Priceless historical Dutch artefacts get new lease of life

Amersfoort (Netherlands) (AFP) –


Prized paintings, an ornate throne and a barrel organ that survived the great 1953 flood are some of the thousands of artefacts plucked from obscurity to be showcased in a new Dutch 'physical memory' centre.

Dutch culture minister Ingrid van Engelshoven will on Monday unveil the new Netherlands Collection Centre (CC NL), a state-of-the-art, tailor-made building housing a myriad of objects which previously gathered dust in storages at four of the country's most influential museums and institutions.

While not a museum, the combined collection will be available on appointment for people expressing a specific interest or for research purposes.

The CC NL "brings to light thrilling collections that were previously hidden from view," said Taco Dibbits, director of Amsterdam's famous Rijksmuseum where some of the artefacts were previously stored.

"Combining the collections means that royal carriages now stand alongside farm carts. This gives rise to a more complete picture of the Netherlands, both in a chronological and social sense," Dibbits said in a statement.

"The four national collections together under a single roof form the physical memory of the Netherlands," the Rijksmuseum statement added.

Building the high-tech centre, which features the country's first dedicated quarantine chamber to clear museum pieces of mould and insects, started in the central city of Amersfoort in 2018.

The building has the same floor area as almost four-and-a-half football fields, uses solar power as well as rain water to flush its toilets, "and sustains its own climate," CC NL location manager Wim Hoeben told AFP.

A veritable Aladdin's cave, it houses some 500,000 objects from the four collections, from King William II of the Netherlands' ornate throne to a large traditional barrel-organ called De Blue Mortier, which at 5.4 metres (17.7 feet) tall is the largest object.

Built in 1913, the organ was severely damaged in the Netherlands' infamous, deadly 1953 floods, before it was eventually restored.

An ancient steam engine weighing over seven tonnes and the restoration of a 350-year-old painting by Dutch still life master Matthias Withoos are also among the artefacts.

Moving all the pieces from across the Netherlands was a mammoth task: it took some 869 truckloads to get all of them to their new home.

"It was quite an adventure," Hoeben told AFP.

The storage depots previously used by the Rijksmuseum, Open Air Museum, Het Loo Palace and Cultural Heritage Agency "did not meet the needs of modern collection management," the Rijksmuseum said.

Hoeben added they needed a lot of energy to be heated or cooled and were not always easily accessible.