à l'Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Ses recherches sur les images de saint Roch en Italie de 1350 à 1680 l'amènent à étudier la peinture murale, la sérialité et l'itinérance des peintres.

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